Friday 30 May 2014, David Bowden

Why Michael Gove is right about the English syllabus

In a Guardian article responding to the debate over the supposed plan to 'ban' American books from the GCSE curriculum, ioi director Claire Fox made the case for challenging low expectations of school pupils.

‘The big story of this bank holiday weekend was the tale of an education secretary who was allegedly trying to stop teenagers reading To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men on the basis that only British writers would be allowed on the new GCSE literature syllabus.

‘The hashtag #Govekillsmockingbird may have spent the last few days trending, but it also is a fiction. It has now come to pass that Michael Gove has not in fact banned any books. In fact he has now written a rebuttal, explaining that he is rather fond of those novels and of American literature in general. So even though this appears to be a non-debate, and the Department for Education directive actually says the choice of 19th-century novel may be written anywhere, and merely prescribes that the post-1914 component should feature “some fiction or drama written in the British Isles”, it is still interesting to reflect on the arguments generated.’

Fox pointed out that the reaction to these reports was heavily coloured by the teaching profession’s dislike of Michael Gove. But accusations of philistinism are misplaced: ‘I do agree with Gove on one thing, and that is that the status quo is not rigorous or challenging enough’, she wrote. Too many who defend the status quo believe pupils cannot cope with a more challenging curriculum or justified their defence of Lee or Steinbeck in terms of the valuable personal or political lessons their books provided, turning ‘literature into a poor man’s citizenship class’.

Fox concludes: ‘Let’s not underestimate the capacity of the young to go beyond expectations – or literature’s ability to capture all of our imaginations. And if that’s what Gove thinks, as he seems to, I shall willingly take the brickbats to defend him.’

Read the full article here.

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