Brit Politician Says Teens Should Read Middlemarch, not Twilight

Michael GroveMichael Grove, a member of the British Parliament and The secretary of State for Education, gave a speech at Brighton College last week where he open bashed the idea of teens reading Twilight.

“Too many children are only too happy to lose themselves in Stephenie Meyer.”

“There is a Great Tradition of English Literature, a Canon of transcendent works, & Breaking Dawn is not part of it,” he continued.

Then in an interview with Financial Times he added,

“You come home to find your 17-year-old daughter engrossed in a book. Which would delight you more… Twilight or Middlemarch?,”

But wait! It isn’t just Twilight that this political Brit has a problem with. He also thinks Angry Birds and pool are a waste of time.

“You see your son is totally absorbed, hunched over the family laptop,” Gove said. “You steal a look over his shoulder – and what would please you more – to see him playing Angry Birds, or coding?,” Politics.co.uk reported. “Your son says he wants to spend more time with one particular group of friends. Which would be more inspiring – because he wants to improve his pool or because they’re in the cadets and he wants to join?”

As one twitter user put it: “Brave” speech from Michael Grove today. Coming out against Twilight, Angry Birds, and playing pool. Basically everything young people like.

Personally, I’ve seen many a teen who hates to read say they are thankful for Twilight because it opened up a world of books for them. I’d rather my kid read Twilight than not read at all! No Twilight fan has ever tried to pass off the saga as Pulitzer Prize winning material, but it is fun and entertaining. If we were only suppose to expose ourselves to award winning, educational, and deep material, we wouldn’t have movies like Airplane, Blazing Saddles, or Napoleon Dynamite. TV would have to lose Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother. I don’t think this man understands that his definition of “fun” doesn’t fit with a vast majority of people’s opinions.

Read the whole story at the Huffpost Students.  

Comments

  1. Michael Gove is an idiot. The fact that he has any influence over my children’s education terrifies me.

  2. He should be glad teens are reading at all whether its twilight or harry potter as long as it gets them started by the way Iam 55yrs old and loved the twilight book !

  3. Elizabeth (EverythingRemindsMeOfTwilight) says:

    Good grief!! How about reading both?!

    Gotta say, I’d hoped that when the movies were finished we’d get less vocalized ‘hate” and that those people would have moved on to bother others. It was the only aspect of the movies being complete that I was “okay” with. This is just aggravating.

  4. Yeah, read both!

  5. Biggest Fan says:

    I agree with Elizabeth … Eve! I hardly doubt England’s educational issues are a result of Stephanie Meyer’s writing!!!! I for one am VERY sick and tired of people taking Stephanie’s name and dragging it through the mud!!!!!!! She took a risk and shared a dream with the world and somehow that makes her responsible for societies failures. Oh please!

  6. I’m sure he’d think the Brontes’ works were suitable alternatives, but when those books were first released, they were denounced as vulgar, dangerous and immoral.

  7. I think you’re missing the point. Most educators, that I know, would rather have their students read material that would expand their mental copacities and cultural horizons, in the same way that parents would love for their kids to eat their vegitables, over candy. He singled out Twilight because its hugely popular. I’m sure had he made this arguement during Harry Potter’s hayday that he would have talked about that instead.

    What he’s arguing about is that many chlidren are wasting too much time reading and doing things, that while fun, are not beneficial for their development.

    I think all of you, who are parents would agree. There isn’t anything wrong (obviously with Twilight, Angry Birds, or whatever) but you as a parent know that there has to be time for other things. Yes you’re happy that your child loves to read because of Twilight, but ONLY if that passion gets them to read other things as well. To simply be happy that your child is reading because your child is reading Twilight, is like saying your happy that your child is eating, because they are eating candy.

    You as moms and dads create balances. That’s all he’s saying…

    • If that was the point he was trying to get across, he said it in the wrong way, because he came off being more offensive than not.

    • I don’t think that was his point at all. If it was, he would have said, “There is a time and a place for such things, but not in school.” Instead he spoke about the things teens like to do in their free time to relax. Yes, teens should be exposed to various types of literature and games and technology, but that isn’t what he said. And he said it repeatedly.

