Michael Gove hits back over decision to axe To Kill a Mockingbird from GCSE syllabus

The Education Secretary has responded to his 'culture warrior' critics

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The Independent Online

Michael Gove has hit back at his "culture warrior" critics who he claims have wrongly accused him of banning modern American novels such as Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird from the English GSCE syllabus.

Academics and writers reacted angrily to news that OCR, one of the country's largest exam boards, has left To Kill A Mockingbird, Of Mice And Men and Arthur Miller's play The Crucible off its draft English Literature syllabus.

The move prompted criticism and led to Paul Dodd, OCR's head of GCSE and A-Level reform, to claim its removal from the syllabus was linked to Mr Gove's personal taste.

The Education Secretary denied banning all American authors or John Steinbeck's 1937 novella in particular. In an article for The Daily Telegraph, Mr Gove stressed he had not prohibited anything from reading lists, and "nor has anyone else".

He also dismissed claims that students would only study British authors.

"Teachers are as free to introduce children to the brilliant writing of Lee, Steinbeck and Miller today as they were yesterday and nothing this government is doing will change that in the future," he wrote.

“All we are doing is asking exam boards to broaden - not narrow - the books young people study for GCSE.”

Mr Gove insisted he has "read and loved" the books, but “sometimes a rogue meme can be halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on.”

"Just because one chap at one exam board claimed I didn't like Of Mice And Men, the myth took hold that it - and every other pesky American author - had been banned," he added.

He went on: "I have apparently decreed that only literature written by true-born Englishmen (copyright Daniel Defoe) can be read by our children.

"And without waiting to do anything as mundane as checking the facts, a host of culture warriors have taken to Twitter to denounce this literary isolationism.

"As an English literature graduate - and indeed unabashed Americanophile - I am rather pleased on one level that so many rhetorical swords should have leapt from their scabbards to defend both literature and the unity of the Anglosphere.

"But sadly I can't take too much delight in these protestations of literary affection. Because they are - in more than just one sense - rooted in fiction."

The new English GCSE subject content published in December includes at least one play by William Shakespeare, work by the Romantic poets, a 19th Century novel, poetry since 1850 and a 20th Century novel or drama.

Bethan Marshall, a senior lecturer in English at King's College, London, told The Sunday Times it was a syllabus "straight out of the 1940s", which schools will make schools "incredibly depressed" when they see it.

The Department for Education said the new syllabus will be more rigorous and wide-ranging for students.