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Michael Gove hasn’t banned Steinbeck – but perhaps he should have.

27 May 2014

5:06 PM

27 May 2014

5:06 PM

I’ve never quite understood why so many people hate Michael Gove. I mean, really hate him. To my mind his heart is so obviously in the right place that I’m happy to forgive him his occasional excesses. It may not quite be the case that anyone who so thoroughly upsets the teaching establishment must be doing something right but it is very plainly something more likely to be right than wrong.

Which, I suppose, means I do understand why so many people hate the Education Secretary. As the left often reminds us (albeit usually tediously) speaking truth to power is rarely popular.

But no, Michael Gove has not banned  the teaching of To Kill A Mockingbird or Of Mice and Men. Nor has he suggested the English literature GCSE begin with Shakespeare and end with Milton. The whole stramash over changes to the curriculum has, as Martha Gill says, been a triumph of mendacious idiocy.

It kinda makes me wish Gove had binned Steinbeck and Lee. Not because they’re bad books (they’re not, though nor are they the last word in literature) but because they’re just far too familiar.

Not to pupils but to their teachers.

[Alt-Text]


It seems quite remarkable that nearly 70 per cent of children sitting the AQA English literature GCSE should be taught the same novel. And even more remarkable that this should be the only novel they have to read for their GCSE. And yet that appears to be the case: 70 per cent of these pupils read Of Mice and Men. The same pattern apparently holds for courses set by other exam boards.

In which circumstances is broadening the curriculum really such a bad thing? I doubt it. If anything it is an overdue measure. Not least because the teaching profession appears to be soaked in Groupthink. What else could explain why a handful of middlebrow texts appear to have assumed sainted, iconic status?

It is obviously true that not every 15 or 16 year old will leap at the chance to read Bleak House. But then they won’t all relish reading Steinbeck either. Apparently asking children to read something written before 1900 will “grind them down” and “put them off” the idea of studying English at A-Level.

Jesus wept. I suppose we should not be surprised that  Bethan Marshall, chairwoman of the National Association for the Teaching of English, thinks children will find it “tedious” to be asked to read a broader range of books but I fancy she may really mean teachers might find preparing materials for a new curriculum seriously tedious.

Because that’s the issue. There’s an excellent argument to be made for changing large parts of the curriculum every five years, not least because doing so would keep teachers lively. Familiarity breeds staleness which spawns bad teaching. It encourages a get-by by going-through-the-motions approach to teaching.

Of course that’s unfair on many, even most, teachers. But even the best need refreshing from time to time. But if English literature (or history!) is ever tedious it’s probably because it’s not being taught well. Certainly not well enough. It is, after all, a subject that’s largely about telling stories and if children find that dull then, again, it may be because they are not being taught well enough.

Sure, tastes and abilities vary. Paradise Lost is not for everyone but if we shy away from teaching children indisputably great works because they might be difficult then we’re cheating the kids. We’re saying they can’t be expected to handle, far less enjoy, complexity. Just as importantly we’re saying that we don’t think our teachers are up to it. (Granted, this is the implied message given by many teaching unions.)

Perhaps they’re not. In which case let’s find some new teachers. Ones who think there’s more to literature than Of Mice and Men and more to teaching than going through the motions.

It’s a big library out there; explore it.

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Show comments
  • anosrep

    “I’ve never quite understood why so many people hate Michael Gove.”

    Maybe because he makes every decision by listening carefully to the opinions of teachers, academics, pupils and anyone else who actually knows about education, and then does the opposite of what they say?

  • Arthur Potts

    It’s the moderrn Tory curse that, even when they seem to be on the side of the angels, the electorate suspects them of arriving there by accident

  • Bob339

    It is a known fact that pigs hate those who drive them from the trough.In the same way, our ‘teachers’ ( and, yes, I was one) hate Gough because they hate the idea of having to do the work involved in really effective teaching. (This is hard to do anyway with the monkeys (and their parents) they have to deal with nowadays). But it has to be done or we sink ever deeper into the soft,brown slime…

  • http://english-pensioner.blogspot.co.uk/ english_pensioner

    The clue is in the title of the subject, “English Literature” !
    In that literature in Britain dates from many centuries before that in America, I would have thought that there was a wide enough choice without having to look further afield. If not, I would suggest that there is a very good argument for looking at translations of European literature.
    Incidentally, I’m sure that when I took my “O” levels, the books were changed every year; probably that stopped when pupils were allowed to keep re-sitting exams – it wouldn’t do if they had to study another couple of books, nor would it suit the publishers of all the study aids.

