Thursday, 20 January 2011

Do push off Gove, there's a good chap

There's something rather painful about listening to a third-class mind trying to sound like a first-class one. I had the unpleasant experience of listening to the Education Secretary, corrupt house-flipper Mr. Michael Gove, sounding off about his revolutionary new schooling plan, on Radio 4 this morning. He's at an advantage: if there's one thing an expensive private education and Oxford will do for you, it's provide you with the rhetorical skills to dress up your tawdry and tired ideas.

Mr. Gove's big plan for children is 'facts… I want facts. Knowledge'.

This reminded me of something:

'NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!'
    The scene was a plain, bare, monotonous vault of a school-room, and the speaker's square forefinger emphasized his observations by underscoring every sentence with a line on the schoolmaster's sleeve. The emphasis was helped by the speaker's square wall of a forehead, which had his eyebrows for its base, while his eyes found commodious cellarage in two dark caves, overshadowed by the wall. The emphasis was helped by the speaker's mouth, which was wide, thin, and hard set. The emphasis was helped by the speaker's voice, which was inflexible, dry, and dictatorial. The emphasis was helped by the speaker's hair, which bristled on the skirts of his bald head, a plantation of firs to keep the wind from its shining surface, all covered with knobs, like the crust of a plum pie, as if the head had scarcely warehouse-room for the hard facts stored inside. The speaker's obstinate carriage, square coat, square legs, square shoulders,-nay, his very neckcloth, trained to take him by the throat with an unaccommodating grasp, like a stubborn fact, as it was,-all helped the emphasis.
    'In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir; nothing but Facts!'
    The speaker, and the schoolmaster, and the third grown person present, all backed a little, and swept with their eyes the inclined plane of little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.

That's the opening paragraph of Hard Times, by Charles Dickens. Appropriate, I think, given that Gove's government is deliberately reducing the standard of living for everyone, but particularly the poor. Borrow a copy while the libraries are still open.

If Gove was an educated man, he'd be aware that his wittering echoed Mr. Gradgrind, the headteacher in the novel. This character isn't an exemplary, heroic teacher, imparting transferable skills to produce a flexible workforce. He's a bully, a man dedicated to driving out the last scintilla of imagination and holistic thinking in those children unfortunate enough to be seated in front of him.

Gove is Mr. Gradgrind. He doesn't want an intellectually capable population. His intellect is so limited that he thinks 'facts' (of which there are very few), in isolation, are important. They aren't. Children could learn lists of kings and queens (something Gove's obsessed by) without a teacher. What a good teacher does is guide the children through the various ways to understand the kings and queens: why have them; what was that particular one's reign like; what were the underlying causes of historical events, and so on? Will knowing the kings and queens in the right order give you the mental agility to understand the world around you? No: at best it'll help at pub quizzes, and the kids have mobile phones for those now.

Two further observations:
1. Having your brain stuffed with Facts won't get you into Cambridge, Oxford etc. They're looking for mental agility.
2. Never trust an Education Minister who says 'What books is our children reading?'


Ewarwoowar said...

The Plashing Vole said...

Very good Ewar!