The suggestion that young people can only engage with 'accessible texts' such as Caitlin Moran's Twitter feed and Russell Brand's testimony on drug use to a House of Commons committee is inexcusably patronising. The recent suggestion of such syllabus changes is a poorly masked effort by exam boards to pretend that A Levels can continue to provide a relevant test of knowledge for an increasingly disaffected youth. This is far from the first move by exam boards to suggest condescending syllabus changes intended to engage with a generation who are apparently inept at absorbing anything that isn't couched in references to popular culture and social media.
It is immeasurable how much there is to be gained from offering young people the opportunity to study the literary works of the traditional canon. Rarely again in later life do we receive the chance to study in depth some of the greatest poetry and prose ever written, debating themes which are still entirely relevant and accessible to young people today. Studying traditional texts in English Literature challenges A Level students to broaden their perceptions of the realities they occupy, and suggesting that these students are too disengaged to appreciate what the works of Fitzgerald, Steinbeck and Miller is grossly unfair, underestimating their capabilities entirely. Attempts by exam boards to change the syllabus in a way that appears more 'engaging' simply diverts attention from the reality that our education system is fast becoming irrelevant to young people today.
The truth is that students are disinterested in an educational system that fails to adequately examine their knowledge of four subjects, picked at the age of 16 and crammed into two years of arbitrary marking criteria and learning objectives. Sixth form - a period with the potential to expand the scope of students' imaginations and interests - becomes little more than tiresome hoop jumping. There is no scope for even momentary defection from the core curriculum and every lesson is geared towards teaching students how to pass exams, with no emphasis on learning simply for the joy of learning. Fear not, though, these two years of targeted attainment will filter you into a university system which further prescribes what is and isn't useful knowledge. The idea of learning for the pleasure of learning is not one that registers with an education system geared at churning out as many UCAS applicants as possible.
With such a determined focus on university as the apex of educational attainment, those who choose to pursue alternative routes to their future careers are usually ignored, as schools concentrate on getting the 'brightest' students into the best universities to study respected courses. No attention is paid to the fact that few 17 year olds are adequately equipped to decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives, especially after having been trudged through an education system which discourages creativity, imagination and divergence from the core curriculum.
Don't patronise A Level students with an 'accessible' English Literature course, and don't assume that changes to the syllabus will be able to shore up for much longer an increasingly irrelevant and out-dated education system. If students are disenchanted and apathetic, it's not a result of the absence of Russell Brand and Dizzee Rascal on A Level reading lists. Those students that such syllabus changes attempt to captivate are the same students disaffected by a system that filters them from one meaningless obstacle course of assessment objectives to another, with nothing learnt along the way.