Students spent the year studying “other cultures”, with a specific focus on the novel Mr Pip, about an island experiencing civil war in reaction to colonial influence. Multi-modal texts with different cultural perspectives were also used to supplement students’ thinking, which varied according to group. This work built on issues of land resource and environmental damage that students study in Geography. With our partner school in Uganda, we engaged in a process of analysing the context of reception of two poems. Each school chose a poem which “typifies” their culture and literary canon. Year 9 students (14-15 year olds) were asked to analyse each poem in each school, focusing on what it means to them. Students were asked to write a comparative analysis of the poems.


Aims and outcomes: 

Colonialism, and the attitudes and beliefs that surround it in different cultures, is central to the year and provides the focus for numerous tasks and assessments. As such, the year asked students to engage with different international perspectives, recognising that their own view of any text, or wider situation, is likely heavily influenced by their own cultural paradigm. Context of reception is a key theme in literary analysis: the different social, political, historical and economic experiences of an audience and how these may inform our interpretation of any text. For example, an interpretation of Antony & Cleopatra might be significantly different depending on whether the reader has a direct experience of colonialism. By allowing students to see how others, with different experiences, interpret the same text, this aspect of literary analysis became evident to students, giving them a more “open” mind when approaching literature in future, and also allowing them valuable insights into another cultural paradigm.


The poem from St Charles Lwanga in Uganda:


Sometimes I wonder,
Think, listen to myself
But still wonder.
What really true friendship is?

Can it be touched with bare hands;
Served on a plate like food to a visitor;
Dished out in envelops to a flock by a Pastor;
What really is true friendship?

Oh! I get it! Get it! Get it!
It is deeds. Good deeds! Deeds!
Done for God for the good of man.
Needy, disadvantaged and helpless

Oh! I get it! Get it! Get it!
It involves self sacrifice for the good of man.
Empathy objectivity and trustworthiness,
comprise its key ingredients.

Oh! I get it! Get it! Get it!
It knows no boundary
White with black, Christian with Moslem.
Each there for the other when need calls.

Oh! I get it! Get it! Get it!
I no longer have to wonder.
Think and listen to myself.
Yes! Leeds! Good deeds are true friendship.


The Poem for Guildford County School in England:


We are prepared: we build our houses squat,

Sink walls in rock and roof them with good slate.

The wizened earth had never troubled us

With hay, so as you can see, there are no stacks

Or stooks that can be lost. Nor are there trees

Which might prove company when it blows full

Blast: you know what I mean - leaves and branches

Can raise a chorus in a gale

So that you can listen to the thing you fear

Forgetting that it pummels your house too.

But there are no trees, no natural shelter.

You might think that the sea is company,

Exploding comfortably down on the cliffs

But no: when it begins, the flung spray hits

The very windows, spits like a tame cat

Turned savage. We just sit tight while wind dives

And strafes invisibly. Space is a salvo.

We are bombarded by the empty air.

Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.