    • Elizabeth (EverythingRemindsMeOfTwilight) says:

      I agree with Lori. It was not what he said. As an educator myself, he sounds to me as though he is one of those educators that essentially thinks that teenagers should not be doing anything that isn’t his version of educational–even during their free time. This type of mentality irks me to no end as people, regardless of age, learn from whatever they’re doing–whether it’s free time or school time. And people NEED that free time. It’s essential. Whether you’re 17 or…much older.

      In the case of TWILIGHT here specifically, you are also mistaken in assuming that on its own it has nothing to offer any reader and is mere “candy.” As others have said, it has deeper layers should anyone wish to see them and revel in them. Maybe he should ask the teenage daughter what she thinks of TWILIGHT and discuss its themes with her rather than assuming if she was reading MIDDLEMARCH that then she must be doing fine. THAT is judging a book by its cover.

      And as a side note, I know several people who, because of TWILIGHT, have gone on to read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, JANE EYRE, ROMEO AND JULIET, MIDSUMMER’S NIGHT DREAM, and many other great books. All because TWILIGHT reignited that spark (or created that spark) for them.

      But most of all, this politician reminded me of the MUSIC MAN…”Oh, we’ve got trouble…..”

      • That’s very true. Reading books should be something that should be celebrated, whichever books they are, as the reader will usually move on to other books that toffee nosed, pompous nitwits would probably consider more ‘suitable’.

      • Very well put. It’s not just a matter of the material, but of how the material is engaged with. Think of the pretentious posturing of the older son in the film The Squid and the Whale when it came to literature; his appreciation for these works was hollow at best – when he had actually read them at all. In contrast, one could analyze, say, the TV series Wonderfalls or True Blood in historical, mythological, and psychological context. (True, analysis of pop culture can devolve into mere connect-the-dots similar to the way ‘the classics’ can become rote, which is why it’s important to have an actual education in history, myth etc.)

        It’s a longstanding habit of self-appointed cultural guardians to have disdain for the ‘lowbrow’, unfavorably comparing it to the canon of highbrow art, literature, and music. But the canon changes, and so does the critical consensus of what once was dismissed as lowbrow fodder. Populist entertainment of one generation, from Bride of Frankenstein to The Beatle’s Revolver, becomes the classics for later ones. Sometimes the process doesn’t even take the passing of gnerations; today the boundaries between ‘literary’ and ‘genre’ fiction are breaking down as authors associated with the former are trying their hand at the latter.

        I’m not saying that Twilight necessary will be nor even should be part of a future canon in order to be validated. Just that an education that allows for deeper analysis and appreciation beyond rote name-dropping (whether ‘low’ or ‘high’) includes knowledge from several fields and the current artistic/literary canon – and if you have that, some popular entertainment isn’t a bad thing at all.

        • I agree, Halek. Very well said, and very important points.

          I think you’re right about the canon, and I could definitely see Twilight as being “added” one day, alongside, say, Harry Potter. Unfortunately, when people started to realize that there was really something culturally significant in Twilight, there was that one AP article on “Mormon stuff in Twilight” — which was poorly researched, sloppily written, but syndicated everywhere. Ugh.

          Then all the movie people went on a weeks-long campaign saying, “IT’S JUST A STORY NOT MORMON DON’T FREAK OUT.” And that was all the fire power the haters ever needed. Between that and the public furor over shirtless guys, I didn’t think Twilight’s cultural status would ever recover.

          Contrast that with Harry Potter, where (after a series of articles/books pointing out Christian symbols in HP) J.K. Rowling conceded that she had patterned the books on “literary alchemy,” a fancy name for a common metaphorical structure, which has a foundation in religious thinking. No one freaked. And now, there are academic conferences on Potter every year.

          The Twilight books are rich with various symbols, archetypal patterns, and hold up well to mythical/metaphorical interpretations, as you suggest, Halek.

