An open letter to Michael Gove concerning proposed changes to the English GCSE curriculum

Subject: An open letter to Michael Gove concerning proposed changes to the English GCSE curriculum
From: Emma Berry
Date: 25 May 2014

Dear Mr Gove,
I am writing in the hope of persuading you to retract proposed plans to remove American literature English GCSEs and focus more on British authors. As a student of English Literature and Politics at The University of Reading I cannot help but feel that this would be a great loss to future generations of students in terms of what is commonly regarded as both an incredible art form and an important part of education.
As a first year student of English Literature I must emphasise the important role that literature from other cultures played in my decision to continue my studies thus far. Although I have always had a great love for literature it was my English Language and Literature GCSEs that consolidated my passion for the subject and inspired me to pursue it to degree level. In a time in which it is increasingly difficult to reach out to young people through the medium of literature, one can only imagine the detrimental effects that removing American literature from the curriculum may have. Works such as The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby and Of Mice and Men are able to draw young people into the world of literature by allowing them to relate to the ideas and emotions expressed in the texts. Furthermore, by focussing the study of literature purely on British writers, those from more diverse backgrounds will feel ostracised and lose interest in a subject they feel has no relevance to their life.
Secondly, by focussing purely on British literature the curriculum will deprive students of fundamentally important pieces of culture which have helped shape and change our very existence. Literature represents a commentary of history through the eyes of those present at the time and provides an insight into historical issues such as the Civil Rights Movement and colonialism. The role of literature in our understanding of our existence is vital and in denying students the ability to study this we are depriving them of great cultural and artistic experiences. There is also the potential for growing tension between cultures to arise if we do not allow young people the chance to understand and see the world through the eyes of other cultures. By maintaining a range of cultural perspectives in the English curriculum we can foster the ideas of international unity and understanding. This will provide young people with the opportunity to become thoughtful, culturally understanding individuals.
One cannot help but wonder if this change will not limit students in their future studies. As a student of literature I have experienced firsthand the important role that literature from all cultures plays in the literary sphere. Lecturers constantly remind us that culture and literature do not exist in a vacuum but that they are fluid and influenced by other works. It is impossible to understand texts without examining the origins and inspirations from which they were conceived. As British literature itself is influenced by work from other cultures, students will not be able to fully appreciate the relationship between the author, their inspiration and the context surrounding literary works. It will also set young people at a disadvantage in pursuing their studies of literature as they will have missed out on a crucial section of the study of literature and will have to work twice as hard to catch up on what they have been deprived of by the education system. In a global system, those educated in the United Kingdom will be far behind others their own age who have been taught a broader range of texts and styles of literature. Assuming this is not something the government wishes to happen, it is vital that the proposed changes are scrapped to ensure that British students are able to compete to the best of their ability within the global job market.
I urge you to reconsider your plans to alter English GCSEs to ensure that British students receive a wholesome and invigorating education which will inspire them and equip them for later life.
Yours faithfully,
Emma Berry