Jun 9, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 37 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
The Scrapbook keeps an eye on the British press—largely because it’s interesting, and sometimes fun, to read; but also because, now and then, a little nugget emerges which tells a larger story.
Case in point was the explosion last week when it was reported, in hazy detail, that Britain’s secretary of state for education, Michael Gove, had revised the reading syllabus for Britain’s English curriculum by expelling certain popular American titles—Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, The Crucible by Arthur Miller, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee—and substituting British authors such as William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens.
Progressive Britons, aided and abetted by social media, had a fit. Gove was denounced in print as a “fundamentalist” with a “misguided sense of patriotism.” A popular BBC dramatist denounced him as a “dangerous philistine.” The Guardian piled on, as if on cue, soliciting comments from (among others) a lecturer in English at King’s College London who complained that requiring 16-year-olds to read Dickens “will just grind children down.” A hashtag denouncing Gove went viral on Twitter.
All of which, needless to say, was so much noise. It turns out that Michael Gove had banned nothing from the syllabus but had, instead, encouraged the expansion of reading lists, in these carefully chosen words:
Students should study a range of high-quality, intellectually challenging, and substantial whole texts in detail. These must include: at least one play by Shakespeare; at least one 19th-century novel; a selection of poetry since 1789, including representative Romantic poetry; and fiction or drama from the British Isles from 1914 onwards. All works should have been originally written in English.
In The Scrapbook’s humble view, this seems like common sense for a literature curriculum in the land that gave the world Jane Austen, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the English language. Indeed, Gove went out of his way to explain that the new guidelines would broaden, rather than restrict, opportunities to read contemporary authors as well as canonical texts. He went on: “Do I think Of Mice and Men . . . and To Kill a Mockingbird are bad books? Of course not. I read and loved them all as a child. And I want children in the future to be able to read them all.”
Which leads The Scrapbook to two observations. First, it is a measure of the bitterness felt by the political left in Britain that it should have set aside its reflexive anti-Americanism to attack the current government by defending American authors. That’s a rare role-reversal we won’t soon forget!
The other observation is that, all things being equal, Michael Gove is self-evidently intent on raising the intellectual level of Britain’s English syllabus but feels constrained to say nice things about John Steinbeck, Arthur Miller, and Harper Lee. Well, if it takes a venerable American institution to state the obvious, allow The Scrapbook to grab this one by the horns: Steinbeck is a mediocre prose stylist, The Crucible is antiquated left-wing agitprop, and To Kill a Mockingbird is a sentimental children’s story best ingested in movie form. If this emboldens any secondary school in Great Britain to toss Of Mice and Men in favor of Richard III, we’ll gladly take the blame—and credit.
Britain’s UKIP raises the question: Can an anti-political party ever be a political success?May 26, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 35 • By TED R. BROMUND
10:32 AM, Jun 20, 2013 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
On Monday, June 10, former British prime minister Tony Blair released a thoughtful memorandum that was quickly reproduced on websites around the world. Titled “The Trouble Within Islam,” Blair’s reflections were stimulated by the resurgence of Islamist terror in Britain, where a serviceman, Lee Rigby, was brutally murdered on May 22 by two jihadists. Blair’s remarks also seemed to reflect the shock of the Boston bombing of April 15.
9:50 AM, Mar 18, 2013 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
There are legitimate territorial disputes, and then there is Argentina’s dispute with Great Britain over the Falkland Islands.
10:34 AM, Feb 5, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
In his first foreign trip in the second term of President Barack Obama's presidency, Vice President Joe Biden is gaffing his way across Europe. Biden's three country trip has taken him from Germany to France and, finally, to the UK, where he's just finishing meetings.
3:00 PM, Jul 26, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
At an event in London, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said, "I'm looking forward to the bust of Winston Churchill being in the Oval Office again."
8:42 AM, Jul 26, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney met with Tony Blair in London earlier today. Here's a picture:
Romney is in London to kick off his foreign tour with the opening of the Olympic games tomorrow night.
11:36 AM, May 17, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
While the debate continues over how to deal with an Iran that has nuclear ambitions, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has other things on his mind.
Why is the Obama administration siding with Argentina against Britain?9:10 AM, Jan 30, 2012 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
In 1982, Argentina’s right wing military junta launched a sudden invasion of the Falkland Islands, the South Atlantic archipelago that has been a British possession since 1833.
3:19 PM, Jan 24, 2012 • By BENJAMIN WEINTHAL
The Guardian reported on Friday that Press TV, the English-language news outlet operated by Iran’s clerical regime since 2007, was stripped of its license for violating broadcasting regulations.
How the King James Version came to be. Dec 5, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 12 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
The King James Bible—the Authorized Version of Holy Scripture, dedicated to James I as “principal mover and author”—is not really a triumph of translation. Not, at least, if perfect accuracy and re-creation of the original narrative voice are the proper goals of translation.
A chronicle of Britain’s privileged underclass.Oct 3, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 03 • By SONNY BUNCH
The pseudonymous author of this memoir, Winston Smith, chose the moniker because of the maddening bureaucracy within which he worked. His blog, “Winston Smith—Working With the Underclass,” won an Orwell Prize for chronicling the labyrinthine, dysfunctional horror show that had become the British welfare state. And the name fit, conjuring up images of 1984 and the crushing toll the various ministries of the nation-state take on those caught up in their cogs.
Britain’s conquest of the Ottoman Empire.Aug 29, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 46 • By MACKUBIN THOMAS OWENS
Winston Churchill titled the final volume of his World War I memoir The Unknown War. The topic of that volume was the Eastern front, but the title could just as well have described the Great War against the Ottoman Empire in Mesopotamia (the present Iraq) from 1914 until 1918, and its aftermath. While at the time considered a sideshow of the Great War, the British invasion of Mesopotamia was to have far-reaching geopolitical and strategic consequences.