Should we scrap English Literature and teach SEO instead?
The exam board OCR recently announced it was dropping long-standing American texts such as Of Mice and Men and The Crucible from the English Literature GCSE syllabus, with education secretary Michael Gove to blame. As someone with three younger siblings not yet through high school (not to mention an English graduate with fond memories of his English teacher shedding a tear as she read the final pages of To Kill a Mockingbird to her bemused classroom) I’ve kept a close eye on the debate that followed.
While the comments were varied, they were all made with a couple of key questions in mind: what is the purpose of education? What should children be taught? While people argue over the answers to these questions, everyone seems to be in agreement that whatever the answers they will have far-reaching implications. Inevitably I asked myself a vital question none of the commenters had even considered: why not scrap English Literature altogether in favour of SEO classes?
SEO and the human spirit
Liberal arts such as literature are valued because (and I’m quoting Wikipedia here) they empower individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills, and a stronger sense of values, ethics, and civic engagement. SEO is able to do all of this while also being a practical skill because at its core it teaches us one of the most important lessons of all: Google life isn’t fair.
Everyone’s heard stories of unfair penalties causing significant damage to honest, legitimate businesses following Google guidelines, or the nightmarish reality of repeated reconsideration requests and the baffling responses that are reminiscent of of the bureaucratic nightmare seen in Kafka’s The Trial (now that should be required reading for every GCSE student today). To underline the point we can make a subtle nod toward the double standards of the Rap Genius penalty lift.
The scope for critical thinking here goes far beyond SERPs: evaluating the power and influence that Google has can easily turn into a more broad discussion about ethics, philosophy and politics, giving students those broad and transferable skills and plenty of room to think about their values.
The syllabus that’s always changing
It feels like Of Mice and Men has been on the syllabus since it was published way back in 1937, and while it’s finally being pulled, English students will still be expected to learn Shakespeare now and for millennia to come. In the 21st century more than ever the pace of change means that those who are able to adapt quickest – or better yet stay ahead of the curve – will thrive. With 500-600 algorithm changes every year there would be no chance of an SEO student becoming complacent.
But the principle of building a website with real human people instead of search engines is here to stay right? And on-site best practices that have been recognised for several years now won’t change too much will they? Top SEOs know that you rule out the possibility of a Google Piranha update at your peril – you don’t take anything for granted when the big G’s in charge.
Heroes and villains
Every English student will tell you that if you disregard the fact you always have television and film adaptations to rely on if you don’t get around to reading the book, the best thing about the subject is being able to immerse yourself in a decent story. Luckily there’s plenty of fiction in SEO – those search engine spiders? Not even real spiders.
Of course every story needs heroes and villains, and SEO has them in the form of white hats and black hats, so there’s no need to worry about struggling to keep students interested.
While black hats are still stubbornly spinning articles to litter the internet with tat that’s about as useful as the mass of hair gunk that clogs up your sink hole, white hats are out there producing awesome content that’s so good it doesn’t require manipulative link building practices. The end.
On second thoughts…
Okay, so I’ve been a little flippant – of course I think English Literature has a vital place in the classroom, otherwise I’d have been daft spending so long studying it. But I do think kids could learn a lot from SEO as aspects of it cover a range of existing school subjects such as maths, English, business studies and art.
But, since you asked, if I absolutely had to drop a subject in favour of SEO it would’ve been geography. In the wise words of close friends: ‘why would you want to learn about rocks?’ Then again, maybe it could’ve helped with local search?