Winston Churchill Rolls, George Orwell Rejoices: American Authors Banished from Schools in Great Britain

Image of Winston Churchill and George Orwell

Winston Churchill is turning in his grave as George Orwell rejoices. John Steinbeck and other American authors, a group deeply disliked by George Orwell, are about to be dropped from Great Britain’s school curriculum. According to “Syal but no Steinbeck in English GSCE,” a BBC news report, English education bureaucrats expressed dismay at discovering that Of Mice and Men remains the most frequently read novel by British middle-school pupils. Henceforth, it is decreed, only British authors can be “taught-to-test” in government-supported schools throughout England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

As an ex-English teacher and Anglophile, I have good cause for hating edicts by education bureaucrats, American or British. Here are 10 reasons why I despise this one with a passion:

1. Winston Churchill’s mother was an American, and America came to England’s aid in its darkest hour, inspired by Winston Churchill’s Anglo-American fortitude and friendship.

2. Most of my ancestors were English immigrants. My father, an Army corporal, was stationed in England. After the war my parents named my brother David Winston (for Winston Churchill, not George Orwell’s Winston Smith). I studied a pair of British authors for my PhD degree and consider George Orwell John Steinbeck’s equal as a writer, a compliment to George Orwell.

3. A disaffected Communist who disdained American authors and refused to visit the United States, George Orwell accused John Steinbeck of being a Soviet sympathizer as the Cold War heated up. Such calumny is to be expected from right-wing British authors who came, saw, and ranted—Evelyn Waugh, for example—but it’s unforgivable in a left-wing journalist like George Orwell who never crossed the Atlantic or questioned Steinbeck to find out for himself.

4. John Steinbeck loved and lauded England and had cherished English roots on his Dickson grandmother’s side. He was a war correspondent in London in 1943 and spent much of 1958 in Somerset, the period his widow Elaine said was the happiest time in their marriage.

5. Steinbeck mined British authors from Thomas Mallory to John Milton in his writing. Unlike George Orwell, he declined to criticize other American authors, at least in public, and as far as I know he gave George Orwell a pass when Orwell said nasty things about the United States.

6. Two classics by George Orwell will be spared in the impending purge of American authors, along with British authors considered too old-fashioned, from English schools; both George Orwell books—1984 and Animal Farm—continue to be taught in American schools, along with masterpieces by older British authors from Shakespeare to Dickens.

7. Winston Churchill, a world-class writer, understood the connection between what one reads and how one thinks. So did George Orwell, despite his parochialism. English students who never read Steinbeck will be as uninformed about the Dust Bowl and Depression as young Americans who never read British authors are about, say, Winston Churchill and World War II.

8. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Arthur Miller are also Out in English, Welsh, and Irish schools. Henceforth, ideas about America will come from Hollywood, hip hop, and other sources unpolluted by American authors. Future generations in Great Britain can be expected to care as little about our cultural heritage as most Americans care about that of England.

9. Instead, Sherlock Holmes and Meera Syal, the British screenwriter of Bollywood Carmen Live, are now In. This switch is the English equivalent of replacing American authors like Steinbeck and Faulkner with Jerry Seinfeld in American public schools.

10. AQA—the educational bureaucracy that wants to banish American authors from British schools—is short for “Assessment and Qualifications Alliance.” The English equivalent of our SAT Educational Testing Service, the organization frames its ponderous pronouncements in the educational equivalent of George Orwell’s Doublespeak, a sin against meaning in every sense of the word.

In my court, that last offense may be the worst. If you can’t express yourself as clearly as Winston Churchill or George Orwell, you probably aren’t thinking straight. Notwithstanding those British authors unmolested by the ACA, the bureaucrats in Manchester aren’t qualified to banish American authors from any country, least of all Winston Churchill’s glorious land.

Readers are encouraged to submit their own reasons to dislike the idea of dropping John Steinbeck and other American authors from schools in Great Britain. Personal or professional, silly or same—feel free to express your opinion in the Comment space below.

About William Ray

William Ray is a Steinbeck scholar living in Santa Clara, California. He received his PhD in English from the University of North Carolina.


  1. Steve Hauk says:


    it will take a while to take this in, what it all means. I do know the late great Harold Pinter would be very upset. He was very close to Arthur Miller, and Miller was close to Steinbeck. What would Miller or Steinbeck say if they knew American kids were discouraged from reading Pinter?

