Michael Gove’s reported call for a renewed emphasis on literature written in the British Isles seems a bit parochial. In response to new guidelines many American texts are being dropped from syllabuses.
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.
From 2015, teenagers taking the OCR English literature exam will have to study a pre-20th-century novel by a British author such as Charles Dickens or Jane Austen, poetry by the Romantics, and a Shakespeare play.
Dickens’s shortest novels are also (I think) his least interesting, and Jane Austen is a bit subtle for GCSE level study. Apparently the DfE wants syllabuses to be ‘more focused on tradition’ but school children still seem to be reading books which (while good) seemed rather conventional, or at least ‘classic’, back in the 1980s – To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), Lord of the Flies (1954) and Of Mice and Men (1937).
And what’s the rationale for clamping down on American literature – for choosing An Inspector Calls (1945), say, over A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)? Students don’t only (or even mostly) study British history at GCSE, or British cinema if they take film studies.
What books would Harry’s Place readers like to see added to (or removed from) GCSE syllabuses?