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This article is taken from PN Review 14, Volume 6 Number 6, July - August 1980.

'Life' or 'Letters' Neil Powell

THIS book, although encumbered with a chairmanly Preface and some of the paraphernalia of a committee report, is well-intentioned and intelligibly if inelegantly written: it is worth disagreeing with.

It consists of three parts. In Part One, "The Underlying Need for Change", the authors discuss the alterations in the numbers and needs of students working for qualifications in English in the 16-19 age group between 1951 and the late 1970s. Part Two, "The Main Paths Ahead in English and Communication", proposes changes in existing A Level English Literature courses and new courses (all of them already at pilot stage) in Communication Studies, English as a whole, and Language Studies. Part Three, "The Need for Local and National Support", is about the procedures which would bring the authors' proposals into being: it is of importance to those concerned with educational administration but it need not detain us here. What must detain us are the authors' assumptions and conclusions about the teaching of literacy and- especially-of literature. (To avoid cumbersome repetitions and plurals, I shall refer to John Dixon as if he were the sole author, as his publishers do on the cover of the book.)

"Facts. And what are they?" asks Charles Tomlinson in his "A Meditation on John Constable". It's a fair question. For John Dixon, facts and statistics are useful because less contentious than the more amorphous issues which he acknowledges to be at the heart of English teaching. Part One leans heavily on ...


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