A day of parent-teacher meetings meant a day of not being able to answer the question most parents wanted to ask, “when will school return to normal?” Of the students, I asked that for the summer holidays, they put away their school things on Friday and that they put aside thoughts of schoolwork until 1st September.
I did make one suggestion, that they read, that they find books they enjoy and that they spend as much time as they choose reading for fun, reading because it makes them happy, reading because it is relaxing. “Literacy is our most important skill,” I said, “and the best way for us to develop our literacy is for us to read.”
Some of the students looked at me in the way they often do, a slightly bemused tolerance of sir’s eccentric ways. Being the age of their grandparents means being given a lot of latitude by those who encounter me twice a day in a normal school week.
We discussed what they might read and I said that I didn’t mind, as long as they read something – graphic novels, Marvel Comics, anything that captured their imagination, that developed their vocabulary, that showed them ways in which they might express themselves.
One student had declared an intention of reading a book a week at the start of the year. The isolation imposed by the lockdown means that the weekly target has been easily achieved.
The most challenging aspect of the lockdown has been the closure of libraries. I wasn’t worried if pubs had never reopened, the loss of libraries is a much worse development. When people were allowed to return to a pub for a pint, the doors of the libraries remained essentially closed. Books must be reserved online and collected when an email is sent to say they are ready for collection. It is eleven days since I reserved a book, no email has yet arrived.
I have enough to read, and the reopening of the charity shops has meant access to plenty of second-hand stock – today I got a biography of Siegfried Sassoon for £3.50. What if I were one of my students?
What if I had been told by my teacher to find books to read? What if I had been told that my literacy was important and I went to the library to find the doors barred?
Making books available to younger generations seems a much more pressing need than fussing about the rules for pubs.