Of Mice and Men

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Of Mice and Men

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Editado: Jun 6, 2014, 5:53am

A subject that seems particularly relevant here: the changes that have recently been made to the GSCE English Literature syllabus. Students will now be required to study:
- at least one play by Shakespeare
- at least one 19th century novel
- a selection of poetry since 1789, including representative Romantic poetry
- fiction or drama from the British Isles from 1914 onwards

There's been no small amount of criticism, however, because, as a result of the plans, it is likely long term favourites will be dropped by exam boards, including Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird by American authors John Steinbeck and Harper Lee. The Labour Party, for example, has been quoted as calling the changes "ideological" and "backward-looking". Defenders of the change have pointed out that these are essential requirements and other works can still be taught in addition to them.

What do you think? I'd imagine we all, as book-lovers, agree that the way children are introduced to literature in school, and to what, is important.



Editado: Jun 6, 2014, 7:22am

So, in my opinion the idea that you can look at the above set of books and scream out 'Oh, the horror!' is madness in itself. The notion that children's minds somehow being closed because they aren't being introduced to global literature (i.e. American literature) or that this is a mild form of indoctrination is ridiculous, as is the one that they will receive some kind of second-rate education - as if British works are very much inferior. I imagine that most of the anger stems from the fact that many people are nostalgic about the texts they learnt when in school, but really they are missing the point.

When I did GCSEs we were taught Of Mice and Men and Animal Farm, as well as A Midsummer Night's Dream. I understand that Of Mice and Men is intentionally written in simple language, that this makes it accessible to students of different levels of ability, that it has easy to grasp moral lessons, but I recall thinking at the time that the book was one written for children, well below the level we had reached - certainly that we should have reached: by 15/ 16 years old you are ready for adult literature, more complex language and greater depth. Animal Farm is also written in a relatively simply style but the difference with this work is, in being an allegory, it has far greater depth. It certainly appealed to me as a teenager. However, having said that, there was an issue with the teaching: we read the book in class but true to the stereotype learnt more from the video (the animated film version, which we viewed more than once). There was a similar problem with Shakespeare, which we've probably all experienced (indeed, it's almost a rite of passage), where the failure of the teaching really told: we simply didn't understand it - the style was too difficult, too far removed from language we were used to, almost alien, and so the vast majority of us lost interest. I'm not blaming my teacher however, it is an issue with the curriculum. The idea that you can simply step from works of the level of Of Mice and Men to Shakespeare is, frankly, incredible. You wouldn't in maths go from times tables straight to trigonometry, would you? You need to build the student up towards it whereas as things have been the jump is far too great for most pupils. What is required is more of a steady ascent: keep Of Mice and Men if you wish (I will accept that the book is a classic - although certainly no 'masterpiece', as some have called it) but teach it to the year 8s and 9s - by year 10 pupils should be reading Dickens and the like before then moving onto the titan, Shakespeare (who I will certainly agree, despite having struggled with him, should be on the curriculum, at its apex). The whole point of schooling, surely, is not to throw these books at them simply because they are 'classics' but to educate, to build up the child, their knowledge and insight? The dissenters seem to have forgotten that: at least Mr Gove, by introducing nineteenth century literature into the curriculum, seems to be moving things in the right direction.

Jun 7, 2014, 4:37am

I think there's a case for the media are (as usual) making a mountain out of a mole hill. The list of those 4 categories is not EVERY book that will be studied, it is just a requirement that the class hit those 4 subjects. So it is not excluding other books, it is just not making them core to the syllabus. And is that a problem? for me no. That some books have been studied for years doesn't mean that they should always be studied, or are relevant to today's society.
I have to say that the 4 categories would actually pretty well cover what we read for GCSE. Hamlet, Hardy are clear fits for the first two. We then read Steinbeck, a ridiculous book something like "pardon me, you're treading on my eyeball" and a book that all I can remember is he carried his dad's ashes round in a urn, some Afrikaans short stories, and the rest is a bit of a blur.

So should every child have to study Shakespeare? Yes, we all ought to be exposed to it at least once in our lives, even if you're dragged there kicking & screaming. (as an aside there is a categorisaiton of Shakespeare into "the one you did at school" and "all the rest")

Jun 9, 2014, 7:08am

I was one of the many who took some time to get back to Shakepeare after being seriously put off it at school.

I assume that it's still taught as texts on the page, as it was in my day? I've come to wonder why - surely Shakespeare is primarilly meant to be seen and heard, not read? I think it would be a lot more beneficial to younsters to teach them to appreciate it on screen and stage and could probably be done a lot more successfully, keeping proper study of the texts for higher education. But then, it's as much about being able to compose exam questions as about teaching kids, isn't it?

Going back to the written texts, the government bumf linked in the OP says, among other things, that the teaching should enable youngsters to -

'... read a wide range of classic literature fluently and with good understanding, and make connections across their reading ... develop the habit of reading widely and often ...'

How do they square that with excluding basically all non-UK works and, even, the great wealth of British, 19thC, short stories (see footnote 2 in the bumf)? Also, I don't know about younger members here, but a significant part of my generation's literary heritage comprised works in translation - I'm sure Dumas and Tolstoy were as familiar as Austen and Dickens when I was a youngster. Many later British writers would have grown up on them cheek by jowl with the Brits.

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