The Effective Banning of American Novels from GCSE English Literature

The duplicity of language: of course what I mean here by effective isn’t that Gove’s decision was well done – though from his Machiavellian point of view, it was brilliantly done – but that this was/is the inevitable outcome.

Being duplicitous was one of his major contributions to his role as Education Secretary. In the details below this introduction that I also sent to Nicky Morgan, I outline how utterly deceitful Gove was in his defence of his decision. How did we let him get away with it? I will be writing more on this later.

And lest it look like sour grapes or a fruitless nostalgic delve: I think the fight to reverse this decision should still take place, but more importantly I am sharing as a warning that we all need to be more proactive about these political shenanigans. But more of this in a later posting. Here is the ‘scenario’ I outlined:

The Effective Banning of Texts

Technically, an Exam Board could set extra/other texts for a GCSE English Literature exam from 2015, including those by American authors, as the Order represents the minimum content. So Gove is ‘correct’ in this assertion. But there are two insuperable reality checks to be considered in this scenario:

1. No Exam Board and no school would set/undertake any extra English Literature study at GCSE/KS4 because there isn’t time in that packed curriculum – English and all other subjects – and this is the obvious, common-sense, pragmatic answer to that mischievously stated possibility from Gove, and thus effectively he has excluded American authors from the English Literature GCSE curriculum.

2. If anyone were to pursue his technically correct if wholly improbable scenario, the other damning question must be, from which part of the prescribed minimum areas/authors for study would any extra examined texts be able to gain their marks?

If, as Gove is arguing, you allow for other study, the marks for that as a percentage to be awarded in a GCSE examination has to come from somewhere else. So does it come from Shakespeare? Does it come from Poetry [and the Romantic poets, for example]? Does it come from the study of British authors?

Gove has promoted three authors/areas [and others] as his essential core for GCSE English Literature, so how could he in reality agree to their study, in effect, being diminished by further/other study? Any other texts in this scenario would necessarily have to take a percentage of the rewarding marks from the very CORE he so ideologically – and demonstrably through legislation – demanded.

Letter to Nicky Morgan, Education Secretary

Dear Nicky Morgan,

Prompted by an international spotlight put on the imminent release of Harper Lee’s ‘new’ novel Go Set a Watchman, I am writing to ask if you would be willing to cast your own spotlight on a decision made by your predecessor Michael Gove that has effectively meant Lee’s famous and linked novel To Kill a Mockingbird, and any other prose and drama texts by American authors, can no longer be studied for GCSE English Literature from 2015.

You will obviously be aware of this decision and outcome, and I am hoping that you will resist – indeed, positively distance yourself from – supporting Michael Gove’s patently disingenuous, and mischievous, claim that he had not in fact ‘banned’ any texts. With American authors removed from the GCSE subject content and assessment objectives [Detailed study] for English Literature, no Exam Board would – and has not – set such a text for GCSE study. Without being set by an Exam Board, no school would be able to read and study this text at that level, and I attach a brief summary which specifically details two salient scenarios to counter Gove’s assertion of such study being possible.

I write as an English teacher with 30 years’ experience, and a GCSE English Literature examiner with over 25 years’ experience. I therefore know the enormous and significant engagement, educational impact, and examination success studying this, and novels like Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, have brought to students over so many preceding years.

I also know that were you to reconsider and alter this effective banning of American texts, it would take some considerable time for these to be filtered back into the GCSE curriculum: all syllabi and new resources for the teaching of the revised GCSEs in English from 2015 have been implemented and completed. However, if you were at the very least willing to begin the process of review, I think a genuine wrong would be more than evident and ways could then be found to remedy this.

I appreciate how busy you are and will be in current developments and decision-making, not least the other imminent reality: the forthcoming General Election! That said, you have been in the public eye yourself of late and demonstrated you are quite prepared to see and place educational matters in a new light, if you’ll excuse a final reference to that metaphor.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.