THE Tory education minister, Michael Gove, has advanced his plan to rid the GCSE English exam of classic books and plays he considers to be ‘not English’ enough for pupils.
This became apparent last week when one of the largest examining boards in the country, OCR, released details of the new English Literature syllabus revealing that the books ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ along with the play ‘The Crucible’ would no longer be taught in schools.
The wisdom, according to Gove, is that these American classics of the 20th century have no place in British schools and should be replaced by 19th century novels written by British authors which are somehow more culturally relevant to pupils in the 21st century.
Gove has long expressed his intense dislike of these classics, reserving particular disapproval for the John Steinbeck novella Of Mice and Men. Gove’s hatred of the book has nothing to do with the fact it was written by an American or its irrelevance to British youth.
On the contrary, it is its very relevance to the conditions facing young people today, a relevance that makes this one of the most popular books studied at this level, that Gove hates so much.
Written in 1937 against the backdrop of the savage depression gripping US capitalism – a direct result of the financial crash of 1929 – this short book deals with many complex themes, friendship, racism, bullying, sexism and above all the destruction of the ‘American Dream’ in the face of the brutality of a capitalist crisis, conditions that are re-emerging today across America.
The other book on Gove’s hit list, To Kill a Mockingbird, similarly deals with such ‘irrelevant’ issues, namely the racism of police and the courts in the Deep South of America. After all, what possible relevance could a novel about an innocent African American on trial for his life over the murder of a white woman have in Britain today?
In fact, the criminalisation of all young people, especially black youth, and the institutional racism of the police are very much burning issues in 21st century Britain and Gove is clearly upset that pupils will draw their own comparisons between Britain today and the events depicted by Harper Lee.
The play that Gove has singled out for exclusion is Arthur Miller’s The Crucible set in 17th century Massachusetts about the infamous Salem witch trials – a very clear allegory with the anti-communist witch hunts in 1950s America led by the notorious Senator Joe McCarthy.
Miller himself was convicted by McCarthy’s ‘un-American activities’ senate committee for refusing to name friends and colleagues suspected of being ‘communists’ or communist sympathisers.
This play with its strident condemnation of witch-hunting anyone on the left is clearly an anathema to Gove who is intent on carrying out his own witch-hunt of any teachers not in agreement with his reactionary education policies.
In place of these great works of modern literature – works that in their universal depiction of the struggles by workers, oppressed minorities and intellectuals against a capitalist system in its final, crisis-ridden imperialist phase stand not just as American classics but as world classics of literature – Gove wants to put 19th century British novels of Jane Austen and George Eliot.
At the same time that Gove and his Tory-led government are attempting to drive the education system back to the 19th century through the destruction of state schools and their replacement with privately run academies and free schools, he is driving the syllabus back to the same era.
An era where workers had no rights, where education was solely for the rich and British imperialism enslaved the world. Unfortunately for Gove, those days have gone forever, the working class and especially young people will not sit back and allow themselves to be driven back to the conditions of the 19th century.
It is Gove and his reactionary plans, not these great works of literature, that will be consigned to the pages of historical irrelevance by the socialist revolution.