  • Jambo25

    No Mr. Massie: it’s not teachers.Teachers teach what they are told to teach by the curriculum and the various syllabuses which make up that curriculum. Some foolish teachers believe the BS they are taught at training colleges, that ‘inclusivity’ and ‘accessibility’ are everything and that ‘hard’ material should be avoided.

  • Simon_in_London

    I remember ca 1990 bringing my dad’s old copy of ‘Paradise Lost’ from the ’50s into school to share with a fellow pupil, samizdat style.

  • GeeBee36_6

    Gove’s problem lies in the education establishment’s implacably progressive mindset. All Progressives (and we may be sure that Bethan Marshall is one such) harbour a visceral dislike of the idea that young people might be exposed to old, and thus ‘misleading’ literature. To any work whose transcendent excellence might instil in them the appalling idea that works that are not ‘accessible’, and which are therefore ‘elitist’, might actually have something to say. Stuffy ‘old’ literature will, furthermore, almost certainly be ‘infected’ with dangerous pre-Progressive notions. It might hold up some of today’s sanctified victim groups – its untouchable oppressed minorities – in a less than entirely flattering light. Or it might portray a world in which objective truth, deductive logic, value judgements and other components of the bedrock of Western civilisation, are held up as noble things, to be sought by educated people.

    This, it goes without saying, will never do. Unless a ‘text’ churns out the received Progressive orthodoxies of ‘equality’, ‘social justice’, ‘white guilt’, ‘capitalist
    oppression’ and all the rest of the facile, immature articles of faith of the metroliberal left (and preferably in a style not too dissimilar to text-speak and rap lyrics – think Hugo Rifkind)) it is beyond the pale. In this respect, Gove represents hope for bright children..

  • Peter Stroud

    Of course Gove will be hated: he has ideas, and principles. These will never do in an Education Secretary.

  • SP

    It’s not personal, when any competent person threatens your nice secure and heavily unionised trade like teaching, the response is to demonise the competent person. Basically the Education establishment is shouting “scab scab scab”.

  • Radford_NG

    To be recommended is “The Light Garden of the Angel King” by Peter Levi(1972);in which he journeys through Afghanistan [before disaster came]in the foot-steps of the ancient Greeks.

  • Radford_NG

    `Mocking Bird`/`Mice`/`Crucible` are not just American;they are `sociological` and `liberal`.What about substituting for them “Homage To Catalonia” and “Darkness At Noon”.These show the real horrors of the bigotry we were facing.

    And should we ignore the modern work virtually all the Establishment,including Prince Charles,frowns upon:`The Satanic Verses`.

  • Kaine

    I did Lord of the Flies at a very good school and had a very good teacher, and got a very good mark in the exam. Doesn’t prevent the fact that to this day I hate that book, and so does everyone I know who did it, because there is nothing so certain to kill a piece of literature as having to do an exam on it. Same thing ruined Heaney for me for years.

    Of course, ideally we’d have a vast reading list and let children pick the book they wanted to do a piece on. But it would then be ‘coursework’, which has been declared verboten by the Supreme Goviet, in favour of memorising a handful of stock phrases to scribble down in a ninety minute exam.

  • Ian Walker

    We’ve got four teenage children, and if Michael Gove had done nothing else, sparing us from having to go through Of Bloody Mice and Bloody Men yet again, is deserving of sainthood.

  • RBcritique

    Well said, Alex Massie.

  • LucieCabrol

    The utter predictability of the red chorus of spite at every initiative by Gove is entirely in keeping with previous behaviour patterns by the teaching blob when faced with any reform….see reactions in the eighties and nineties when previous Tory governments tried fruitlessly to improve outcomes for our benighted children.

    The Blob controls the teacher training colleges, the unions and the opinion formers in the quangos that Tony loaded up with the right on and simply unemployable elsewhere (but reliable with a cross in the right place).

    It is a useful vote control position because if you can steer the minds of the young through the syllabus and the teacher’s that are employed then tomorrows voters have been pre baked.

    Unsurprising then the vicious fight back at any assault on this bastion of hopeless education…god forbid that kids should learn anything useful…voting right is much more important.

    Next week, once we own the kids how do we make sure they keep learning and watching the right information so that they keep voting the correct way….see control of programming, comedy, news, current affairs etc etc….cont.

    • Rae

      Genuinely curious, here. You conspiracy theorists intrigue me.

      I am a (lower-case) liberal. I am a teacher. I care about children and about their education. I try to do what I believe is right by students, and that includes teaching them to think critically and independently.

      So. Am I lying about one or more of the above? I am actually evil and attempting to manipulate young people to serve my own political interests? Or have I just been brainwashed by ‘The Blob’ without even realising it?

      Which is it? Since you seem to know me better than I know myself.

