US Book Ban

The following article from today’s issue of The Daily Telegraph caught my eye:


Michael Grove will regret the decision to divide literature into “nationalistic categories” on the GCSE syllabus, a Nobel Prize-winning author has said. Toni Morrison, an American, attacked the Education Secretary’s reported plans to drop classic US novels and plays from the school curriculum in favour of British works.  She also joked that the decision was “payback” for US universities replacing English literature with American literature  in their syllabuses.

Mr Grove has been criticised after reports that he wanted To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee, John Srteinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and The Crucible by Arthur Miller to be removed from the curriculum.  More than 30,000 people have signed an online petition calling for them to stay.

Morrison, made a Nobel laureate in 1993, was asked about Mr Grove’s reforms when she appeared at the Hay Festival.  “I tell you [they] will regret it,” she said.  “When I started in grad school in the fifties at Cornell University, that was the first time there was such a thing as American literature.  It was always English literature.  American, what was that?  So now it’s just payback.  Just because we got  rid of English literature and moved to American, you’re going to fix it.”

Paul Dodd, of the OCR exam board, said at the weekend that it had left American texts off its English GCSE syllabus because of government guidelines.  “The essential thing is that in the new GCSE English literature you cannot do fiction or drama from 1914 unless it is British,” he said.

Mr Gove denied the claim, saying: “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 can study for GCSE.”  But the OCR last night confirmed that it had dropped many American texts form GCSE English so pupils could study more novels and poems by British writers.  The new syllabus will see pupils study Shakespeare along with novels by George Orwell, Meera Syal, Charles Dickens and HG Wells.


My reaction to this – as an American – is that it’s all a tempest in a tea pot, and I doubt very much that there is any sort of “payback” involved.  Who cares about the nationality of an author?  Is there a distinctive ‘American Writing Style’?  While the characters and the settings of American novels will tend to be different than their British counterparts, does this make the appreciation of the work, as literature, in the mind of a fifteen-year-old different?  I think what a fifteen-year-old will notice is the unfamiliar settings and maybe the strange characters, but will s/he think, “this is a different kind of literature”?  I doubt it.  In fact, if what we want to do with fifteen-year-old students is to confirm in them a joy of reading, isn’t it sensible to suggest works that will seem more comfortable and familiar – rather than foreign – to them?

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