          I mean, when a character is referred to as “godlike,” “immortal,” “perfect,” “like a Greek god,” “an angel,” over and over and over and over, that’s a not-so-subtle hint that there’s something serious going on — far beyond, “EDWARD IS REALLY CUTE OK.” (Although we all got that point, too.) As Nathaniel Hawthorne (a popular writer considered part of canon)(now), “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” And it’s high time Meyer’s writing got some of the respect it richly deserves.

  8. Idiot

  9. He like a lot of anti-Twilight critics think that if a series is popular, there must be no redeeming value in them whatsoever. For myself as someone who studies alchemy in literature, I know that there are so many deep levels of symbolism in the Twilight saga, beneath what the haters only see on the surface. John Granger said it best on the Twilight in Forks dvd-”If you’re not going to get the surface meaning at the top, you won’t get the goods at the bottom”. Once people find books that they like to read, they can tune out the critics commentary and it just becomes background noise after awhile.

  10. The phrase: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” comes to mind.

    Even if Twilight was all “sweet” and no “meat” (which isn’t true, imo), you need both or you’ll go crazy. You need the regimented and the free-spirited. I know people who’ve read many of the “great works” (and I believe many of those so-called greats truly are) who don’t know much of life’s subtleties, cultural, psychological and social nuances beyond their own ego and bluster. Joke: A good number of these folks go into politics (insert joke drum hit here)

    I know this type of individual well. As a fan of various things that require more than glancing thought to truly process, I’ve come to realize that unless there is either a signifigant outside stimulous or something in the first glance that makes a connection with the individual, a great many people fully assume they know everything they need to know about a topic once they feel they’ve got the gist of it – and immediately stop further thought process about the subject. Very sad, but also very, very true. It’s also a particular pet peeze of mine, and I do the best I can to avoid doing so as much as possible since it’s a trap anyone can fall into we’re if not careful.

    Though, briefly, I’ll give in to glibly quoting a line that this politician reminds me of, from 1962′s “Kid Galahad”:

    “You don’t need a license to be stupid.”

    To be fair to him, however, I merely say this about his view on this particular subject – or maybe he just needs a speechwriter / PR person who understands what nuance is?

    • Elizabeth (EverythingRemindsMeOfTwilight) says:

      Well put!

    • HERE, HERE!

    • “…a great many people fully assume they know everything they need to know about a topic once they feel they’ve got the gist of it – and immediately stop further thought process about the subject. Very sad, but also very, very true.”

      Couldn’t agree more. In regards to a great many things in life.

      And, I would argue, that applies to Twilight itself.

      Like Bella herself, there is much more to Twilight than first meets the eye. And discovering that value and meaning is the best part of the journey.

      • Exactly – that applies to Twilight, and most of the characters within – most especially Edward and Bella since they are judged the most, but true for almost all of the characters from the books.

        On your other post, I wish I’d have commented and discussed more often when everything was busy and going strong, but my wife and I feel we all, as fans, will find our own ways to keep it all going. It’s too engaging not to. :)

    • Just wanted to add: Soooo nice to see so many longtime Lexicon commenters still here!

      • It’s great to read all these comments. I hadn’t checked the Lexicon in awhile and had really missed participating in all these discussions! Agree with all the above…there are so many deeper themes to be explored here and to shrug the books off because of subject matter, “target audience” or popularity reveals more about the person than the books themselves. I was once similarly “judgmental” about all the major “young adult” works that have emerged over the last decade…and for a long time I resisted reading Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games and The Divergent series, in turn. (I really should have known better after being so pleasantly surprised by HP!) But, generally, I still preferred more serious, “classical” selections, not realizing I was missing out on SO much simply because of gross generalizations and misinformed critiques. I have enjoyed ALL of those series I listed above and, most notably, the Twilight Saga….and I often find myself drawing comparisons to the plot, themes and characters when analyzing and discussing other books. There is most definitely value there if you are willing to look for it!

  11. irrevocablysue says:

    I wonder how long it would take to remove the very large stick that is up his butt.