      Bonus: What kinds of people SHOULD be teaching young people, in your opinion? People who serve YOUR political interests?

      • HenryWood

        Answer = Groupthink.
        Bonus answer = Groupthink.

        • Rae

          But I really do want a proper answer to the most important question. Do you think you’re fit to teach? If not, who is?

      • LucieCabrol

        No danger of that….I suggest you trot down to your local teacher training college , say nothing and get a feel with your ACME political litmus paper test…see how it renders from the assorted lecturers on hand.

        I challenge you to trawl any education quango and come up with a politically balanced employment roster….and even if you did find one…it is drowned by the majority.

        The unions need no analysis surely.

        I wouldn’t care if the resultant syllabus’s and teachers were reasonably balanced and as saintly as you….the situation is not thus…..
        I actually wouldn’t overly care if all teachers were card carrying communists if they had succeeded in the basic function of teaching children to read, write and do a reasonable standard of maths by the age of say 10…largely the rest sorts itself out…but you have not…large numbers, a significant percentage…are struggling to read at thirteen…and Britain’s basic maths standard is actually embarrassing.

      • Kitty MLB

        Encouraging children to think critically and independant is imperative.To light that little spark
        and ignite the gift of learning.The issues are the
        Leftie establishment and wretched unions will
        not let bad teachers go.And a lot of children say the
        teachers do not know their subject enough to
        encourage any interest.

        • Rae

          I completely agree. It should be easier to sack the incompetent. I have a very complicated relationship with unions, and the teaching ones in particular often do more harm than good.
          But to lump all teachers together as lazy Liberal drones or evil propagandists is most harmful of all.

          • Kitty MLB

            Although we have a lot of excellent teachers,
            some no longer think of teaching as a vocation
            and more of a career choice.

          • LucieCabrol

            I don’t actually blame the core of teachers…obviously a vital and honourable and onerous job……but you are being swung around by politics and your reputations and your charges are suffering.

          • Fergus Pickering

            You are right.It is very silly. And I forgive you for being a liberal.

          • SP

            I would 100% agree with the sentiment that the vast majority of teachers do an excellent job. What I don’t understand is why they don’t want to run the duffers out with pitchforks?

          • Tony_E

            The problem you have is that you, as an individual ‘liberal’ teacher, are rendered almost silent by the very left wing unions who present themselves as the public voice of the teaching professions.

        • Penny

          I couldn’t agree with you more, Kitty, re: critical thinking.

          I’m going back a bit but one of the ways my old school encouraged this was via debates. Each pupil took their turn (over a term) but didn’t get a choice about which side of the motion they would have to argue for. That way, you’d might find yourself perversely arguing for a motion you didn’t agree with – but all good practice for developing critical thinking. Looking back, I suppose it also helped to develop some public speaking skills. I just remember it as being interesting and good fun.

        • LucieCabrol

          Yes…very valid point…how many bad teachers have been asked to leave the profession in the last 20 years…..virtually none…ye gods, the training must be good.

          • Kitty MLB

            Although to be fair on teachers, who on
            earth would chose to teach in a large inner city
            school.Not only due to multiculturalism there
            are language issues, as well as other issues.
            And a lot of teachers are more like social workers, dealing with the childrens issues and
            Misbehaving children.So bright children are
            just left to their own devices.

          • Rae

            2 from my school in the past year.
            The numbers are far higher than you think they are.
            (But still not high enough, IMO.)

            • SP

              Did they actually leave teaching, or did they just move on?

        • disqus_KdiRmsUO4U

          Believe me I’m no leftie but you POV can easily be challenged.
          For example a lot of UK history is quite bad.
          Constant war supporting monarchical privilege.

          The wretched state of the working classes in the 19th century.

          Trendy lefties might be quite keen to expose such things.

          Their error would be to fail see such things as universal

          If you mean the trendy failure to comprehend that all are not equal than I agree with you.

      • SP

        Would like to reply here …

        When you start to act like professionals as a group, you will get treated like professionals. Think carefully and give me an example of a colleague who was poor at his role and was banned from teaching.

        Just for the benefit of public on this forum, they don’t ban poor performance. What happens is the bad teachers move on, sometimes promoted with a good reference.

        There are only three dates in a single year that a school could actually fire a teacher – not that it ever happens.

        A teachers classroom performance can only be evaluated by three scheduled observations in a single year.

        Gove is just scratching the surface.

