Schoolkids in Great Britain won't be reading such American literary masterpieces like "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Of Mice and Men" under new orders from the national education secretary, who is replacing the Yankee classics with works from England's homegrown authors.
The new English literature syllabus for secondary—or high school – students will not include the classics by Harper Lee’s 1960 classic or Steinbeck’s 1937 work about migrant workers during the Great Depression. Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” was also dropped for the reading list, London's Sunday Times reported this week.
As national exam boards unveiled their booklists Friday, it was clear that Minister of Education Michael Gove is pushing for more British literature in schools. A statement from Britain’s Education Department said it is not banning any books.
"In the past, English literature GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education standards) were not rigorous enough and their content was often far too narrow. We published the new subject content for English literature in December. It doesn't ban any authors, books or genres. It does ensure pupils will learn about a wide range of literature, including at least one Shakespeare play, a 19th-century novel written anywhere and post-1914 fiction or drama written in the British Isles,” the statement said.
The head of one of Britain's exam boards, Paul Dodd, suggested to the Sunday Times that Gove’s new changes are based on his personal preference.
"Of Mice and Men," which Michael Gove really dislikes, will not be included. It was studied by 90 percent of teenagers taking English literature GCSE in the past. Michael Gove said that was a really disappointing statistic," Dodd told the Times.
Gove has been outspoken on his views of what children should be reading—suggesting that kids should read 50 books a year, starting at age 11. Last year, Gove told a conference of independent school heads that he would prefer to see a child reading George Eliot’s “Middlemarch,” than one of American Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” novels.
Gove is facing a backlash from academics and readers over the reports. More than 30,000 people have signed online petitions calling for the American novels to be reinstated, London's Telegraph reported. Many took to social media to express their anger.
Exam boards and individual schools are free to supplement their curriculum with extra books, but the new rules have left them very little room for any 20th-century writing from outside Britain.
Oxford University professor John Carey said "the idea of cutting out American books because they are not British is crazy."
Gove wrote an opinion piece for the Telegraph this week answering the outrage.
"I have not banned anything. Nor has anyone else. All we are doing is asking exam boards to broaden – not narrow – the books young people study for GCSE," Gove wrote.
“There are, in reality, four exam boards that can offer GCSE English literature and there are no rules requiring them to exclude or marginalize any writer. If they wish to include Steinbeck – whether it’s 'Of Mice and Men' or 'The Grapes of Wrath' – no one would be more delighted than me, because I want children to read more widely and range more freely intellectually in every subject. In English literature, I want young people to encounter as many books as possible from different cultures. I want pupils to grow up able to empathize with Jane Eyre as well as Lennie, to admire Elizabeth Bennet as much as Scout Finch,” Gove stated in his article.
Bethan Marshall, a lecturer at King's College London and chair of the National Association for the teaching of English, said the new list could turn kids off from continuing English literature. She said: "Many teenagers will think that being made to read Dickens aged 16 is just tedious. This will just grind children down."
Nobel Prize-winning American writer Toni Morrison attacked Gove's reported plans and warned against dividing literature into "nationalistic categories."
"I tell you, [they] will regret it," Morrison’s told London’s Telegraph. “It may be that the academies will catch up with the artists who write literature, and it won't have these nationalistic categories and so on. So that you'll [just] have literature.”
Morrison, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her 1988 novel, “Beloved,” said the Education Secretary would regret the decision, joking that it was "payback" for U.S. universities replacing English literature with American literature on the syllabus in the Twentieth century.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.