Eton head tells parents: read to your teenagers

The Times, 13.06.15 reading to young children is one of the joys of parenthood. Few parents, however, would relish trying to sit their teenage kids down for a story. Yet reading aloud to older children develops listening skills as well as fostering a love of literature, one of Britain’s leading headmasters says. It should not be seen as an activity only for primary age kids. HMC member Tony Little, outgoing headmaster of Eton College features and Peter Green, headmaster of Rugby School is quoted.

Tony Little, the head of Eton College, says parents should avoid general encouragement to read more, which can irritate teenagers, and instead get involved.

In An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Education, a book to mark his forthcoming retirement and which is serialised in The Times from today, he says: “I have seen the effect that an adult or friend can have on boys by reading a section of text aloud to them. They become interested enough to read on, either by themselves or sharing the reading with others.

“Part of the aim when sharing reading with boys is to increase their reading stamina. Books are written to be read as a whole and it is important where possible to enable boys to read books as complete texts. This can be achieved through paired or shared reading, or by using short stories, many of which are short enough to be read in one sitting, which is a significant boon to a reader with a memory weakness.”

There is some evidence that girls respond to the written word more readily, Mr Little says, and some boys find reading a chore.
Boy book clubs can by set up with other families, letting boys choose between two novels of not more than 300 pages: suggested titles are The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The Absolutist, The Rosie Project and Butcher’s Crossing.
He also suggests boys should be encouraged to read in any form: magazines, websites, eBooks, newspapers, comics and even puzzle books.

“Even the “Cornflakes test” can be revealing — does your bleary-eyed child read the text on the side of the cereal packet at breakfast? The reading habit is a muscle that needs to be exercised daily,” he says.

Notwithstanding this, the Eton headmaster’s book includes an extensive list of titles which he says every bright child aged 16 should read.

It includes literary classics such as Gulliver’s Travels, titles by European and Eastern authors, and works on science, mathematics, theology, geography, plus Homer’s The Iliad (in translation). His choice divided opinion among authors and other head teachers.
The novelist David Lodge said: “My first impression is that the list of English language books is OK; it’s a bit arbitrary but bound to be.

“It doesn’t seem to me that the obvious foreign classics are there in that list. Why not something by Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky?
“Bonfire of the Vanities is an interesting choice. Many people would say it’s a bit of a pot-boiler or entertainment fiction but I’m inclined to agree with him. I found it a very gripping book,” he said.

Peter Green, headmaster of Rugby School, said the list lacked poetry. “I would have put in Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran should also be on there, it’s an extraordinary book.”

He was surprised the reading list did not include any William Blake, nor Paradise Lost, and said some Bible verses should be have been included. He also proposed poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins and TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral.

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