You’re an arsehole, Mr Gove

Yesterday, the inimitable Bookcunt posted a picture on Twitter of her most recent book delivery.

‘*Love* the cover on the one on the right’ I tweeted.

‘Fit, innit?’ she shot back.

That is what it’s like to love books, both as physical objects and for the words within. Discussing a book with someone who also has strong feelings about it is one of life’s greatest pleasures. As, in my opinion, is pulling the text apart, trying to work out what exactly it is that’s so good about it, what it is that makes you love it so much.

Today, it was announced in the UK press, that as part of English Literature GCSEs from 2015, students will have to study a Shakespeare play, a 19th century novel written anywhere, and a piece of post-1914 fiction or drama written in the British Isles.

The media have jumped on this as Education Secretary Michael Gove banning American classics such as Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Crucible.

Technically, as some people have pointed out, he’s not ‘banning’ anything. He’s not saying schools can’t teach these books, but in reality schools teach to exam specifications and so these texts will, inevitably, be left off. Most worrying of all is that one of the three big exam boards, OCR, is quoted as saying that they won’t be including Of Mice and Men because Gove ‘personally dislikes it.’

Weirdly, I feel strong affection for all these books. In a previous job I worked day in day out for months on study guides for all three. I love Mockingbird and The Crucible too, is a great play. I’m less keen on Of Mice and Men but that’s because I’m not a great fan of Steinbeck’s writing style more widely.

Perhaps it has been over taught. The media are reporting that over 90% of students study it at GCSE. It isn’t, I don’t think, a text that will engage 90% of students. But if Gove is claiming that the new specifications will widen the texts that students study, he’s wrong, mostly because there’s such a ridiculous focus on British authors.

Studying texts about other countries, about other cultures, is a joy. The breakthrough for me in studying French came when my language skills were developed enough for me to be able to read first extracts, and ultimately short novels, in the original language. You can’t learn everything there is to know about a culture from its books alone, as I realised when I returned from a year working abroad and watched my language skills slip away as I focused my studies 100% on literature, but you can get a decent sense of a culture from its books, a spark that makes you want to find out more.

I worry that restricting the focus of literature study is a slippery slope. When I started English A-Level, the teacher handed out copies of Birdsong, only for everything to start frantically flicking through them.

‘If you’re looking for the sex, you’ve gone too far,’ he said, calmly, and ultimately, he taught the whole novel with that same sense of openness and passion.

Please don’t make that your next victim, Mr Gove.

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4 thoughts on “You’re an arsehole, Mr Gove

  1. I read both The Crucible and To Kill a Mockingbird at school, I loved both but I wouldn’t have gone to the library and chosen them for myself at the age of 16 so I am glad they were both part of the curiculum.

  2. Pingback: On human suits (or let’s just leave it out, shall we?) | Sex blog (of sorts)

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