Don’t Axe American Literature – or Any Literature!

To_Kill_a_MockingbirdLike many “cultural warriors” (thank you Mr. Gove for that great title!) and an American historian to boot, I was saddened to read the stories – since denied – that the Secretary of Education, Michael Gove, had axed American literature from the GCSE syllabus. According to reports from OCR, one of the largest exam boards, Mr. Gove had personally removed John Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men (1937) a short story about migrant workers,  and Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel about racial inequality and the law in the American South, To Kill A Mocking Bird (1960).

These are both classic pieces of writing that help children (and adults) understand periods in history but also problems of human experience and different forms of prejudice.  However, not all great literature can be included in a school syllabus and one might as well ask where are the great pieces of European literature or even non-white, non-European literature?  The fact is that all school children should read more literature and more widely.

I think this is especially true of those interested in history – literature, and the arts generally, inform our understanding of society, history, and the human experience; as an American historian I almost assume that students will have read authors like Crane, Twain, Cather, Dreiser, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Hurston, Steinbeck, Wright, Miller, Bellow, Updike, Kerouac, Salinger, Plath, Ellison, Morrison, Walker, Angelou … and many more besides! and this is in addition to the samples from Shakespeare, British Romantic poets, Victorian literature, and modern British writing to be the focus of the OCR syllabus.  Put simply – read MORE – not less, regardless of what Mr. Gove or anyone else says.

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