Who does he think
he is, this fellow Gove?
This angrily rhetorical question was being asked last
week by a number of education experts, and more than a few teachers, in
response to the government’s review of the National Curriculum.
The fellow in question, Michael, is Britain’s
Secretary of State for Education and his temerity – or so it is viewed by many
of those whose function it is to decide what our children should learn at
school – is that he wants kids to go out into the world knowing how to read,
write, add up and be reasonably acquainted with the history and geography of the
planet on which we live. Oh, and to
learn a little poetry, at an early age, say five.
He’s a dangerous radical, this Gove.
His department’s report went out of its way to emphasize
the need for comprehension of mathematics and science at a ‘profound level’. It even proposed that children from the age
of seven learn a second language.
Anyone would think our kids will be expected to compete in a global
market driven by industries based on knowledge technology.
“The man wants to return to outmoded concepts rooted
in the previous century,” was a common response from many in the teaching
profession. “Far too prescriptive,” was
the minority verdict of some members of the panel that dreamed up this radical
idea of school as a place of learning.
Of course it’s prescriptive. Since when was learning anything but
I didn’t grasp my multiplication tables because the
numbers emerged from some computer game designed to make numbers fascinating. Nor did I come to understand the basic
structure of the English sentence, or how to spell the words therein, as a
result of gluing bits of clay into an incoherent shape resembling an entry in
the competition for the Turner Prize.
I learned these things by a tortuous process of constant,
repetitive and boring – yes boring – recitation. Sure, we thought the teachers were sad sacks and
weirdos who couldn’t possibly enjoy proper lives outside the classroom, but the
stuff we recited sunk in, and stayed imbedded.
Much seems to have changed in the intervening years.
Teachers nowadays go to great lengths to be regarded as responsive, connected
and ‘cool’, which means avoiding at all costs the new stigma of being regarded
in any way as authoritarian.
They can afford to be free and easy. The academic powers-that-be have made life
easier for everyone by reducing once rigorous examinations to cakewalks
designed to meet government targets that purport to show the system turning out
bright graduates in ever increasing numbers.
All can pass, no one need fail. Hurrah!
Let’s celebrate. Media studies,
None of the architects of this new academic democracy seems
to have figured out that leveling the playing field to ensure that no one
struggles defeats the object of the exercise of separating the best from the
Well, to be fair, some of them probably have worked it out, but reaching the
prescribed pass rates attracts kudos, makes for an unstressed life, and sure
beats the pain that would be involved in bucking a system that gives every
impression, at least statistically, that it is working.
Now I don’t profess to be an authority on educational
matters. I’m even prepared to admit that
some of my ideas may be half-baked or old-fashioned. But since when did being able to add and
subtract, and to communicate ideas through words, become outmoded concepts?
Gove is now a distinctly unpopular figure in academic
circles. That tells me he must be doing
As far as I’m concerned, he should keep right on doing