If Michael Gove, Education Secretary, has banned American literature from our children’s exam syllabuses that’s not good. However, if somewhere in this media circus someone is suggesting a widening of the curriculum outside of the usual fare of (yawn) ‘Of Mice And Men’ (John Steinbeck) and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ (Harper Lee)…well okay.
Come on, I was studying those texts when GSCEs were ‘O’ Levels and teachers could rap you over the knuckles with six rulers taped together. (Yeah, that happened.)
So, laying aside the American vs. English literature red herring of a headliner, is a broadening of what our children read such a bad thing?
Did you know that nearly 80% of students sitting English Literature this year were taught the same novel – and that one novel was the only one they had to read for their GCSE?
If lazy is an accepted standard, then let’s march it to the top of the class.
And tired can’t be good for fresh, spirited and inspirational teaching. Such teaching thrives on devouring new texts, new ideas and a little controversy. Even the best of our teachers must become inured of familiar text churned out year in year out, dusting off the same underwhelming teaching outlines.
Not that brilliant teachers ever teach by numbers – no matter how familiar the material – and it is these brilliant teachers we will rely on to breathe life into English text deemed too difficult or over-reaching for our children. (The other unacceptable sub-text in all of this being that our children are too stupid to understand (indeed, enjoy) complexity in more ‘loftier’, English tomes.)
What young, curious eyebrow could not be raised, for instance, at a husband going to a carnival with his wife and then selling her in a drunken fit. Then years later the part fate (or personal character traits) plays in bringing these two characters back together again in wholly different circumstances?
A plotline from Emmerdale? No, ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’, Thomas Hardy.
All of that to say, no book bashing here, but that there are other contemporary and traditional pages to be turned, turning the page on this American vs. English literature nonsense and, instead, widening the debate about the variety and substance of what our children read.
Michael Gove, Education Secretary, can you man-up and do that, or are you a mouse?