No, not Michael Gove fessing up to the Chancellor, but a quote from an American classic, “Of Mice and Men”. Yep, the latest lunacy from Gove is to lean heavily on the examination boards to delete from their reading lists this and similar examples of American literature and substitute work by British authors.
I personally never tired of teaching ‘Mice and Men’, I think it is a superb piece of writing (so pleased to hear Gove dislikes it intensely) and I also believe ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’, ‘The Crucible’ and ‘Catcher in the Rye’, staples of GCSE syllabuses, are equally fine. That’s not to say, of course, that there are not other equally good examples of literature that might be accessible to the vast majority of teenagers. Perhaps it’s a good idea to give these old warhorses a rest, freshen up and reinvigorate the teachers.
But that’s not the point. It is no business of the Secretary of State to influence the minutiae of any part of the curriculum because of his own predilections : we’ve seen it before with Gove over history. Exam boards have access to plenty of specialist expert knowledge and should propose for study texts that challenge, offer variety and are likely to catch the imagination of young people.
It is tempting to examine the themes of the books Gove wants effectively to ban and, if you know them, it’s easy to see why they might not appeal to a neo-con. Other texts may follow, with different excuses for deleting them from the syllabus (what price ‘An Inspector Calls’ with its clear message that we are all responsible for each other?). As for the ‘let them read Brit’ argument, how many of our favourite authors might fail to qualify? Quite a few Irish : Yeats, Wilde, Joyce, Shaw, Beckett; others of dubious heritage: Conrad and Stoppard, for example, both of whom I’ve taught at A level. TS Eliot and Sylvia Plath were American – Churchill was half American, for goodness sake! It is narrow-minded and typical of the Secretary of State.
I wouldn’t go to the stake to defend any of these books or authors in particular but I will join with those who wish to oppose the little dictator at the DfE over his right to meddle in which examples of literature my colleagues choose to present to their children.