Thursday, May 09, 2013

The Problem With Michael Gove

It's a great pity Michael Gove can't just become history rather than being able to prounounce upon it.  If he were one of those tedious old bores who keeps telling you how much better things were in the old days then one could safely nod sagely and expect to escape within about half an hour or so.  Sadly, Mr. Gove can't be escaped from very easily, and his unformed views on history teaching matter because he is the Education Secretary, the man who can dictate what we teachers do if he so chooses.  And it appears he does so choose.

Michael Gove has no expertise or experience in teaching, and as an English graduate he sports no more historical acumen than the interested amateur.  The interested history amateur is, of course, not to be sniffed at.  The great virtue of history is that it can and should be read, savoured and enjoyed by all.  Mr. Gove, unfortunately, believes that he has a mission to restore a form of history recitation to schools that used to be quite popular in the Victorian era.

Gove has decided, bizarrely, that primary schools - with their non-specialist teachers and very young children - are the best places to learn the intricacies of medieval history, and that secondary schools should confine their teaching to a dry and colourless list of philanthropists, politicians and inventors accompanied by appropriate dates.  He and his team - two special advisers whose main interest is the social media site twitter - sat themselves down recently, compiled a list of dates, events and people that they remembered from parlour games of the past, and proposed it as the new history curriculum for schools.  Their dire proposals have been universally lambasted by the history teaching profession and by such eminent historians as Sir Richard Evans.  But Mr. Gove knows better of course.  Now he has taken his campaign further by criticising a lesson resource he appears to have found on the internet, which involves using the Mr. Men to teach history.  I have never come across this idea, and know of no history teacher who would consider using it, but that hasn't stopped Mr. Gove from displaying it as an example of all that is bad with history teaching in secondary schools.  He may preach a fine line about rigorous teaching and good research, but he could never knowingly be accused of actually using such qualities himself.  His ludicrously ill-informed campaign against history in schools has been a classic study of opinionated preconceptions driving policy. 

It is interesting, incidentally, that Mr. Gove's speech today spent some time attacking the methods used by primary schools to teach history, yet these are the very places that he now wants to place some of our most complex and crucial history teaching.  It is also notable that most of his anecdotes are unlikely to be very clearly sourced, and it could prove well nigh impossible to find schools who really do teach in the way he describes.

Mr. Gove may be fast becoming the single best reason not to vote Conservative at the next election, if only in a desperate bid to save decent, interesting school history from his destructive clutches.  But I suspect his real reason for sounding like such a reactionary oaf is more to do with his desire to court both the right of his party in anticipation of a post-election leadership campaign, and to place himself as the man who can deal with UKIP.  If that means wrecking a bit of history teaching in schools, then so be it, but it is a tragedy that Gove's desire for populist approval in his party could lead to such serious undermining of school history curriculums.





1 comment:

consultant said...

The man is dangerously bonkers. This has of course been evident for quite some time, not least in his decision to send every school in the country a copy of the King James Bible.

I take exception not to his choice of book; the bible is one of the finest works of fiction found in Western literature, and the King James version especially is a masterpiece of the English language. Quite right that every school should have one.

Mr Gove, however, decided to send his out with a foreword written by himself. The King James Bible already has a perfectly good forward written by King James. He was anointed by God. Gove doesn't even have a parliamentary majority.