        • Rae

          And what other vocations regularly ‘ban’ low-performing members? Unless a doctor loses a lawsuit, it practically never happens. In general, it’s an extreme and permanent ‘solution’ that cannot and should not be left up to individual (fallible) head teachers, or governors/whoever else. As far as teaching is concerned, there are other considerations:
          Every city, every school, every management team, every class, every student is unique. A teacher who fails to engage disaffected gangsters in Stockwell may be brilliant in a sunny classroom in Hertfordshire.
          It should be far, far easier to sack teachers from particular schools, but ‘banning’ people from the profession (i.e. an extremist solution that you have clearly not thought through) is not the answer.

      • disqus_KdiRmsUO4U

        You are to be congratulated on encouraging the young to read ‘good’ books.
        No doubt that skill will come in useful when they cant find a job.

        Like ‘racism’ the word ‘education’ needs to be examined to the nth degre to establish what it really means.

        Since 1950’s enormous real expenditure on state ‘education’
        Result ? Fill in the blanks with your own tale of woe.

  • http://badreason99.blogspot.co.uk/ Mike Ward

    I don’t know why everyone else hates Gove, but I hate him because is segregating more and more school-children along religious lines and I can’t see what relevance (other than sucking money from the main school budget) the creation of a small sub-set of schools run by people who believe in everything from gnomes to yogic-flying can have for mainstream education.

    I boldly predict that “free-schools” will have no discernible effect on overall educational standards over the next few years. If I’m proved wrong I’ll own up. I rather doubt Gove will own up if he’s proved wrong and he, if he is proved wrong, will have left behind an utter shambles.

    But the current spat is about American Literature. Now I (though a leftie) fully agree that Steinbeck (though good) is by no means a great writer, and I fully agree the everyone should read as widely as possible but Gove’s DfE has published guidelines for a core set of literature that 16 year olds studying 10+ GCSEs should study in depth. These guidelines do not, of course, “ban” the reading of anything, but they really do explicitly exclude twentieth century American literature. Given the time constraints involved, this means that, by and large, American literature is not going to be studied.

    In other words, Gove is narrowing the curriculum not broadening it. This move will inevitably reduce the choices available to countless teachers who struggle to get their students to read anything and, like all his other measures, achieve nothing.

    • Penny

      I can only offer an anecdote on free schools but my friend’s son attends one and the change in him is very good. He’s interested – and so is knuckling down in a way she hadn’t seen before. He has matured, he’s happier and has a good set of similarly-minded young people around him. He is on course to achieve better grades than he’d had in his old school. It’s a “normal”, very down to earth school by the way – not a yogic flyer to be seen!

      • http://badreason99.blogspot.co.uk/ Mike Ward

        Well I’m very pleased for your friend’s son, but my children knuckled down and matured and were happy at a non-free school; and your friend’s son might have done just as well at another type of school; or mine might have done even better at a free school. There is no way to know.

        What we could, however, find out – if we really wanted to – is what kinds of policies work best for large numbers of kids and apply such policies across all schools – as they have done in countries with the most successful schools in the world like Finland. (BTW I’m not suggesting here that exactly the same policies will work best for every single child, just that we ought to have *national* strategies.)

        It’s hard to see how Gove’s piecemeal and haphazard approach and his dedication to the promotion of irrational beliefs in schools can achieve anything – except via pure serendipity.

        • Penny

          I did say my view was merely anecdotal, Mike!

          What do you mean by “irrational beliefs”? Faith schools?

          • http://badreason99.blogspot.co.uk/ Mike Ward

            Inter alia, yes. But along with the creationists and assorted fundamentalists of various descriptions, there are secular cults (eg Steiner followers) that have been given the money to set up free schools – though they are supposed to promise not to teach their barmier ideas (as I understand it).

            • Penny

              Fair enough.

              Although I understand the wariness surrounding faith schools, I went to one – not for religious reasons but because of its reputation – and there really wasn’t much “faith” involved. At least, no more than was occurring in other schools at that time. An assembly and a half hour per week RE lesson was about the sum of it.

              Locally, we have a few faith schools and they are always over-subscribed. It’s not unknown for parents to take a sudden interest in the local churches simply to get their child into one of the faith schools. Their attendance probably drops off quite rapidly once they’ve succeeded!

              As a one-time local councillor I did visit a few and there wasn’t any creationist stuff going on. I think such schools would have to be a the very extreme end of the faith spectrum

        • LucieCabrol

          It might be helpful if the UK socialist blob didn’t scream like a crazed crack bitch at the first recommendation for change from a conservative Minister….
          Frankly the ‘cross the nation’ policies have failed…standards are not high enough by a country mile…and thats imperial measurement. There has been adequate time to try the game out…circa 55 years, and they have not delivered…time to step aside.

