Alan Simpson: Censoring literature is a very dangerous path to take


It’s not often you can start a column in Latin, and today is no exception, although there is a Latin theme.

Well sort of, anyway.

It follows that works by some of the UK’s finest poets have been removed from the English GCSE syllabus in a bid to introduce “exciting and diverse” voices into the curriculum.

Thus, the works of Wilfred Owen and Philip Larkin will now be relegated to history in schools, meaning that pupils will no longer learn classics such as Dolce and Decorum est or An Arundel Tomb.

It’s a real shame, because Owen’s masterpieces chronicling the horrors of trench warfare in World War I are as empowering today as they were in 1918.

But according to the OCR, his famous poem Anthem for Doomed Youth is no longer relevant and will be replaced in the program’s conflict section.

Likewise, Larkin, considered the greatest poet of the 20th century, will no longer be included in the love and relationships section, heralding the end of An Arundel Tomb.

Work by Thomas Hardy, Seamus Heaney and Siegfried Sassoon has also been removed from the diversity campaign, which critics have called “cultural vandalism”.

Of the 45 poems used by the OCR for last year’s GCSE English Literature course, 15 have been replaced.

New entries include 14 by “poets of color” with “disabled and LGBT voices” also featured.

The ‘conflict’ section of the course had previously been dominated by works from the First World War, with Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth being arguably the most famous piece in the collection.

Philip Larkin has also been replaced by new pieces including We Lived Happily during the War by Ilya Kaminsky, Colonization in Reverse by Louise Bennett Coverly and Thirteen by Caleb Femi.

The OCR said: “Our anthology for GCSE English Literature students will feature many poets who have never entered the GCSE curriculum before and will represent diverse voices, from living poets of British-Somali descent, British-Guyanese and Ukrainian to one of the first black women. in 19th century America to publish a novel.

There’s great irony in removing Owen for diversity, of course, because he was gay and could rightfully be considered one of the earliest exponents of the LGBTQ voice in poetry.

He also wrote at a time when his sexuality was still subject to criminal sanctions.

Of course, as a serving soldier who experienced atrocities firsthand, his poems are essential to the curriculum if students are to gain a sense of history.

It is impossible to disagree with the feeling that school curricula need more diversity and modernization.

But it is hard to escape the growing view that there is a culture war in educational institutions, with schools at the very heart of it.

There is a general tendency to decolonize the curriculum, but it seems to be motivated not by a genuine attempt to improve education, but by a pure hatred of the past.

It’s perfectly fine to tweak and improve things, but completely erasing history and replacing it with something else isn’t pretty and doesn’t do anything to educate anyone. The purge of authors and writers echoes 1920s Germany with the “degenerate art” adopted by the Nazis to describe all of Picasso’s modernist works.

Hundreds of works, which would have been priceless today, were simply thrown on a bonfire by a Nazi party determined to allow only Germans and Austrians to see the censored art that suited their agenda.

It was an idea adopted by that other great proponent of a liberal democracy, Stalin.

Ironically, most of the degenerate works of art that were rescued from the bonfire are now kept safe in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, alongside works hidden by Stalin.

Any decision to censor artistic works such as music, literature or painting is a brutal step that is only ever considered by dictators.

Yet in 21st century Britain the censors are out in force, changing the things they don’t like and no one seems able to challenge them.

It is a very slippery and dangerous slope to descend and which can only end in disaster.

The most dangerous aspect of censorship is where it all ends – after all, who censors the censors in the end?

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