There is a big debate going on in the UK at the moment over comments made by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, about what books should or shouldn’t be chosen to study for the GCSE English Literature exam sat by children when they reach the age of 16. The Guardian newspaper says “The changes follow the government’s reshaping of the English literature exam syllabus, announced last year, removing the category of “prose from different cultures” and replacing it with “modern works from Britain” – leading to claims that the education secretary was pushing out Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men and other American works.”
It goes on to say: “Gove, who has been inundated with online petitions and complaints on Twitter, has been accused of imposing his tastes and political views on the school curriculum. Critics have included the Observer’s Robert McCrum, who wrote of “new depths of cultural incoherence” displayed by the education secretary: “To exclude American fiction and drama (no Twain, Steinbeck, or Miller, no Faulkner, no Fitzgerald, or TS Eliot) is – to deploy a literary critical term – plain bonkers.” As McCrum points out, the great American writers are steeped in the English literary tradition.” (The Guardian)
This has caused outrage from many authors and educators in the UK including Alan Gibbons, Michael Rosen and the current Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman.
At the same time, there is debate around a textbook used in some local schools in Hong Kong and which is also for sale in the leading English book shop chain, Dymocks. The textbook asks pupils to fill in the blanks. The South China Morning Post quotes “A bubble next to a white man with an English textbook reads, “I am [blank]. I am an English teacher”, while the text next to a woman with darker skin reads, “I am [blank]. I am a domestic helper in Hong Kong”. Choices for the blanks include British, Filipino, Indian, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.”
The Equal Opportunities Commission (HK) has registered its concern and the Education Department (HK) has also gone on the record saying that the book is not on its recommended list, thankfully!
It got me thinking about the fine line between governments setting out standards for education and interference in matters which many think should be left to the professionals. Sometimes we need governments to step in and sometimes we don’t. What we can do as concerned adults is make our voice heard when we get the opportunity to vote and if that opportunity is denied us, use other means to make our voice heard.
Decide for yourselves if Gove is right or wrong, decide for yourselves if stereotypes should be taught in schools in Hong Kong, decide for yourself and your family how you want your children to be educated and be the best role model you can be.
I just thought it was interesting both issues came up in the two places I call home at the same time.