          • http://badreason99.blogspot.co.uk/ Mike Ward

            OK, let me (as a “crazed crack bitch”) give a specific example:

            There’s a lot of evidence that seems to support the use of synthetic phonics when trying to teach English speaking kids to read. Gove, as it happens, is a fan of synthetic phonics and therefore, rather than giving schools more “freedom” or “choice” in this area has imposed his scheme on schools across the country. Fair enough if it works. But does it actually work better than the alternatives in real schools in practice for all kids? I have no idea and (more to the point) neither has Michael Gove. But, as a scientist, I can think of ways we could find out whether the national imposition of a particular synthetic phonics scheme improves reading standards or not. Michael Gove doesn’t need to do anything like that. He just *knows* what’s best – though he parades his ignorance of science every time he pontificates on exam result statistics or “Newton’s Laws of thermodynamics”.

            The man is a dangerous oaf!

            • andy_gill

              As a self-accredited scientist, you should review the literature before claiming there is no evidence for the effectiveness of phonics.

              As you can’t be arsed to do your own research, here are a few papers to get you started.

              Johnston, R. and Watson, J. (1998). Accelerating Reading Attainment: The Effectiveness of Synthetic Phonics. Interchange 57.

              Macmillan, B. (1997). Why Schoolchildren Can’t Read. London: The Institute of Economic Affairs.

              NRP (National Reading Panel) (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Washington, DC: NICHD.

              Stuart, M. (1999). Getting ready for reading: early phoneme awareness and phonics
              teaching improves reading and spelling in inner-city second language learners. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 69, 587-605.

              Sumbler, K. and Willows, D. (1996). Phonological awareness and alphabetic coding instruction within balanced senior kindergartens. Paper presented as part of the symposium Systematic

              Phonics within a Balanced Literacy Program. National Reading Conference, Charleston, SC, December.

              Watson, J. (1999). An investigation of the effects of phonics teaching on children’s progress in reading and spelling. Ph.D. thesis, University of St Andrews, Scotland.

              • http://badreason99.blogspot.co.uk/ Mike Ward

                And you should read comments before replying to them.

  • MaggieL

    You’d think teachers would get bored stiff teaching the same book year after year.

    • Rae

      Yes, we sometimes do.
      But when our workload keeps increasing, year after year, with mind-numbing admin completely unrelated to our actual lessons, it can be nice to fall back on something familiar. Something we’re already good at teaching.
      People seem to forget that we teachers actually aren’t all about ourselves: If we know the text well, we teach it better and students know and appreciate it better.
      (Also, although we might teach a text for years on end, it’s always new to the kids.)

      • LucieCabrol

        Moan yada moan yad…three months holiday…moan yada moan yada

        • Rae

          Thank you for your insightful and articulate response to the valid points I made in my comment. Your argument is really airtight.

          • HenryWood

            Can you please point out any valid points you made?

            • Rae

              In response to “You’d think teachers would get bored stiff teaching the same book year after year.” —

              1. Some do, some don’t. (To be fair to you, this was implied and not explicitly stated, but it’s perfectly true all the same.)
              2. Teachers teach familiar works better than they teach unfamiliar works. (This is quite obvious. Although we must be sure that it’s not taken to the extreme and used to justify any resistance to improvement or change–which I assume is what you think this is, but I disagree.)
              3. It’s not about the teachers and if/when they get bored; it’s about the students. Although a teacher may have taught a text before, it’s still new to the students and therefore still a new experience to the people who matter.

              Have I translated clearly enough?

              • Tony_E

                The problem with teaching the same thing year after year is simply that a number of teachers will get jaded by the experience. I understand the argument about workload, but as someone who has taught music privately and in the state sector, it’s easy to stop thinking fresh thoughts when you’ve seen it all before – autopilot is not the best guide!

                Also, the texts set (year after year) don’t seem to be very representative of a range of British literature. From what I understand of this issue – no-one has banned anything. All that has happened is that the exam boards have been asked to consider the use of

                A 19th century work
                The romantic poets
                One modern British work.
                A Shakespeare play.

                Now I don’t see a massive problem with that at GCSE, it’s not a narrowing of scope. I would also suggest that Harper Lee or Steinbeck should be introduced to younger children than GCSE age, just as should be William Golding. (I’m the first of the GCSE generation 86-88, we had dealt with Miller and Shakespeare by the time we were 14, Golding at no more than 11 or 12). The fact that we aren’t doing that might suggest that there is still something wrong with early years education, and that it is compounded by generational failures in educational doctrines, with parents unlikely in many cases to have the tools to aid their children in Literature.

