Deborah Yaffe

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JA makes the cut

By Deborah Yaffe, May 29 2014 01:00PM

A flurry of excitement in the British press over the release of new curricular guidelines for the UK’s English literature exams for high school students. The big news: Americans are out.


Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird, currently as ubiquitous in British classrooms as in American ones, are no longer on the list of texts students can study for their GCSE exams. (The GCSEs are the exams once called O-levels, which sixteen-year-old Brits take to secure something roughly equivalent to an American high school diploma.)


Meanwhile, a slew of nineteenth-century British novels--including Pride and Prejudice--remain on the list, along with Shakespeare (you may have heard of him) and some contemporary writers, like the wonderful Kazuo Ishiguro. Apparently, the UK’s education minister wants British students to read mostly British works. Plus he doesn’t like Steinbeck.


I'm very fond of all the books in question, but--wounded national pide aside--I recognize that you can’t read everything. Still, it’s a shame to see an English professor, of all people, describing the new syllabus as destined to “just grind children down.” Can’t you teach Jane Austen in a way that will make even teenagers love her? Or am I just hopelessly naive?


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