Today is the final day of discussion topics for Armchair BEA, which I'm pretty sad about to be honest. It's been great having prompts to make me think and blog more, and getting to browse through some great blogs I'd never heard of before. Today's topic is open, so I thought I'd talk a little bit about something that's sprung up a lot in the last few days; discussion.
If you're in the UK, or on Twitter, or just generally around, you will probably have heard about the recent changes made to the GCSE English Literature syllabuses by our wonderful (heavy, heavy sarcasm) Education Secretary, Michael Gove. Basically what's happened is that certain works of literature have been removed from the new syllabus, apparently in the interests of 'broadening education'. Such works include Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Crucible among others. I'd like to clarify at this point, because there are a lot of people going round saying they've been banned and they haven't. THERE IS NO BANNING ISSUE HERE. The issue is one of narrow mindedness, ethnocentrism and why on earth Michael Gove, a Conservative politician and somebody who is not involved in the actual teaching of children and never has been, has the power to just have books removed from the syllabus because he doesn't like them.
My initial reaction when the story broke was fury. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favourite books of all time and without doubt the book I've heard people say has made them fall in love with reading the most often. I don't think there are many works of literature which have as much to teach and offer children in terms of expanding their world view and helping them to learn to empathise as it does. As the days have passed and I've read more about the story, I've been thinking, and I've decided that the thing that I really have the problem with is the inherent... I don't want to say racism, but British - centric attitude being promoted by these syllabus changes. Yes, literature from the British Isles is important, and of course students should learn about our literary heritage. In all honesty I quite like the new list, but I don't think it offers as much variety and insight into other cultures as previously, and in these mad days of the UK Independence Party gaining so much support, I'd rather we were 'broadening education' to be more, not less, inclusive. I don't want my children growing up in an education system where all the people they learn about are exactly like them. I have to say, though, that if 90% of kids are really studying Of Mice and Men for GCSE, I'd also see that as a problem as it suggests that teachers and students are taking it as the easy option, as it's such a little book and there are so many past exam papers/SparkNotes etc for students to use. There's a whole world of literature out there, use it!
However, the thing that really bugs me is how intelligent people have stooped to just shouting at each other and hurling insults in the comment sections of online articles. This week I had a chat on twitter with somebody because I've been reading Steinbeck since the story broke, and she really dislikes Steinbeck. We talked about the issues she had with him, and the issues I had previously had with him and why I loved him now, and neither of us felt the need to insult the other or bash their reading tastes. I don't understand why so many fully grown adults in the UK are incapable of having a rational debate without resorting to name calling and abuse. For me, possibly my favourite thing about reading, and especially about reading works such as those which have been removed is that they stimulate thought and discussion. Freedom to read is freedom to think and freedom to express yourself and this is so vitally important to teach kids and teenagers.
I could go on about this for a while, but instead just in case you're interested in reading more about the story, here are a few links for you!