Recently the general public has reacted with outrage at the planned changes to the English Literature curriculum in the UK. These changes will mean the novels being taught to GCSE students will consist solely of British literature such as the works of Dickens and Austen. This means that classic books such as ‘Of Mice and Men’; ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘The Crucible’ will no longer be taught.
The changes have been first introduced by the changes to the OCR syllabus but further exam boards are expected to follow suit. These changes at first seemed to have stemmed directly from the education secretary Michael Gove’s personal preference for patriotic literature. This caused an outcry from the public that Gove was acting in a dictatorial fashion, messing with the learning of an entire nation simply as a result of whimsy. This impression was further worsened when Paul Dodd, the OCR head of exam change, told the Sunday Times that “Michael Gove really dislikes” ‘Of Mice and Men’, suggesting that Gove was simply changing the syllabus – affecting thousands of pupils – merely due to his own biased opinions.
Seeing as 90% of pupils taking English Literature GCSE currently study ‘Of Mice and Men’, these changes will have a dramatic effect on the teaching of literature throughout the country. This could suggest why there has been such an intense backlash to the changes, as many people will have studied these books themselves while at school and thus will hold them close to their heart. The extent of the protests could be seen on Twitter: when the changes were first announced the hashtag “mockingbird” trended worldwide, underlining how important these books are to the people of Britain. Interestingly, the sales of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ sky rocketed, reaching number nine on the best selling list.
If it were true that American novels were being banned simply for their nationality, I would describe the changes as laughable at best and sinister at worst. The lessons of tolerance and acceptance that would be taught to future pupils in the content of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ would not only be kept from a large majority of the later generations but the exact opposite of these lessons would be being demonstrated to them by their own government.
However, the public’s first impression that these books have been directly threatened seems to have been at least slightly exaggerated. In actuality, the changes to the English Literature syllabus state that the category of "prose from different cultures" will be removed and replaced with "modern works from Britain" which will include ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro. Though American novels are no longer part of the syllabus, American poetry can still be studied. However, though particular books are not being banned, teachers are still protesting that choice is being removed due to the extreme narrowing of the curriculum. Gove directly refuted these claims, however, telling The Daily Telegraph, “all we are doing is asking exam boards to broaden – not narrow – the books young people study for GCSE”.
In conclusion, though the initial furor that specific books would be banned from the curriculum due to some absurd personal xenophobia of education officials proved to be untrue, the curriculum is still being narrowed and diminishing the choice of books available for pupils to study. Whether this has negative effects or whether the spotlight on future British classics will incite a greater enthusiasm for reading and writing their own creative work in the nation’s students remains to be seen.