In an attempt to increase rigor, intellectual thought and a strong sense of Britishness, the U.K.’s minister of education Michael Gove removed American literature from syllabi in British high schools.
Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” Maya Angelou’s autobiography and Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible” were all staples of the U.K.’s English education, but are now no longer approved material.
The Huffington Post reported, “New government rules say GCSE pupils must study ‘high quality, intellectually challenging, and substantial works.’”
The GCSE are standardized exams taken by British students by age 16 and are used for eligibility to move on to courses designed to prepare students to attend universities.
“The purge of Americans,” the ministry of education said in a press release, “is the product — though not the goal — of an attempt to make the school curriculum more rigorous.”
Gove insisted that the goal was never to banish American writers. He wrote in the Daily Mail, “I have not banned anything. All we are doing is asking exam boards to broaden — not narrow — the books young people study for GCSE.”
Some welcome Gove’s changes, saying that there are many British literary treasures of the last century that are too often overshadowed by American literature of the same era.
“Jonathan Bate, an English professor at Oxford who advised on the latest curriculum changes, said he had been discouraged to discover that many pupils studied no British novels for their GCSE course,” the Huffington Post reported.
"I think there are so many riches in the last century's literature in these islands that all pupils should have some acquaintance with it," Bate said.
But many British high school educators are outraged at the loss of classic American literature from the classroom, saying that Gove isn’t broadening young British minds but fostering a backwards ethnocentricity.
“Michael Gove wants everybody studying traditional literature, and he wants it to be British," Bethan Marshall, chair of the National Association for the Teaching of English, told the Huffington Post. “I think that's a bit of a mistake.”
The ministry of education responded to criticism, saying that these “guidelines represent the minimum students are required to learn,” and those who [choose] to read “more widely — and internationally — will do better on the exams.”
The Daily Mail reported that Nobel Prize-winning writer Toni Morrison weighed in on the debate, saying, “It [is] wrong to divide literature into 'nationalistic categories.'” She said Gove would live to regret the mandate.
Morrison, along with many British academics, have said that dividing literature up by nationality misses the point of a literary education, saying that it’s meant to be a celebration of language and insight, not patriotism.
Mary Stevens, an English teacher from Abingdon, U.K., set up and online petition criticizing and asking for a change to the new legislation told the BBC, “By telling us we have to teach romantic poets, a 19th century novel, a Shakespeare play and a British text, he is taking choice away from teachers — that is the reality.”
Stevens also said that “this doesn't broaden the curriculum in real terms. Our perception is that Michael Gove has made these changes based on his personal opinion. We feel that important changes in policy should be informed by expert research, including teachers who are actually delivering the curriculum.”
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