You know that Michael Gove? Yeah you know the one. Inexplicably tiny head, an entire demeanour that seems far too much like a ventriloquist dummy has been brought alive via a curse, and eyes that have a roaring fire of arrogance behind them? Yes that one. The one whose only experience of education was going to school when he was a child, and yet he’s now the Education Secretary. Which to be fair is not out of line with the government’s other appointments. For instance, Jeremy Hunt, as one of many possible examples, has no experience of healthcare other than when he obviously fell on his head as a child and probably needed some sort of attention. So Gove’s position of being able to tell teachers just how to teach children is, I believe, somewhat questionable and seems to be mostly based on his schooling rather than any facts, or actual guidance from people who know what they are doing.
I realise this is an incredibly general supposition and I’m no expert on everything Gove has done. Someone recently told me on Twitter that they have noticed an improvement in the learning ability of their youngest son since certain changes had come through. Though he wasn’t too clear on what changes, and it wasn’t 100% that those were changes entirely from Gove himself or the school’s own initiative. Whereas I do know and understand that among other things he is: 1) cutting the Child Protection ‘Working Together’ guidance which will increase chances of child abuse, something you can’t ignore lightly in current times; 2) promoting the creation of free schools and academies which while they can be done well, mainly absolve the government of responsibility over education and teacher pay regulation; 3) has cut back on sports and school space despite the ‘Olympic legacy’ that was so promise; 4) Used the word ‘bonkerooney’ yet criticises others questioning of his language and grammar guidelines for children. Ok, so I probably can’t judge him too much on ‘bonkerooney’ but it is the sort of word only someone who’d pretend they know what they are talking about would ever use.
But those are only a few of the things Gove has done so far that feel as though they are damaging to the Education system in the UK, and I won’t even go into his overall seething hatred for teachers. What I wanted to blog about (knowing full well I don’t have the expertise nor knowledge to submit this as a piece anywhere other than my own website) is a part response to Gove’s speech from Thursday about teacher’s providing children with relevant material. Here is the speech in full – http://politics.co.uk/comment-analysis/2013/05/09/michael-gove-s-anti-mr-men-speech-in-full – and there have already been some excellent responses to it, from Michael Rosen, Michael Deacon at the Telegraph and Paul Bernal did a lovely Mr Gove ‘Mr Men’ parody. So I don’t want to retread on their toes, nor do I have the understanding to be able to talk about rote learning which Gove seems to favour. What bothered me most though is how Gove’s proposals seem against children having an actual childhood.
There are a lot of reasons why I value kids being able to be kids as long as possible. I think a main one is the general satisfaction I get from being in a job where I can be perpetually childish, and I think if my parents hadn’t allowed me to be creative as often as possible – drawing on walls, acting things out, reading them every joke from a 1001 joke book endlessly everyday for months – I would have felt a constant frustration at having my imagination oppressed. But aside from my own upbringing, society forces the idea of adulthood on children constantly, with the over sexualisation of TV, music and advert culture. The internet allows children to have access to (even with parental control) a huge source of knowledge and understanding that opens up the world in a way that is still fairly recent to us all. A million more children are set to be living in poverty by 2020 thanks to austerity measures, all of which will force living responsibilities on them that they should never have to worry about. So its purely selfish to take the short time children have to revel in the wonders of the world, life, nature, other people and their own inventive minds and throw it away so they can be cramming knowledge they are forced to learn instead. Gove seems to assume that by enforcing texts or work beyond their capabilities onto children it will enable them to achieve higher. I’m fairly certain that it’ll just cause them to resent that work instead, associating it with frustration and boredom. His speech naively assumes that texts he learnt are as important or as relevant to children in today’s age as they were to him when he was a child, which I think was at some point in the dark ages. It also destructively attacks the joy of finding a book or a game or a stand-up or a band or a hobby for yourself, hoping instead that every child will just conform under what Gove believes is the correct way to grow up.
This doesn’t mean I am against people having ‘higher expectations’ for children. I’m not entirely sure that making them read Middlemarch instead of Twilight or joining the cadets is giving them ‘higher expectations’ anyway. Neither is being part of a government who has made university unaffordable and youth unemployment constantly rise. Imagine slogging your way through a dull education only to finally reach the end with your regimented knowledge and find your best bet is a workfare scheme in Poundland anyway? I’m not sure why helping children to enjoy education is lowering expectations, nor why attacking creative subjects is either. To steal from Gove’s own speech, as he said, R.H. Tawney, the great progressive thinker, argued that, “what a wise parent would wish for their children, so the State must wish for all its children.”You’d hope a wise parent would want their children to enjoy their lives, because sadly Michael Gove clearly doesn’t.
I say all this, and while I work with children at Comedy Club 4 Kids, I have no actual experience in the education. Apart from going to school when I was young of course. So you know, what would I know about what children need?
* I’m fully aware the title of this blog doesn’t quite work with the content, but I wrote it and I liked it, so it’s stuck.