Matthew Dancona

Why teaching nonsense makes sense

Why teaching nonsense makes sense
Text settings
Comments

There is more than enough dumbing down in modern education without seeing it where it doesn’t exist. The new Ofsted report complaining that under-11s are being taught too much Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll and Spike Milligan is especially wrong-headed. For a start, it is impossible for anyone of any age to have too much Milligan: a meaningless phrase. Secondly, the report is leadenly illiterate in its approach to nonsense poetry: as Noel Malcolm explains in his excellent book on English nonsense, there is a rich strand in our nation’s literature that flows from a sense of the absurd and a crazy experimentalism with language. More to the point, this sort of verse captivates children: I recently introduced my six- and four-year-old sons to the Jabberwocky and Milligan’s poems and they adored it all, instantly, rocking with laughter. Indeed, I would say that Milligan, Lear and Carroll are precisely the sort of poets that can open a child’s mind to the potential of language, and associate poetry with fun and imagination rather than discipline and rote learning. The kid who listens to On the Ning Nang Nong or The Owl and the Pussycat today is that much more likely to pick up a volume of Yeats, Tennyson or Eliot in due course. Me? I would make Spike Milligan compulsory.