    A bad situation all around.

  2. John MacKenzie says:


    Can I just politely point out that the heading is a bit misleading as this does not in fact apply to schools throughout Great Britain. In Scotland, schools, thankfully, still study American authors including Harper Lee, F Scott Fitzgerald and, indeed, Steinbeck. Scotland has always had its own separate and distinct education system.

    Just thought I’d point this out!


    • Thank you for clarifying this crucial point, John. Scottish independence–cultural, social, political–is a tradition admired by Americans, generations of whom pursued graduate degrees at Edinburgh and elsewhere, in part because of Scotland’s imminence in fields of science, theology, and other specialties, partly because of the strong Scots-Irish heritage still very much alive in the United States. Although John Steinbeck identified as Irish on his mother’s side, her family could more accurately be described as Scots-Irish, and as recorded in the writer’s letters, John and Elaine spent glorious Christmas holidays at the actor John Huston’s Scottish ‘castle.’ Your point is well taken and deeply appreciated, both for correcting the record and reminding readers that Scotland–unlike England, Wales, and Northern Ireland–is not subject to the literary cleansing decreed by the educational authorities in Manchester.

  3. Wayne Hoover says:

    As an American who has lived abroad almost half my lifetime I have been the victim of and seen many instances of anti-American acts. The most recent one came from a German who seemed to blame me for that “dictator Obama.” And so it goes. Where I live now, Thailand, there are many British expats, and their anti-American jibes in the local press are quite frequent. I can and do understand a certain frustration with America and Americans at times. We have and continue to do inexplicable things which infuriate some people. (While many of my British friends couldn’t understand why we elected George W. Bush president, they were positively stunned that we actually re-elected him.) I have learned to accept this as a fact of life.

    However, as a retired teacher of many years, I feel certain we would not commit a folly as chauvinistic as this. No one would deny the importance of British literature in the English world, and no one would be considered educated if it were ignored in their education. While we do not have the great breadth of literature Britain has, we do have the same roots. Our literature has matured in a uniquely American way, and it really cannot be ignored in contemporary English language literature.

    I truly hope that this banning of American literature from British schools is not the result of some anti-American rant by the authorities that be, but just a nationalistic twinge of a few that will be corrected by those whose true concerns are education. It really would a loss to British education if this is allowed to stand as is.

  4. I’m not entirely surprised that English education bureaucrats have moved to take American authors out of the syllabus in the state schools of England. Having lived in the rolling green hills of Warwickshire for a good many years, I found the majority of the population extremely agreeable and sociable. At the same time, there were those who looked upon someone from outside its shores as an intruder. Americans in particular remained a zany lot who were over there and over paid. During World war II, over-sexed was a stock part of that definition, and that was at a time when the villages of the island were stuffed to the scuppers with GIs about to set forth for the shores of Normandy. But never mind, that seems to be part of human nature, having a dislike for the other guy simply because he’s not one of us. The thing is, so much of that kind of thinking comes from the top where it is subsequently funnel-fed downwards. And what is the top like in England? Well, let’s start with Westminster, those magnificent buildings that hold the Houses of Parliament (The House of Commons and the House of Lords) where the Laws of the United Kingdom are determined. In those historic and majestic halls there are twenty – count them, 20 – bars, all subsidized by the British taxpayer. (As far as I can determine, there are none in the Unites States Capitol Building.) The House of Lords has 775 members, of whom 774 are white. 62% of them went to public school (in the US they are known as private schools). 660 of them are life peers, 89 are hereditary peers. 635 of them are men, 181 are women – a figure, (816) which doesn’t agree with the official 775 number. Each of the twenty bars allow in only a certain class or element. The ones for Lords are not for the commoners, the ones for the Commons ministers are not for the public There is one for visitors, but you have to be invited in by a member of Commons, and that one bar is called The Strangers. To those in the House of Lords, all citizens are strangers, but there you are, that’s England for you: white, drunk, over-educated, class-ridden, pampered at the top, neglected at the bottom. And as you can see, except for the number of bars, none of the official figures agree.
    I wonder why? Perhaps because someone’s spending too much time in one of the bars? It’s possible that somewhere in there the decision to toss John Steinbeck et al out of the school curriculum was made. JBS


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