Sunday, 25 May 2014

Boring American Books Axed From GCSE Syllabus

From the Telegraph

Of Mice and Men, the John Steinbeck novella, is one of a number of boring American books that have been axed from new English literature GCSEs after the education secretary insisted students must study boring British works.

Michael Gove’s intervention means three-quarters of the books on the government directed GCSEs, which will be unveiled this week, are by British authors and most are pre-20th century.

OCR, one of Britain’s biggest exam boards, said: "Of Mice and Men, which everyone really dislikes, will not be included. It was hated by 90% of teenagers taking English literature GCSE in the past."


Mark Wadsworth said...

What about the bit making them read Dickens, who might have been all right at heart but was inadvertently Home-Owner-Ist?

(The heroes in his stories usually turn out to be dispossessed landed gentry who end up being restored as rent collectors, with no mention of the people paying the rents.)

The Stigler said...

I don't know about that, but I read a couple of Dickens and found nothing of interest in them.

I think the problem with "literature" in schools is that it's far more about books to politically indoctrinate kids than to have them read a good story (and a good yarn can also be deep like Frankenstein or Moby Dick).

DBC Reed said...

@TS Having taught literature in schools I can say ,its not about political indoctrination: the variety of books would make that difficult and most writers are not bothered.

The most left-wing book I taught was The Great Gatsby ,a neat Marxist text.

Piketty uses Jane Austen for evidence about capital from land rents and government bonds so I suppose she's too political now.

The problem with Dickens, who was a classic liberal, is that his books just aren't very good.

Its come to something when a neo-laissez faire twerp like Gove starts interfering in detail with the English curriculum.

In the good old days politician steered well-clear of saying what should be thought.

It was the Tories who imposed the State/National Curriculum though not ,I believe ,the public schools who were n't inspected till recently.

The Stigler said...


I agree with you about Gove. If there's to be standard exam texts in a national curriculum, there should be a committee that decides books on merit.

And Gove does have this absurd bit of old-fashioned Britishness about him that is absurd. The best literature, wherever it comes from is universal.

Of course, we'll have Shakespeare in there, despite the fact that Hamlet was derived from a Scandanavian legend and that Romeo and Juliet came from an Italian book.

Mark Wadsworth said...

TS, studying fiction strikes me as completely pointless as it is all inherently "true".

If the author says it was a rainy afternoon and the hero met a beautiful girl, then it was a rainy afternoon and the girl was beautiful, so what? You can't argue or debate either of those two statements.

Far more interesting is studying supposedly factual accounts and picking out the prejudices, lies and distortions in it.

The Stigler said...


It's more about an analysis of the book - how the author uses certain techniques in the story. For example - in Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony starts his speech with "I have come not to bury Caesar, not to praise him" and then the rest of his speech is indirectly destroying Caesar. You're supposed to be able to spot that's what he's doing.

For me, the problem is that I had no interest in the books I was given and having to do an analysis of something that doesn't interest you just makes it a pointless chore.

Mark Wadsworth said...

TS, yes, fair enough, but you could do the same for a David Cameron speech.

The Stigler said...


Yes, you're quite right.

Bayard said...

I used to quickly read all the books I had to study, and enjoy them as they were meant to be enjoyed, before having to analyse them made them unutterably tedious. Even Dickens and Steinbeck are OK if you read them fast enough.
However I'd agree about the point that everyone in Dickens lives off either rents or inherited money, except Doyce, the engineer (Little Dorrit?).

The Stigler said...


I think that's wise. Nothing kills a book like plodding through it in class.

I've said to my kids that when it comes to whatever play they have to do, I'll take them to see it. Doing Shakespeare in class (or watching a poorly staged BBC production) killed it for me.