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UK: Student calls for ban on Of Mice and Men from GCSE curriculum over racial slurs

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A* student Angel is calling for the controversial novella to be removed over concerns for racial slurs

A student has called for John Steinbeck novel Of Mice and Men to be removed from the GCSE English literature course over its use of racial slurs. Angel Mhande – from Belfast – has spoken of her concerns with the text which was originally published in 1937.

Angel has admitted that she doesn’t find certain content within the novel ‘appropriate’. Speaking to the BBC, A* student Angel said: “I just don’t find Of Mice and Men appropriate for schools and how that impacts young black people, and young white people.”

Due to this, Angel believes the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) should swap out the text and replace it with another on the GCSE English literature course.

Of Mice and Men tells the story of George Milton and Lennie Small – two displaced migrant ranch workers. The duo travel around California looking for work during the 1930’s Great Depression in the US.

Another character in the book is Crooks – someone who Steinbeck portrays as facing discrimination because he is Black. While the text is optional to study – being one of seven that schools in Northern Ireland offer – it is mandatory in many other schools across the UK.

She told the outlet: “It’s a very violent book to begin with but it’s mostly just to do with racism and how that affects me and some other black students in my class. 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.”

Speaking of its decision to include the novel as an optional text on the course, the CCEA said: “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.”

Angel explained the negative impact reading and listening to the novel had on her, noting: “The impact that it’s had is that it just makes you feel weak, really. It doesn’t sit right.”

The student’s mother, Apolonia Mbondiya – also agrees with her daughter – telling the BBC : “Angel loves English, she’s very good at it and she didn’t pick it for A-level. She could have picked it, she’s marked to get an A* in English but because of Of Mice and Men she chose not to pick it. We need to move on and to do things that are inclusive and protect the mental health of our young people, whether black or white.”

Angel and her mother Apolonia are calling for the text to be replaced

While she understands the argument that Of Mice and Men was a product of its time, Apolonia explained: “We have history, which is dealing with slavery, which is dealing with the suffragettes fighting for the rights of women.

“We have quite a lot on racism and discrimination and everything that happens in the world but we are moving on to other ways of dealing with past history and not repeating the same thing over and over.

“I’m not sure what Of Mice and Men is actually teaching kids.”

A spokesperson for CCEA told LADbible that it was “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 statement continued: “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 1930s America.