Belfast student calls for Of Mice and Men to be REMOVED from English Literature GCSE course because of racial slurs in the 1937 book
- The novel was written by Nobel-Prize winning author John Steinbeck in 1937
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A Belfast student has called for Of Mice and Men to be removed from a English Literature GCSE course after raising concerns about the use of racial slurs in the book.
The novel – written by Nobel-Prize winning American author John Steinbeck in 1937 – chronicles the lives of fictional characters George Milton and Lennie Small – displaced migrant ranch workers on the hunt for jobs in California.
It also features a character named Crooks, a stable-hand who befriends Lennie and faces discrimination because he is black.
Speaking to BBC News NI, student Angel Mbondiya said she didn’t find Of Mice and Men ‘appropriate for schools and how that impacts young black people, and young white people’.
She believes the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) should remove the novel from its GCSE English literature programme. It is one of seven books that schools in Northern Ireland can choose from for pupils studying the course.
A Belfast student (pictured) has called for Of Mice and Men to be removed from a English Literature GCSE course after raising concerns about the use of racial slurs in the book
Angel said: ‘It’s just really uncomfortable sitting in a classroom where we have to listen to racist slurs and comments.
‘I understand the history behind it and stuff but you can learn that in history about slavery. The impact that it’s had is that it just makes you feel weak, really. It doesn’t sit right.’
Angel’s mother Apolonia Mbondiya agrees with her daughter, who despite loving English, didn’t pick to study it as an A-level because of Of Mice and Men.
Apolonia insisted schools ‘need to move on’ to ‘protect the mental health of our young people, whether black or white’.
The character of Crooks is often regarded as Steinbeck’s attempt to highlight discrimination in 1930s America.
The novel (pictured) was written by Nobel-Prize winning American author John Steinbeck in 1937
But the book, which contains racial slurs and disparaging references to Crooks’ skin colour, has faced regular criticism for its use of language. It even featured on the American Library Association’s list of the Most Challenged Books of the 21st Century.
The book – enjoyed by Prince Harry during his time at Eton – was once a key part of the English GCSE curriculum.
But it was replaced in 2014 by novels by British authors at the insistences of then Education Secretary Michael Gove. It is, however, still taught and features as part of curriculums in some schools.
In a statement to MailOnline, a spokesperson for CCEA said: ‘CCEA is committed to giving students the opportunity to engage with a diverse range of texts, themes and ideas that resonate with them through their study of English Literature.
‘Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, has featured on the CCEA GCSE English Literature specification for many years due to its popularity with both teachers and students.
‘The novel does not examine slavery. It does however include the character Crooks, a disenfranchised black ranch worker, where the surrounding narrative alludes to racial segregation and prejudice in 1930’s America.
‘The language given by Steinbeck to characters in the book reflects the discriminatory language and attitudes of this period, which we recognise as offensive today.
‘This and other messages/themes from Of Mice and Men reminds the reader of the struggle for racial equality and the importance of equal opportunities, diversity, and inclusion in today’s society.
Speaking to BBC News NI, student Angel Mbondiya said she didn’t find Of Mice and Men ‘appropriate for schools and how that impacts young black people, and young white people’. Pictured, the 1992 film version of Of Mice and Men
‘For any future revision of CCEA’s GCSE English Literature qualification, we will welcome the opportunity to review and refresh the literature offered to students and teachers to ensure it continues to provide thought-provoking works that resonate with the reader and as far as possible represents the range of diverse voices in our society.’
It is not the first time Of Mice and Men has faced criticism over its use of racial slurs.
In 2021, secondary school teachers were urged not to use racial slurs when reading from Of Mice and Men and another classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.
More than 100 academics, campaigners and parents signed a letter sent challenging the reading out of racial slurs used in the books. Campaigners said reading the slurs from the books ‘adds nothing to the lesson’.
The open letter, organised by anti-racist educator Marsha Garratt, asked all the schools to stop teachers reading the racist slurs out loud.
It followed reports that pupils at two Teesside schools challenged the use of the word during lessons on the two books.
Ms Garrat said the two young pupils, both of African heritage, challenged teachers saying the word was racist.
She told the BBC: ‘In both cases the teachers said it wasn’t racist because they were using it from a text and because of the situation.
‘The teachers continued to use the word in their defence of using that word, which just exacerbated things massively. Me and fellow campaigners are saying this word is a violent word and it adds nothing to the lesson by saying it out loud.
‘We’re not targeting particular schools, we’re asking all schools not to say the word out loud in a lesson.’
Neither Ms Garrat nor the BBC named the two Teesside schools in order to protect the identity of the pupils.
A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson told MailOnline at the time: ‘Pupils should be taught about different communities and how different groups of people have contributed to society.
‘We have given schools the freedom and flexibility to decide how to do that, and choose their own resources for the national curriculum.
‘Any sensitive issues regarding the materials should be handled by the school and in consultation with parents.
‘If there are concerns with books and how they are taught, as with other schooling matters, people should follow the school’s complaints procedure in place.’
The DfE added that teachers have the ‘flexibility to choose the books they use as part of English teaching’, and the English National Curriculum is ‘designed to ensure that all pupils appreciate our rich and varied literary heritage through a wide range of texts’.
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