          • LucieCabrol

            OK….grudgingly I will concede some points.
            1/ The concept that teachers are meant to deliver useful lessons in classes of 20 to 30 children with limited means of demanding attention, virtually no sanction on bad behaviour, noise making disrupters, and increasingly ,hostile parents is a joke.
            2/I understand that increasing to a crescendo in the late reign of Blair the 1st , the number of dictats demanding this compliance, that measure, and the other delineation became enough to drive some teachers to delirium. Classic incompetent management giveaway.

            All these issues, the attitude of the unions to change and the pc environment are a result of the entire teaching blob buying the socialist agenda…it is self inflicted; also by continuing you cannot recover….every change you make within that stricture drowns you further. I would not normally give a damn, except in this case our children, and the children of a number of generations have suffered. The country suffers. It must stop, it must change.

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    I really don’t give a rat’s about what books schoolkids are forced to read. The ones who want to read will read anyway. The ones who are not yet into it won’t, and it doesn’t matter what you pick for them. I still haven’t read The Mayor of Casterbridge, although I read several books a week in my teen years. Simak, Kornbluth, Heinlein, it doesn’t matter, they were books.

    • LucieCabrol

      Sven Hassell i’ll bet Miss Klapp

      • HenryWood

        LOL! even ROTFL!
        I simply have to reply to your post because I think it really *IS* the first time I have burst out laughing whilst perusing the Spectator. A truly wonderful riposte which will never, ever be bettered.
        Thank you … chuckle … chuckle … chuckle …

      • Rhoda Klapp8

        Yes. And it’s Frau.

  • swatnan

    If you thought EdM was a ‘bit weird’ then you haven’t seen Gove. Gove is probably the nerdiest nerd on the planet, even nerdier than Kevin Rudd. EdM should tahn his lucky stars that he is not as unpopular as Gove. These books were meant to be read as seen through a childs eyes; that their appeal. Children have a different way of looking at things. Whereas Shakespeare is adult and gross and just has too many meaningless words in it.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Shakespeare has no meaningless words. He has words which YOU do not know the meaning of, not quite the same thing, you will agree.

    • HenryWood

      Are you a teecha?

    • LucieCabrol

      Gove is a saint………

  • manonthebus

    So who is it who is telling lies about Michael Gove? I tend to suspect somebody from a teaching union, but I’m probably being too cynical. Let’s face it, there are so many good books written by British writers that any decent exam board ought to be able to offer excellent choices. I would opt for Somerset Maugham and Joseph Conrad (and yes, I know he wasn’t British) for the excellence of their writing, as well as the relevance of their works.

    • Shinsei1967

      Gove isn’t even doing this. Quite rightly he thinks (I assume) that choices of which books should be left up to individual teachers (and heads of depts etc). All he is doing is setting some minimum standards that ensure some diversity (a Shakespeare, a C19th novel and a C20th work of British fiction) after that you can do what you want.

      • Rae

        Yes, after that we can do what we want… But in what time?
        What time will be left after we’ve covered the mandatory course material for both the Language and Literature exams?

        • LucieCabrol

          Rae, if you want to journal your pay over to me , Ill sort out the lesson plan, till then…you are on your own.

          • Rae

            Deal. If you can use your superhuman skill to create more time in the day and more lessons in the year so you can do what I do and still teach MORE texts–thoroughly, engagingly–you can have my salary.

            • LucieCabrol

              mmmm…I guess the 2 months in the sardinian cottage could be crimped at each end…

              • Rae

                Do we really need to go through this again?
                I never complain about how much money and holiday bankers get (a lot more than I do and a lot less than I do, respectively) because they made their career choices and I made mine.
                I don’t complain about working every evening until at least 9pm, plus all day every Sunday, because I know I get my time back in the summer. I know it all evens out. Even though I don’t make enough money to holiday anywhere near Sardinia.
                So why do non-teachers always bring it up? Bitterness? Jealousy? If so, I’m sorry you feel that way. Think of me working til 10pm every Sunday night and I’ll think of you when I’m summering in Brighton.

        • Tony_E

          More time at GCSE? The changes should be made by freeing up the National Curriculum for the senior school years up to 14 – when dealing with the exam system then the importance of rigour must be paramount. Surely that must colour the choice and range of works first. The American novels that people seem to be campaigning over are pretty straightforward to analyse .

          But Before the actual GCSE coursework starts, the opportunity should be made for teachers to use whatever works they like within reason, and the work less prescriptive.

  • Fergus Pickering

    ‘Of Mice and Men’ is a second-rate book by a second-rate author. People study it because it is short and easy. If you want a short book there are plenty much better.. I suggest ‘The Time Machine’ or ‘ Heart of Darkness’. Plenty to discuss there and hese are first rate authors.