  12. Sophie Calder-Jones says:

    This is so stupid! Gove is making out that Twilight is an emotionless and dumb work, when it clearly isn’t. I’m 15 and I read both classics and popular contemporary books, like Twilight. As someone else on this page said, lots of the classics, such as the works of the Brontes were criticised in their time and seen as vulgar. Gove should be happy that I’m reading at all; the majority of students at my school don’t read any books. People shouldn’t give a bad name to Twilight by claiming it’s not deep or well-written- if it wasn’t then why would it be so popular? I think a novel that so many teenage girls and women can relate to, and which gives us a voice, is a positive thing, and Twilight is clearly influenced by the classics (New Moon= Romeo and Juliet; Eclipse= Wuthering Heights). Gove doesn’t care about the emotions and depth a of a book, he only cares about the status of having read them. He has a two- dimensional approach to learning and education, and needs to read Twilight before criticising it. Unlike a lot of teenagers, I spend my evenings reading, not binge-drinking or taking drugs, and yes, I do read Twilight. Which would he rather I spent my evenings doing?!

    • Elizabeth (EverythingRemindsMeOfTwilight) says:

      “I think a novel that so many teenage girls and women can relate to, and which gives us a voice, is a positive thing, and Twilight is clearly influenced by the classics (New Moon= Romeo and Juliet; Eclipse= Wuthering Heights). Gove doesn’t care about the emotions and depth of a book, he only cares about the status of having read them.”

      Very well put! :)

      • “Gove doesn’t care about the emotions and depth of a book, he only cares about the status of having read them.”

        Agree, excellent point and very well said.

      • Yes, exactly. To read a book just for the sake of having read it is to miss the purpose and joy of reading. Books should be read for the world they open up, for the themes and lessons they explore, for the questions they raise, for the answers they inspire and for the characters they bring alive. A book is an experience…not a box on a check list. And if you can’t read a book that way, it doesn’t matter if you are reading Middlemarch or Twilight, you will come away with nothing gained.

  13. We could read whatever we want thank you

  14. It doesn’t matter what we read, its reading what counts. J.K.Rowling for instance got crictized for her work to do with the Harry Potter books at first because of how many different points in the novels and some was to do with because it was based on witchcraft. I’ve been reading for a very long time and I know what I like to read and what I don’t, I don’t think reading text-books at school help at all and a matter of fact, some teachers don’t like giving them out either. He obviously doesn’t know things about reading and all that. Yes, the post was aimed at Twilight but also it makes you think which other books are aimed at because of what they are about or what they have in the books themselves?!

  15. Well, at least he doesn’t seem to be an actual Twilight-hater…he just picked on it because it’s popular right now, which is annoying enough.

    Isn’t balance better? If I had children I’d want them to read Twilight AND Middlemarch, to play games AND work. What a joyless life, having to shun anything light or fun and only be serious all the time.

    I wonder how much time Grove spend reading comic books or playing cricket as a child instead of doing schoolwork or reading classic literature? :-P

  16. ¿por qué no las dos?

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  18. I just want to note that now, 8 years after the publication of the first book, the movie series behind us, and most importantly both the hype and hate having faded considerably, a more reflective analysis of Twilight can be done. Of course, being a fan I think it holds up very well and has resonance far beyond pop ephemera and trends, but maybe some cultural critics and academics might have something to contribute. Perhaps it’s still to early and we have to leave to future generations to render the final verdict. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy rewatching the movies and rereading the books.

  19. Apparently, Twilight fans aren’t the only ones to disdain this guy:

    “Michael Gove is the UK Secretary of State for Education, the subject of a vote of no confidence from the nation’s head teacher’s conference that ran 99% opposed to his ideas for educational reform. The major motif of Gove’s reforms is an emphasis on rote memorisation and linear learning… ”

    http://boingboing.net/2013/05/20/what-uk-education-czar-michael.html

  20. Brandy H says:

    And chocolate…..would you like to look over your child’s shoulder as they are snacking in the kitchen and see that they are indulging in evil chocolate or munching happily on spinach and brussel sprouts? ((sheesh))

  21. The Effect says:

    This isn’t complicated. People should read whatever they want to read, and nobody has any right to tell them what it should be. (Unless, you know, it was a situation like a parent comes home and finds their 8-year-old child reading adult books full of violence, sex, and blood. That’s a different story, but even then, it depends on the 8-year-old.)

