Today, the Sunday Times published an article about Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, and his decision to take US classics off the GCSE English curriculum.
“The John Steinbeck novella Of Mice and Men, and other American classics including Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible and the Harper Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird, have been dropped from new English literature GCSEs after Michael Gove, the education secretary, insisted teenagers had to study works by British writers.”
Apparently, Gove doesn’t like ‘Of Mice and Men’, but why does that mean he gets to say that other people can’t read it? Surely there should be more people having a say in this?
The exam board, OCR, says that the book was “studied by 90% of teenagers taking English literature GCSE in the past”, which suggests that it is a book at the very heart of the GCSE English curriculum. Personally, I am one of the 10% who never studied ‘Of Mice and Men’, and when I hear people talking about studying it, I feel left out! Although, from what I’ve heard, it sounds like I didn’t miss much. I may even attempt to read it now, as I find that reading these classics out of an educational context makes them much more enjoyable!
Also, according to OCR, “In the new syllabus 70-80% of the books are from the English canon.”
I’m all for promoting British books because we’ve produced some of the best writers, but it seems very narrow-minded to take out the US classics. To be fair, a lot of British classics, while good books, are a bit grating after a while, especially if you’re spending a whole term on one of them. I’m the sort of person who reads a book and then quickly moves onto the next. Education introduces you to some great books but spending too much time on certain authors can get a little bit boring. If you’re going to bore teens (many of whom probably don’t care that much about literature), at least try to throw in a few classics by foreign writers to do the job properly!
It’s bad enough that, in this world of technology and social networking, teenagers are less likely to read books in a conventional way (if at all) but education is the main place where you’re introduced to books which make you think about the world differently, and having books on the curriculum which are from a variety of authors from Britain and beyond our shores helps us to learn more about the world. We need to give teenagers the chance to learn about other cultures through books and broaden their minds! It seems very racist trying to kick out literature by foreign authors and doesn’t set a good example for young people.
I must point out that I was one of the lucky (or unlucky?!) ones who ended up in a GCSE English class which didn’t cover ‘Of Mice and Men’, ‘The Crucible’, or ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, so I can’t say how good these classics actually are, but I did study J.D. Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in the Rye” which, although bizarre on the first reading, turned out to be very interesting (and I have actually read it since I left school!).
I studied my GCSEs in 2005, so I’m hard-pushed to remember what else I actually studied, but I remember having an anthology of poetry with Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage and a few other poets! It wasn’t very much fun though, although I remember liking studying the film “Pleasantville”!
I may not have enjoyed a lot of the texts I studied at GCSE, but it didn’t stop me taking A Level English, or doing a degree in English Literature and English Language, both of which covered infinitely more interesting books!
Banning books only shows that someone is trying to control what you are exposed to, and when it comes to books, I think it is wrong to limit people to certain things. Shakespeare, Dickens and Austen are all great, but there’s more to literature than their collective works! There are many exciting books out there!
Maybe banning these books will make people read them anyway? Who Knows?! We will see just how well this plan works when it is put into action.
What do you think?
The article from the Sunday Times “Gove kills the mockingbird with ban on US classic novel” is found here: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/article1414764.ece?CMP=OTH-gnws-standard-2014_05_24