    • MalcolmRedfellow

      “The Time Machine” was written in 1895. “The Heart of Darkness” appeared in 1899. Hence neither meets the requirement of “a work of fiction or drama originating from the British isles since 1914.”

      Close but no cheroot.

      • Fergus Pickering

        OK. Try ‘A Month In The Country’ by J.L. Carr. Not his best book but his shortest. Or of course ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’..

      • Vindice

        Of Mice and Men doesn’t originate from the British Isles either.

      • TomJ

        Thus meeting one of the other criteria, of at least one novel from the 19th century. Not that they couldn’t be included anyway, as they are minimum criteria, as anyone who’d read the guidance (published over 6 months ago on the DfE’s website and quoted by Gove in today’s Telegraph) would know…

      • LucieCabrol

        Comeon red boy…..we are not short of excellent books even since the seventies.

    • mitate

      “of mice and men” is not one of the author’s best, but steinbeck was, without doubt, one of the finest authors of the 20th century. though why the powers would choose it over the wonderful “cannery row” or even “sweet thursday” i cannot fathom. they are steinbeck books to cherish.

      • MalcolmRedfellow

        I’d hate to be faced with an irate parent to justify the career options represented by Dora in “Cannery Row” and Fauna or Suzy in “Sweet Thursday”.

        • mitate

          whereas in “doc” they could be inspired by a brilliant man, should they read about his inspiration: steinbeck’s great friend and collaborator ed ricketts.

      • LucieCabrol

        Finest if you make the list 500 authors long.

        • mitate

          some american winners of the nobel prize for literature:
          1976 saul bellow
          1962 john steinbeck
          1954 ernest hemingway
          1949 william faulkner.

          • LucieCabrol

            and your point is?

          • Tony_E

            Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in his first year of presidency….I’m not sure that a Nobel prize is a good yardstick to measure by!

            • mitate

              yes, you’re right, and i purposely didn’t mention winners more recent than 1976 for that very reason.

      • Fergus Pickering

        Because t’s shorter, you fool.

        • mitate

          your sagacity astounds me.

        • mitate

          incidentally, allen lane thought to make “of mice and men” and “cannery row” bedfellows in penguin book #717 of 1949 price 1/6d (how i first read them). they’re still to be found for a few quid, should you care to hold your nose while skipping straight to the wonderfulness of “cannery row”.

    • HenryWood

      I have to agree with your “review” of “Of Mice and Men”.
      I remember as a child, I was maybe 10 – 12 years old watching the film “Of Mice and Men” on television and being very moved by it, in fact I think I cried at Lennie’s demise.
      Many years later (when I grew up) I remember borrowing the book from the local library and thinking I would be in for a heck of a time reading the story of George and Lennie all over again, but this time getting the full “nitty gritty” as compared to the film. What a terrible disappointment that book turned out to be. It is one of the few times when the film proved to be better than the book and I still cannot understand how anyone at all might consider the book, “Of Mice And Men”, to be a “classic”.

    • Baron

      Quite, Fergus, but the thing is your offerings don’t have the same sharp ‘social awareness’ as plugged by the American serving.

      • Kitty MLB

        Oh the ghastly American social awareness.What is wrong with English. You know the country of Shakespeare.We were quite civilized when they were
        still playing cowboys and indians , for goodness sake.

        • Baron

          Calm down, Kitty, what Baron said was said in jest. He agrees with you.

          • Kitty MLB

            That was an attempt at disguised wit. Ok it didn’t work.
            But I noticed Baron’s jocularity and am glad he agrees.

    • Kaine

      I like Conrad, and Wells, but the Grapes of Wrath is, in my view, better than either of those books. I actually did ‘The Time Machine’ as a set text, and I know others did ‘Heart of Darkness’ because I swiped my copy from school.

      • Fergus Pickering

        Thought is free, my dear chap. I did ‘Of Mice and Men’ fiftyyears ago, and also ‘The Old Man and the Sea’. Tosh, both of them.

        • disqus_KdiRmsUO4U

          The Old man and the Sea is so boring it makes suicide seem joyful.proposition.

          Charles Dickens is so turgid circumlocutory and long winded he wouldn’t last 10 secs on Just a Minute.

          I’m not sure that passes as literary criticism but it is true.

          I challenge anyone to read 3 paragraphs of Dickens while holding their breathe
          It just cant be done

    • allymax bruce

      If you want to know ‘what’s going on’, read;
      McNight, J. (1995), ‘The Careless Society: Community and Its Counterfeits’.

  • MalcolmRedfellow

    Now all you need is to resource schools and their English Departments so that each cohort can be guaranteed a bran-new set of texts.

    Money is an object.

