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UK education revamp leaves US authors on the shelf

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 30, 2014 at 12:59 pm •  Published: May 30, 2014
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LONDON (AP) — Britain's education minister says he has not killed a mockingbird, but many literature-lovers don't believe him.

Michael Gove has outraged some readers and academics with his campaign to put the basics — and Britishness — back into schools.

Longtime American favorites including John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" and Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" are off the syllabus for a major high school English qualification under new guidelines that focus almost exclusively on writers from Britain and Ireland.

Some educators fear that could lead to the narrowing of British minds.

"The idea of cutting out American books because they are not British is crazy," said John Carey, a literary critic and emeritus professor at Oxford University.

Exam boards in England and Wales — which set school syllabuses in line with government rules — on Friday finished releasing their new book lists for the English Literature GCSE, an exam taken by 16-year-olds after a two-year course of study.

Gone are Lee, Steinbeck, Arthur Miller's play "The Crucible" and the autobiography of Maya Angelou, who died this week. Gone, too, are African and Asian writers including Haruki Murakami, Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche.

The purge of Americans and others is the product — though not, the government says, the goal — of an attempt to make the school curriculum more rigorous. New government rules say GCSE pupils must study "high quality, intellectually challenging, and substantial" works, including a 19th-century novel, a selection of poetry, a play by William Shakespeare and post-1914 fiction or drama "from the British Isles." (Previous rules mentioned "contemporary writers" without reference to nationality). A requirement to study authors from different cultures has been dropped.

Gove strongly denied that his goal was to banish non-British authors.

"I have not banned anything," he wrote in the Daily Telegraph. "All we are doing is asking exam boards to broaden — not narrow — the books young people study for GCSE."

The education department says the guidelines represent the minimum students are required to learn, and that those who read more widely — and internationally — will do better on the exams. It also says pupils are required to study "seminal world literature" — including American classics — between the ages of 11 and 14.

Critics of the new English rules say they will have a restrictive, rather than broadening, effect.

"Michael Gove wants everybody studying traditional literature, and he wants it to be British," said Bethan Marshall, chair of the National Association for the Teaching of English. "I think that's a bit of a mistake."

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