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Reading ‘Fundamental British Values’ Through Children’s Gothic: Imperialism, History, Pedagogy

Buckley, CA (2018) Reading ‘Fundamental British Values’ Through Children’s Gothic: Imperialism, History, Pedagogy. Children's Literature in Education. ISSN 0045-6713

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Abstract

This paper reads the U.K. Government’s “fundamental British values” project alongside two children’s Gothic novels, Coram Boy (2000) by Jamila Gavin and City of Ghosts (2009) by Bali Rai. In 2011 the U.K. Government outlined what it described as “fundamental British values” (FBV), making it a requirement for U.K. schools to promote these values. Many critics have shown that the root of FBV lies in Islamophobia and imperialist nostalgia and suggested that the promotion of “British” values in school will exclude minority groups already under siege from racist elements in contemporary Britain. Other critics argue that the promotion of FBV reduces opportunities to explore issues of belonging, belief, and nationhood in the classroom. This article argues that the Gothic fictions of Jamila Gavin and Bali Rai offer a space in which to critically examine British history (and so, its values) in a way that is acutely relevant to these education contexts. Coram Boy and City of Ghosts use the Gothic to interrogate aspects of British history elided by the FBV project. That is, they point to Britain’s imperial and colonial history and offer a rejoinder to the Government’s insistence that “British Values” equate to democracy, respect for the rule of law and mutual respect and tolerance of those from different faiths and religions. Furthermore, Gavin’s and Rai’s use of the Gothic creates a space in which the ambiguities and contradictions inherent in FBV can be explored. However, their “gothicized” histories of Britain do not render the idea of shared values invalid. The diversity and interconnectedness of the characters offer an alternative version of identity to the patronising and arrogant FBV project, which is aimed at promoting a national identity based on sameness and assimilation. Rai and Gavin look to Britain’s past through the lens of the Gothic not only to refute nationalism and racism, but also to offer a productive alternative that gestures towards a more cosmopolitan vision of identity.

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