    Period.

  22. As an author and a parent, I’m thrilled when my daughter is reading anything! Thanks to the public school system, she was starting to hate reading, but Twilight and Harry Potter saved the day. I’ve posted about this on my blog several times, just be thankful that kids (and adults) are discovering a love of books and get over your high-real literature-let’s turn everyone into uncreative drones-I know what’s best for your child-self!

  23. Brooklyn says:

    He obviously doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Twilight is actually very educational. It teaches of heartache and family. Twilight teaches very important life lessons, but its main characters happen to be mythical creatures, which are there to get you interested. So, Twilight is actually just as educational as Middlemarch. Twilight is the reason a lot of teenagers are reading now. I, being 13, am one of those teenagers. Before Twilight, I couldn’t stand to read. I read Twilight in 4th grade. I completed it in 6 hours. I have now completed 12 series and read over 450 books, and I’m just getting ready to start 8th grade in the fall. So, Twilight has done this country a great favor. Thoughts?

    • My thoughts are that:

      1. You’re completely correct.
      2. It’s a very well-written response.
      3. You are totally awesome.

      Thank you, Brooklyn!

    • Destroying feminism is educational? If so, then yes, Twilight is VERY educational!

      • In what way has Twilight “destroyed feminism”? Taken as a whole, the series shows a young woman moving from shy, reserved, and feeling out of place in the world to strong – emotionally and physically – and able to face her enemies head on , as well as finding the place she fits in. Isn’t that what feminism is all about?

        • Indeed. And don’t forget: immortal “goddess,” the most powerful being on Earth.

          Plus, I’ve hear her roar.

        • Twilight is anti-feminist because it teaches you that a woman is nothing without a man! Bella is weak, whiny and in constant need of a man’s protection, she’s a male-dependent damsel in distress! She’s also very shallow and selfish, because she’s willing to leave her family for the first hottie she encounters and is obsessed this hottie’s beauty. The words “Bella” and “strong” do not belong in the same sentence. A strong woman does not depend on a man!

          • If that’s what you think Twilight “teaches”, I don’t get how you get there.

            She’s a teenager. She’s not going to act like a controlled, self-knowing 30+ year old (when even many 30+ people don’t act that way). As a matter of fact, she’s pretty good for her age. She’s discovering herself, and comes to recognize what she always knew was there.

            Oh, and the line about “the first hottie she encounters” paints with such a broad brush, it suggests either an attempt at humor or a lack of knowledge about the subject matter.

            Bella starts off as some approximation of what you say, but by Eclipse she chooses to be with Edward – not out of need or feeling that she’s nothing, but because it’s what she wants and she’s going to have it.

            By the end of Breaking Dawn (book), she all but single-handedly protects/saves them all.

            Some further breakdown points:

            Twilight: sneaks away from her “protection” to confront James (who she has ZERO chance against) and to try to spare Edward.

            New Moon: She flies to Italy to save Edward from basically committing suicide.

            Eclipse: She hides with Edward initially, but her actions when they are discovered make the difference between their life and death.

            Breaking Dawn: 1: against her “first hottie’s” wishes, she has the child and makes it through, requiring Edward to change her himself (another thing she wanted from the beginning)

            2: She learns to use her “shield” to protect the Cullens and their allies from the Volturi’s powers, basically saving them all.

            All through the books, both Bella and Edward essentially take turns being “the strong one”, with Bella usually having the heftier moment. They both find themselves, separately and within each other. Given that the situations usually dictate her as needing help (since the opposition are vampires – try playing chicken on foot with someone in a car, you’d need help too), she shows quite a bit of strength.

            Lastly, to judge a person’s (or character’s) journey by holding them to the standard of their destination is a test that no woman, man, or child – living, dead or fictional – could stand up to. Unless they’re a 2D characture, in which case they’re either the comic relief / background filler, or in a story where the author has no concept of plot, conflict, and consequence.

            In most stories today, the lead woman is strong and learns to let life in along the way, that there’s strength there, too. But some, like Bella, find strength the other way. Both ring true in their own way, and reach a different crowd.

            Both are strength, but in their own way.

