Gove, the curriculum, and all that

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

The Education Forum carried a sharp article recently on Gove, history and the history curriculum.  It's here.

This will make pleasant reading for all those who despise Gove's overly-political influence on the school / national curriculum – and that not inconsiderable number who just don't like the man.  It's about a Simon Schama talk at the Hay Festival.  This is how the piece begins ...

Prof Schama, who visited classes as part of his research, called the finalised document “insulting and offensive”, “pedantic and utopian” and accused Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, of constructing a “ridiculous shopping list” of subjects.

  The new curriculum proposes to teach children history in chronological order, and is intended to give them a sense of the triumphs of the British people.

  But, speaking at the Telegraph Hay Festival, Prof Schama — who acknowledged his own contribution to the plans — said that the syllabus was like “1066 and All That, but without the jokes”.

  “This is a document written by people who have never sat and taught 12-year-olds in a classroom,” he told an audience of teachers.  “None of you should sign up to it until we trap Michael Gove in a classroom and tell him to get on with it.

"  “You want to say to him, 'Let’s go into a class of nine-year-olds and do the kingdom of Mercia with them. I would love to see how you would do that’.”

He added the new syllabus would require teaches to “whoosh” through the English, Scottish and Irish civil wars in “something like 45 minutes”, while the French Revolution received “a drive-by 10 minutes”.  “The list of subjects seems to be essentially memories of A-levels circa 1965, embalmed in aspic and sprinkled with tokenism,” he said. “Tokenism of the wrong kind.”

He claimed that the proposals were too focused on white males, with too much emphasis on “how Britain influenced the world” rather than vice versa.  He added that the “insulting, offensive, imperviousness of what it takes to unite together the history of the glorious heritage of Britain” could be demonstrated by the inclusion of Clive of India, who established the supremacy of the East India Company in 18th-century Bengal.  Calling him a “sociopathic, corrupt thug”, who made “our most dodgy bankers look like a combination of Mary Poppins and Jesus Christ”, Prof Schama said the topic would not help ethnic minority children understand their own place in the world.

History is not about self-congratulation. It’s not really about chasing the pedigree of the wonderfulness of us,” he said. “Nor about chasing the pedigree of the reprehensible awful nature of us. History is meant to keep the powerful awake at night and keep them honest.”

Yes.  Every aspect of education has that capability and purpose, and one focused on sustainability particularly so.  Oddly, Conservative governments tend not to be too keen on that purpose as they are on, say, cultural transmission and replication, not forgetting the tendency to have a bottom-line focus on jobs, skills and the economy.  That's one reason those of us with an interest in sustainability are having our present difficulties with curriculum reform.  The newly-revised national curriculum, now out for yet another *!*!*! consultation – the last I trust, and one I'll not be taking part in – does have a modest focus on climate change, but not on the unsustainability of the current socio-economic system.  This is like a doctor fixing symptoms, but ignoring underlying causes [in a dying patient].

NB, I've added the bracketed text because this is how some people see it. But it's far too David [gloomy doomy] Orr for me.  Meanwhile, here's a different Guardian piece on Gove and curriculum which has nice lines on exceeding children's potential, on how 'quality' always needs an adjective, and on the use of "disappointment" – a word to use even more than I currently do, it seems.  I shall need no reminding.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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