I’m going to go against the grain here and say I can, to an extent, understand Michael Gove’s recent encouragement for the GCSE syllabus to focus more on English novels, despite the abuse he has received for the action. Growing up in Edinburgh, I was always a little annoyed at the fact we got very few Scottish texts despite the plethora of excellent Scottish authors out there. We got Tennessee Williams, J. D. Salinger and Seamus Heaney but rarely Robert Louis Stevenson, Liz Lochhead or Lewis Grassic Gibbon. I wound up doing my Advanced Higher dissertation on William McIlvanney and I chose Scottish Literature over English Literature in my first year of University, feeling that my studies had otherwise been absent of a nationalist influence.
So if there is a consensus that teenagers in England are not reading enough English literature then it makes sense to alter the syllabus to focus on English authors, poets and playwrights, right?
The problem is, along with everyone else, including Meera Syal, one of the new English authors on the syllabus, I do find the exclusion of certain American authors strange and rather hard to comprehend. While I always felt a bit miffed at the lack of Scottish texts used in my school, it did not stop be from being devastated by the demise of the delicate Blanche Dubois in Tennessee Williams’ To Kill A Mockingbird, touched by the journey of the lost Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye and falling in love with the noble ideals of Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird.
These varied texts were so important in my teenage years, that I cannot imagine school kids going through high school without reading them, particularly those interested in studying literature to a higher level.
While I understand the desire for nationalism in syllabuses, there is also a need for diversity in our reading, especially in our younger years. We should offer our children and teenagers a variety of literature from different authors with different backgrounds, to afford them the same pleasures we had from reading our favourite books for the first time.
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