          • Emily R. says:

            I do wish the anti-Twilight brigade would start thinking for themselves instead of spouting the same gibberish about Bella being “weak, whiny, and nothing without a man”. Only a very superficial reading of the story would give you that impression. I don’t remember a single instance in any of the books where Bella is “whiny”. And I’ve read them all multiple times. Edward’s good looks are what first catch her attention, but her love for him goes far deeper than “he’s so hot”. That’s Jessica’s department, remember?

            Being willing to leave your family and start a new life with the one you love (or on your own – if Bella had never met Edward she was planning to go to California for college, which wasn’t near either of her parents) is part of growing up. Granted, that doesn’t always mean permanent separation, but that’s part of the FANTASY element of the story, with the vampires and all.

            And strong absolutely does not mean “never in need of any help, ever”. A strong woman can indeed depend on a man in an equal partnership where each supports the other, which is what Bella and Edward develop over the course of the series.

          • “Edward’s good looks are what first catch her attention, but her love for him goes far deeper than “he’s so hot” Oh, please! she’s ALWAYS describing his perfect looks! True love is based on personality, not on looks!

          • Quote: “Edward’s good looks are what first catch her attention, but her love for him goes far deeper than “he’s so hot” Oh, please! she’s ALWAYS describing his perfect looks! True love is based on personality, not on looks!”

            Yes, true love IS based on personality, not looks. But if you think looks don’t help and aren’t *generally/usually* part of the equation on some level (as well as stated in the books that their beauty is uncommon and a psyiological human draw), you’re mistaken. And if you think his looks is all Bella saw, then you haven’t read the books. Period.

      • First off, everybody has their own path, so this idea of feminism as a “one road only and all else is an affront to women” idea that’s become the popular definition seems incredibly constrictive and “2D”, which is a slap in the face to the multitude of variations in beauty and strength and confidence that exist within women in the real world.

        Second, on a very ironic note: breaking down the psychology of your statement, if Bella and Twilight “destroy feminism”, it would seem to suggest that feminism (at least by your logic) isn’t all that strong… when feminism is the complete antithesis of that. So the statement is flawed from the beginning.

        Just something to think about.

  24. GUYS GO VOTE FOR BREAKING DAWN AT THE TEEN CHOICE AWARDS! LETS VOTE FOR ONE LAST HURRAH!

  25. olympic coven says:

    I hadn’t bother reading in years except kiddie books putting my oldest to bed. A friend let me borrow her Twilight book and I sat at the kitchen table for 2 hours without moving. I now read a diverse range of books from the classics, christian historical romance, other YA novels. I can’t get enough. Always on my kindle each night. One may not care for Twilight but it has impacted multi-generations to read and that’s what matters.

  26. HE NEED’S COLD SHOWER!!!!!

  27. I can’t help but think that his Twilight vs. Middlemarch comparison is also a slam at American literature, especially when he points out the “Great Tradition of English Literature.” Maybe it’s just me, but . . .

    I also wonder how he would feel to see that his son’s coding was to create a game similar to Angry Birds . . . would his son’s efforts impress him then? Or would his son be punished for “wasting” his computer knowledge?

    And, lastly, if his son wants to improve his pool, then he’s obviously learning practical applications of geometry and physics in the real world . . . did he ever stop to consider that that knowledge may lead him into the fields of math or science? I don’t think so.

    Of course, the main thought I had when I got to the end of the article was – why are your kids reading and sitting in front of a computer all of the time? What happened to sending them outside to get actual exercise and fresh air????

  28. OT: Happy tenth anniversary for Stephenie’s dream! Thank you!!

    Don’t forget the swimming lessons start today, Stephenie!

    • Wow, 10 years… amazing. Wish we’d hopped on the bandwagon sooner, we didn’t discover the books until the first movie came out. It would be pretty cool if they found something to do for the 10th anniversary.

      Hopefully the folks in Forks capitalize on that to help with promotion for Stephenie Meyer Day, to pull in that many more fans this year. :)

  29. This is simply ridiculous.

  30. Thank you for your writing. Be able to stop and overcome panic attacks and anxiety episodes.

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