May 28, 2014

UK cuts American books from student reading list


Several American classics are being removed from the syllabus for British literature students. ©PromesaArtStudio Via Shutterstock

Several American classics are being removed from the syllabus for British literature students.
©PromesaArtStudio Via Shutterstock

A British education official has been widely criticized in the past few days, after announcing the decision to remove several American classics from the list of required reading for UK students. Ari Shapiro reports for NPR that the Education Secretary Michael Gove “has decided that the English literature list for a national exam needs to be more English” and cut out books such as To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, and The Crucible.

Sian Griffiths of London’s Sunday Times was the first to report on the syllabus changes, though the Times’s headline—“Gove kills the mockingbird with ban on classic US novels” — is misleading; not-required reading is hardly the same as banned books. Still, Gove doesn’t come across well, as one of the UK’s biggest exam boards described his decisions as largely personal: “Of Mice and Men, which Michael Gove really dislikes, will not be included. It was studied by 90% of teenagers taking English literature GCSE [General Certificate of Secondary Education] in the past. Michael Gove said that was a really disappointing statistic.”

Gove continued to come under fire as the news spread, with Harper Lee’s only novel as the main rallying point. Shapiro points out that To Kill a Mockingbird was trending on Twitter in London on Monday morning; photography website On a White Wall described the move to cut the book as “heinous,” and bookseller Waterstones tweeted, “Don’t be alarmed if we put your copy of To Kill A Mockingbird in a brown bag today. We hear Michael Gove might be doing spot checks.”

Some critics said that Gove’s cuts are representative of a growing sense of nationalism and emphasis on Englishness. Christopher Bigsby, professor of American Studies at the University of East Anglia, told NPR:

I put this in the context of what’s going on in Europe and the world at large, which is a growing nationalism, a growing suspicion of other people’s perspectives and ideas and values… [Gove] sees the point of education in English literature, in English history, as underlining the Englishness of it. Well, how do you know the Englishness unless you have another comparative perspective?

The books taking the place of the American books haven’t been announced yet, but the new GCSE syllabus for English literature will be released later this week.


Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.