    • Wessex Man

      so are hairy very fat male teachers who stink and call their pupils mate.

      • HenryWood

        Which school do you go to?

    • Baron

      Malcolm, in real money, we’re now spending more than four times per each primary and secondary pupil than we were fifty years ago, and yet one in seven of school leavers is still illiterate. And you think it’s money that’s the problem? Arghhhh

  • CharlietheChump

    The left hate Gove because he looks ’em in the eye, tells them theyre wrong and consistently beats them by implementing his program.

    • telemachus

      Gove is the most evil minister since Enoch Powell
      He is dangerous
      He is conducting his doctrinaire experiments in Educational Social Darwinism on our children

      • ClausewitzTheMunificent

        Hahahahahahaha. Whereas the left would never experiment on and indoctrinate children.

      • HenryWood

        I wish he would enforce “his doctrinaire experiments in Educational Darwinism” on our “telemachus”es and rid these columns of the most evil, and even the most dangerous poster since Darwin was a boy.

        • Kitty MLB

          arwin

        • Kitty MLB

          Oh sorry about that ! The little wasp telemachus
          is not too keen on the brilliant Michael Gove.
          Afraid that our children might learn to think
          for themselves. Instead of wandering around
          in a suffocating Dickensian gloom of Labours
          education system.

      • Kitty MLB

        For heavens sake, little wasp.Michael Gove wants
        what is best for our children.What does statuesque
        and beautiful but dim, Tristram Hunt want?

      • Penny

        Tele, old chap, even if what you say is true, Gove would hardly be the first to conduct doctrinaire experiments. My son went through the system when the “all must have prizes” school of thought was fashionable. We found his expectations so worrying (getting a medal for simply turning up at a football game being one of them) that we did away with all our own future financial expectations and pulled him out of the state system.

        • allymax bruce

          “the system when the “all must have prizes” school …”
          That’s the way the USA education system is. I coached soccer for 13yr olds to 19yr olds, in private clubs in USA, and I very rarely came across a player that had an original thought/ethic to his game. They absolutely relied on me, their coach, to win the game with tactics. There’s no individual nous in these kids; they’re all brainwashed to accept what ‘authority’ tells them. Marxist Capitalist ethos; make them all controllable drones.

        • CharlietheChump

          Excellent! I wish him all the very best for the future.

      • Baron

        When you woke up this morning, telemachus, you’ve forgotten to switch on the brain, or whatever sits in that cranium of yours, and should be doing the thinking.

        And Alex’s right, why the heck should our kids be taught American novels, plenty of good British stuff around like Down and Out in Paris and London …

        • LucieCabrol

          Don’t forget ‘Oranges are not the only fruit’

          • Rae

            That’s an A-level Lit text and so far safe for now. Thankfully.

            • Anton Le Grandier

              also “How Late it was,How Late” is available for inclusion.

      • vieuxceps2

        Enoch Powell was a prescient,lucid thinker who recognised truth.There was no evil in his words or deeds.The Left now ignore reality and hope it will fade away but their”doctrinaire experiments in Social Darwinism” known as Multiculturalism have failed throughout Europe.Yet still Tele whines….

      • GeeBee36_6

        ‘He is conducting his doctrinaire experiments in Educational Social Darwinism on our children’

        Hmm. I wonder what you might really mean by this. I strongly suspect you of being a Progressive, and I therefore conclude that your real problem – disguising itself in a flimsy appeal to Galton and eugenics – lies in your hatred of the fact of disparate intrinsic abilities of individual pupils. This demonstrable reality, of course, sits ill with the equally demonstrable absurdity of ‘blank slate theory’, so beloved of the Progressive educational establishment. It is what causes that establishment to sweep reality under the carpet. To conspire in the mendacious betrayal of huge swathes of clever pupils. It does this by branding works that less able pupils would not be able to grasp ‘elitist’, and insisting only on mediocre works, that it lauds as being ‘accessible’.

        Sadly, this is the primrose path to the everlasting bonfire: an expressway to general ignorance.

      • http://english-pensioner.blogspot.co.uk/ english_pensioner

        I didn’t realise that Enoch Powell was evil !

      • grammarschoolman

        Translation: He wants working class kids to learn something. I agree – how evil!

        Only rich kids should know things – a proper Labour Party policy, if ever I saw one.

        (It certainly explains why all those Labour grandees and Guardian journalists send their kids to fee-paying schools.)

      • CharlietheChump

        HahA, that got you going little “Special Needs” Socialist.

        Remember, Gove is coming for ya. Ooooooh!

    • grammarschoolman

      He’s not scared of the Left. He’s about the only Tory politician since Thatcher who isn’t.

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