To kill a classic

Plans to drop To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men spark a rare defence of American culture in the U.K.

Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

It is not difficult to find a certain level of disdain for American culture in Britain. There is a sense that the United States is Rome to Britain’s Athens—good at the rough stuff, but maybe not so much for poetry.

And yet when reports surfaced last weekend that British Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove had dropped some classics of American fiction from guidelines for the English literature syllabus for schoolchildren—notably To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men—in favour of British works, the outcry was ferocious and almost familial in its defence of the American novels.

Critics accused Gove of banning the books on political grounds. To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men are both perceived as liberal texts, dealing with themes of racial discrimination, oppression and the injustices suffered by the poor. “Gove clearly sees [Of Mice and Men] as contaminated with the ideological prejudices of the left-leaning teaching profession,” wrote English professor John Sutherland in the Guardian. Twitter flared with variations of the hashtag #tokillamockingbird, probably not a widely precedented occurrence. One London bookstore advised passersby to purchase Lee’s and Steinbeck’s novels before they are illegal.

Gove, writing in the Telegraph, described himself as an Americanophile and said he was pleased, “on one level,” that so many rhetorical swords had been drawn to defend “both literature and the unity of the Anglosphere.” But he insisted he hadn’t banned anything. He said he was simply asking exam boards to “broaden” the scope of literature that students are required to study to include at least one Shakespeare play, a 19th-century novel, Romantic poetry and some fiction or drama written in the British Isles since 1914. Exam boards will be free to add any other works they wish, said Gove. And if that includes Steinbeck, he would be delighted.

English teacher Mary Stevens has created an online petition arguing that the new curriculum does effectively restrict what will be taught, even if nothing is formally banned, because teachers will have little time for works that aren’t part of the syllabus. Almost 40,000 people had signed the petition by Tuesday.

They might take comfort from the possibility that students are reading the American classics outside of school: On Monday, To Kill a Mockingbird reached No. 9 on Amazon U.K.’s bestseller list.

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To kill a classic

  1. Well done Gove for ending the sycophantic obsession with this Leftist American drivel. Not only are both books outrageously left-wing, they are also poorly written and grotesquely guilt mongering against white men. How so many teenagers can claim Mockingbird is their favourite book without having read it is testimony to the dominance of the American liberal agenda in our culture.

    • There are soooo many comedians on here……….

    • Dave C….

      I am as Conservative as they come. I read both books, and if you consider them left-wing, and poorly written….then you obviously tried to scam your English teacher by reading the Cliff Notes versions.

      I currently have both books included in my library….and make it a point to read them again every few years.

      I was 9 the first time I read “Mockingbird”……..and even then I understood the importance of this work.

      I recommend you go and read it yourself.

  2. I love To Kill a Mockingbird and I love Steinbeck. I got my higher education from the States (NYC). And even though I majored in business, I took English and Literature as a minor. Neither To Kill A Mockingbird nor anything by Steinbeck was included in my curriculum. Thankfully, I read them on my own but I was extremely surprised by not having works like that as a part of my education.

    So, the decision in the UK doesn’t shock me!

    • Just be glad you don’t live in the UK Oleysa……

      the artical fails to mention that they are cancelling the Classics, and replacing it with the Koran.

      UK is doomed unless they make some major changes.

      • Is there any topic that doesn’t give rise to your anti-Muslim sentiments?

        • when it comes to the UK…..pretty much everything is marked by Muslim influence.

          thank god UKIP has taken hold.

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