Friday, 1 March 2013

The Thin End of The Wedge


Teaching certain English set texts often involves discussing and touching upon subjects that wouldn't be out of place in PSHE lessons. In the last term I've had a series of memorable lessons, involving sexual content. When lessons have taken an unexpected turn, students have asked if I'm embarrassed and as I'm pretty desensitised these days and used to be the only girl in an otherwise all-male house, the answer is always “No”.

The first unforgettable discussion during a lesson came about after I asked students what Curley wearing a glove full of Vaseline on one hand might reveal about his character (Steinbeck's Of Mice And Men). I'd expected answers involving Curley having rough hands from manual labour or that he cares about his wife but instead was met with the response: “His wife has a dry vagina.” After that lesson, I dreaded marking the books to find student had all added this piece of information to their notes – thankfully, they hadn't!

Several weeks later, I was reading Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go with a top set year nine class. I own the book and had never got round to reading it but knew what to expect from seeing the film. Unfortunately I managed to overlook the fact things may well get a bit racy and read a chapter to the group that described certain characters masturbating and getting “wet”. During my reading, I could hear a lot of embarrassed giggles and after I'd finished the section, a certain male student raised his hand. Looking genuinely quite confused, he asked me how that was possible, referring in particular to the female protagonist.

Now teaching in a different school, I am doing Shakespeare's Twelfth Night with an all male group and suffering from a lack of play texts. As students have to share copies of the book, I was planning on letting them read through certain scenes together to afterwards deduce word meanings from the glossary at the back. Testing the usefulness of the glossary, I came across a rather shocking explanation quoted below:

“Cut’: (a) a docked horse; (b) a gelding; c) cunt (vulgar slang for the vulva)"

(Taken from Act 2, Scene 4 of the 2001 edition)

While the C-word doesn't offend me, I am honestly pretty shocked Wordsworth Classics deem its inclusion acceptable and were unable to find a less offensive suitable alternative. Their most inconsiderate choice of explanatory vocabulary means I am now going to have to include a mini-lesson about the etymology of this controversial word:

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