Drama in Education, Education in Drama: A Student-Centred Historical Perspective for Studying Alan Bennett’s ‘The History Boys’

Michael Anthony INGHAM

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Drama and role-play activity in Hong Kong secondary English teaching has often promoted institutionally oriented ‘right thinking’ ideology, as a consequence of the tendency to rely on stereotypes in moralistic student role-plays and educationally sanitised devised dramas. Tertiary-sector drama teachers have a responsibility to eschew such crude propaganda. One effective way to do this is to look at professional English language dramatists as a source of linguistic and thematic pedagogic inspiration. More than representing simply canonical ‘literature’ and ‘famous authors’, contemporary plays can engage both instructor and students on a more profound experiential level than is common for students, and engage them both cognitively and emotionally. Because the playwrights are critically recognised and accomplished writers whose theme is human nature in all its facets, such professionally produced dramas can touch our students’ lives more intensely than more morally simplistic and prescriptive ones devised to please educational authorities and reinforce the educational status quo. By introducing the study of such plays to students, we encourage them to appraise the complexities of our lives and social systems and foster critical, as opposed to simply conformist, thinking.

The discussion and argument of this paper is predicated to a considerable extent on findings from a series of in-depth interviews with students from a drama course taken by second-year undergraduates at Lingnan University, primarily in relation to Bennett’s ‘The History Boys’. The students’ performances of assessment pieces, referred to in the course syllabus as ‘performance-presentations’, exemplify the heuristic nature of the drama activity. Students prepared extracts from the play to perform for the class and subsequently analyse and discuss with their classmates. In the follow-up workshop assignment students were expected to organise a drama workshop around one scene or extract from the set play-text, and conduct the workshop by employing their classmates as performers and themselves as facilitators. The findings of my focus group discussion and open-ended questions include a remarkably astute number of observations about the applicability of the dramatic and ideological conflict in the play to the ongoing university implementation of outcome-based assessments, as well as to student grading and teacher attitudes and values, and even to the universities’ often counter-productive obsession with rankings. A
second hot topic that the small group of students began to engage with after the course had finished, and in our more recent discussions with them, was the vexed question of civic and national education and of citizenship. These students’ ability to transfer the play’s ideas and themes from the UK to the Hong Kong context has been noteworthy. Moreover, their faculties of critical thinking and creativity have been fully engaged by adopting a performative, discovery-based learning approach to a critically acclaimed contemporary drama text. In this piece I would like to share their evaluative feedback and engage in discussion concerning the implications for well-written drama as a pedagogical tool.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLanguage Arts in Asia 2 : English and Chinese through Literature, Drama and Popular Culture
EditorsChristina DECOURSEY
Place of PublicationEngland
PublisherCambridge Scholars
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)9781443858151
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014
Event2nd APELA, Conference on Language Arts, Hong Kong Polytechnic University - Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Duration: 1 Oct 20121 Oct 2012


Conference2nd APELA, Conference on Language Arts, Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Country/TerritoryHong Kong
CityHong Kong
OtherAPELA. Cambridge Scholars Press.


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