Wednesday 28 May 2014

Mr. Gove, you are the UK's education secretary. Educate. #saveourbooks

It's no secret that I disagree with Michael Gove on the majority of the things he's doing. But his changes being made to the GCSE English Literature co
urse made me very very angry. Angry enough to write  a 650 word post on it. With footnotes.

Gove, Gove, Gove. Once again, I must ask: what are you doing? You’ve already played with GCSEs and A Levels to the point no teenager really understands fully what they're doing in the next part of their school years. And now you're changing the literature syllabus to remove important  non-British works from the classroom.

Such works include American classics like The Crucible,  To Kill A Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men, which is studied by 90% of students,[1] and works from other cultures like Purple Hibiscus and Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence.

These works are important. Not just because they’re works of literature that have stood the test of time. But because as well as being able to be studied and teach us about symbolism and metaphors and all other things you do when you study them for a literature course, they teach us about other cultures and themes.

Of Mice and Men’s themes include: power, privilege, friendship, racism, sexism, ageism, injustice, and prejudice. To Kill A Mockingbird’s themes include: racism, education, bravery, and justice. Both are set in cultures different to our own, but have themes and ideas that are timeless, and relevant to life today.

I understand that the main point of the English literature course is to develop analysis skills. But you can do that with many pieces of literature, regardless of where they originate from-look at my language notes for the start of Of Mice and Men.

You say that "If [exam boards] wish to include Steinbeck – whether it's Of Mice and Men or The Grapes of Wrath – no one would be more delighted than me, because I want children to read more widely and range more freely intellectually in every subject." [2]
The new plans  state that students should study “at least one play by Shakespeare, at least one 19th century novel, a selection of poetry since 1789, including representative Romantic poetry [and] fiction or drama from the British Isles from 1914 onwards” [3]. I can’t see Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men fitting into any of those categories. No, your four guidelines don’t say you can’t study other things too, but two years to study these four things in depth, alongside multiple other subjects, means that exam boards will probably want to steer clear of piling extra things on students, meaning they will likely be excluded.

Britain is a multicultural country. We have students of all races and backgrounds studying the course, and we don’t need solely British Victorian viewpoints and ideas about poverty and romance, which is what the majority of Dickens and Austen is made up of.
Likewise, English is a multicultural language, spoken in most parts of the world either as a first or foreign language. It should not be surprising that quality literature written in English comes from all corners of the Earth. The study of world literature is important to broadening all our horizons.

Of course, British literature is important too. You know my love of Shakespeare, and works by Orwell and Huxley might go on the list to be studied, and some of these books are pretty good. But these aren't the easiest to understand and read and engage with. Difficulty levels really can put people off reading. One reason why 90% of students get taught Of Mice And Men is because it is short enough to be studied in depth, and the language is both  accessible to lower level students and good for analysis for higher level ones.

No, you’re not banning teenagers from reading these books. I get that these books will still be available to teens in bookshops and the dwindling number  libraries that are still going. But according to the Reading Agency, 46% teenagers don't read for pleasure [4] . For some, the books they read in school will be the only books they read at all. Shouldn't the few books these people read showcase experiences and ideas other than those of long-long dead people, and be able to teach us something about cultures and issues both historical and contemporary?  You are the secretary of state for education, Mr. Gove. Educate.

 1- BBC findings, 
 2- Guardian website,  
 3- The Department of Education’s document on GCSE English Literature 
 4- The Reading Agency 

To try and do something about it, there are a number of petitions. What are your thoughts on the changes to the GCSE?


  1. I agree! I agree! Rarely do negative posts but had to write one on just this subject yesterday. Gove is wrong on all sorts of levels.

  2. Nina, this was SO well written! I loved it. It's so, so true. Also, you've reminded me we were all going to post on Wednesday, so I better go write my opinion too!:)
    Georgia x

  3. Abso-flipping-lutely!! Force kids to read Victorian literature that majority cannot relate to or enjoy and you risk turning them off reading for life.


Thanks for taking time to read this!
Comments are much loved.
Nina xxx

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