Lawyerly favourite To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the texts abandoned by a GCSE exam board after secretary of state for education Michael Gove said last December that British children should study more work by British authors.
The OCR exam board explained the rationale behind its decision to drop the book, saying that the Department for Education’s (DfE) wish for the exam to be “more focused on tradition” resulting in there being fewer opportunities for students to study the 20th century American text.
The new syllabus includes one Shakespeare play, Romantic poetry, post-1850 poetry, a 19th century novel by an author of any nationality, so long as it was first written in English, and a post-1914 century British novel or play.
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is often lauded by lawyers for its portrayal of Atticus Finch, a lawyer who represents Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman in Maycomb County, Alabama during the Great Depression.
Finch is commonly listed by would-be lawyers as a literary character that they identify with (7 February 2014).
A Labour spokesperson condemned Gove, saying: “True to form, Michael Gove is putting his own ideological interests ahead of the interests of our children.
“His vision is backward-looking and preventing the rich, broad and balanced curriculum we need in our schools if our children are to succeed in the future economy.”
The DfE stated: “We published the new subject content for English Literature in December. It doesn’t ban any authors, books or genres.
“It does ensure pupils will learn about a wide range of literature, including at least one Shakespeare play, a 19th century novel written anywhere and post-1914 fiction or drama written in the British Isles. That is only the minimum pupils will be expected to learn.”
Gove’s call has also seen 20th century American classics John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible dropped.
“As an English Literature graduate currently studying the GDL, I was very disappointed at the news that Michael Gove intends to remove Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird from the GCSE syllabus.
To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch gives students a model professional to learn from. He abides by the same core values and leads by example throughout the novel.
His ability to empathise with everyone around him and see things from their unique perspective is an essential skill for any aspiring lawyer today, as well as his ability to maintain a well-managed work-life balance.
These days the most popular fictional lawyers are Breaking Bad’s wheeler dealer Saul Goodman, and Harvey Specter, the smooth talking, flawless legal problem-solver from Suits. Entertaining as they may be, they do not give young people an accurate portrayal of life as lawyer.
This is why we should mourn the loss of the most inspirational fictional lawyer ever from our classrooms, as well a fantastic novel to read and learn about.”
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