“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” With Scout’s honest words in To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee encapsulated a sentiment which Michael Gove seems intent on destroying.
The Sunday Times has revealed that Gove has axed a number of American classics from the English GCSE syllabus, and most likely with it, the interest of students in studying literature. According to exam board OCR “Of Mice and Men, which Michael Gove really dislikes, will not be included. It was studied by 90% of teenagers taking English literature GCSE in the past”. One gets the impression that Gove’s personal preference is having a heavy hand in deciding the education of future generations.
Remember the person whose life was made *worse* by reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’? Of course you don’t, because THEY DON’T EXIST.
— Lauren Laverne (@laurenlaverne) May 25, 2014
Many of the great literary works of the twentieth-century are foreign, but that doesn’t lessen the importance of their contribution to the study of the English Literature. By limiting English students’ studies to works of their own country, Gove is implying that American students shouldn’t study Shakespeare. In removing such modern classics, the development of literature historically and geographically is being ignored and placing severe limitations on prospective students’ understanding of the discipline.
In Music GCSE, the works studied are not limited to English composers. A musician’s palate would be sorely impaired if they had only ever been exposed to Purcell and Britten, without understanding the seminal influence of Bach or Shostakovich on the discipline. Similarly for literature, it is important to appreciate the influential figures of the field regardless of their country.
Contemporary works are far more relevant to a 16 year old than many Dickens or Austen novels. Of course there are many teenagers who are interested in English canon, but as a compulsory GCSE the English syllabus has to engage people of all abilities and interests. The easiest way to do so is to introduce them to literature which has greater resonance in our own time. A book about tolerance (such as To Kill a Mockingbird) at a time when the ‘Is Ukip racist?’ debate is rife is far more pertinent than an Austen novel espousing the importance of marrying a suitably wealthy gentleman.
If Michael Gove doesn’t want schoolchildren reading foreign authors, he shouldn’t have sent them all of those Bibles.
— Mr Roger Quimbly (@RogerQuimbly) May 25, 2014
More importantly, teachers love the books Gove proposes to axe. There’s a reason why 90% teenagers taking English Literature GCSE have studied Of Mice and Men. The passion harboured by teachers for such works is disseminated throughout the class, and from that passion springs intellectual debate- something which prepares a student far more for the rigour of A-level study than an extensive ability to regurgitate Byron. What’s more, it is this love of reading which hopefully continues long after a person’s studies have concluded. Many of these books have taught students past that they may hate studying English, but they don’t actually hate reading.
Literature helps create a more rounded individual and Gove will be stunting future generations.