Friday, 15 November 2013

I Am Michael Gove

I am Michael Gove

Last week’s absence of food may be responsible for some strange dreams and delusions, convincing me that I am another life altogether. I had the song, “I am John Wayne” by my beloved John Martyn reverberating and wanted to name-check John. I thought I’d check that he was talking about the big, tough, drink your milk and get on your horse, western hero actor. Imagine, after 40 years discovering the song may be about John Wayne Gacy, a notorious serial killer. Imagine also how little self-confidence one would have being a not-notorious serial killer. Identity issues through a fever.

In many of these blogs I have tried to “play the ball and not the man,” but I’ve had enough, now.

I was dozing through a Dylan song and I heard the word of Michael, “It aint no use talking to me; it’s just the same as talking to you.” The words of a liberal sort of guy seeing himself as no better than anyone else by right of birth or circumstance. Michael has just published his post consultation plans for new GCSEs, astonishingly identical to his initial announcements. Having read his pronouncement I followed the link to the consultation details to find not a single reference to a thought or idea from anyone. And I can assure you I contributed. With just 5% of teachers feeling that this government has made a positive impact on education it would appear there wasn’t any point in him noting what we thought. After all, “I would like to give professionals more freedom but I know what’s best.” There really hasn’t been a time in his rule that he has listened to anyone and as he said to his DFE advisors, “I don’t need you to tell me if I’m right, I know I’m right.” And when they resigned he didn’t care.

If you seek out people who know me they might tell you I was quite often rude to people. I think a hearing problem made this more fearsome than might otherwise be the case and that I am, more recently, very nearly giant like in stature frightened some gentle folk. The admittedly diminutive Gove, rejects all-comers, perhaps by his physical resemblance to various less exotic species of fish but more by just being rude. I speak as one of his “enemies of promise.”

Govespeak. You will remember, the profound, “I agree with Nick.” Well, Michael has given us rigour. A rigorist is an obstinate person, a tyrant and rigorous means severe, fastidious pitiless, ascetic. Rigour is hardness, severity, excessive, amongst other things, of course. Ooh, you are tough; I bet you took them all on in Peebles as a lad.

So I was in front of St. Peter and I'd already paid £15 to change my name. I said, “I am Michael Gove. St. Peter, old chap, I did destroy education and condemn millions of children to drudgery, rote learning and failure, whilst trying to equip them for uncritical acceptance of their role in an underclass I have cemented into place. Let me in.” Or flipping religions would he just settle for a go as a meerkat, a decidedly higher species than contemporary politician, and requiring less makeup.

The reason I have become Michael Gove is because it looks like it really is all over for education. The Labour Opposition has gone from nice ineffectual Twiggy to lost pretty boy Hunt; the unions accept their impotence and the liberal media repeats itself to a despairing powerless country and an empty auditorium of policy makers. Teachers, parents and kids are truly fed up, worried, confused and leaderless. Gove’s treachery has won the day and teachers will eventually run away. Napoleon said that you should never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake. If my enemies had enemies we could afford this silence.

I have spent 35 years trying to make an impact in education. Gove has done far more in four years than I could dream of. Whereas I just tried to help children learn, understand, think and achieve, and encouraged colleagues to have the highest expectations, to work the extra hours and to meet occasional failure with a smile, knowing that their efforts would be rewarded for their righteousness, Gove just dismantled everything in one very foul swoop. I am envious of his demolition power.

Everything had to change and he transcended my political dreams from earlier years, when I wanted to change the world. I never knew that one demonic little man could destroy so much. We are testing kids at 5, cramming them at 11 and 16, and A levels have been condemned as useless. Students’ communication, social, musical and artistic skills are relegated to irrelevance. The man says PE can be done in “prep.” State education has been replaced by corrupt free schools, inept UTCs, desperately not coping studio schools and privately run expense account sponsored academies. Ofsted join him in a surely humorous assessment of free schools: apparently 70% of them are at least good. Bravo, without levels of progress and exam results these schools cannot be judged by Ofsted criteria, and they have none. 

Can anyone help me here, which other men who have achieved destruction on a grand scale dressed up in some nationalist rhetoric about needing to be better than other countries?

Gove said, “We are going to get rid of levels and not replace them.” Now, hot off his own press, Level 4b at the end of Year 6 means you are "secondary ready" and oh my, are we far away from labelling kids as unready? And isn't the level 4b exactly what we have now. Spin him round a few more times and he may come up with ideas like rote learning, studying the romantic poets and Jane Austen, learning the kings and queens of England, O levels, more selective universities with no cap on university fees, changes to SEN funding so there isn't any and the denationalisation of the education system. When I was younger I proposed libertarian socialism with little regard to contrary views. In 2013 100 leading professors and education experts warned that forcing children to learn "endless lists" of facts and rules "will severely damage education standards." Gove called them “bad academics.” Were we separated at birth?

At the squeakingly dull tory conference we had Gove parading a black American trade unionist in front of the bemused blue dyed elderly. Gove applauded the guy with his trademark seal-like slapping hearing how performance related pay had worked in some American schools.

What George Parker actually says is that PRP can work if everyone has a clear job description, lots of professional training and there's extra money to pay the best. Bugger me if you haven't been a bit selective there Michael. Bit like when we occasionally score a goal at Tottenham and the crowd sing, "We are by far the greatest team the world has ever seen." See how my life is morphing into yours.

I remember with considerable affection watching Suzanna Hoff singing “Walk like an Egyptian” and the thrill as she froze to look sideways with big brown eyes. I have a chilling clip of Gove doing just the same at a tory conference. Go on Michael, tell me you’re modeling your public persona on The Bangles.

Gove loves the American Charter Schools and says that “their results are extraordinary.” According to a Stanford University study of 16 US states 46% of charter schools made no difference to results and 37% actually had worse results than public schools in their area. But 80% are for profit schools and that’s what he loves.

In 17 long months we will have a general election and, with justice, you will be gone, Michael, leaving behind a legacy of destruction, insult, half-truths, lousy stats, errors that can only be lies, inaccurate comparisons, academic foibles, misquotes, bad maths and distrust. Will anyone stop to rescue your political career or will you be back as a Murdoch sycophant?

When Gove first arrived at Westminster in 2005 Murdoch topped up his wages with a £60,000 a year salary for his column. He was given an advance for a still, unwritten book on an obscure 18th century Viscount Bolingbroke. No book by 2013 and Collins say they haven't asked for the advance back. Payday loans could be a thing of the past if we borrowed the Govey way.

The medical man gave me some drugs to enhance my health and I reckon me and Michael merged some more. You know how “tea” actually meant marijuana? And horse, speed spliff, charlie and whizz are euphemistically used by drug users. Well Michael talks about his “Urgency Pills.”

Here’s a thing: People get addicted to drugs and will do just about anything to get them. Is this how it is with your urgency pills, Michael? Do they make you sweat with cold when you haven't come up with another ill thought out attack on teachers, kids and their schools? Do you crave the drug in a drooling frenzy even though you know it is the pill, the need to do something, anything no matter how destructive? And then there's the rush, isn't there? The mad speeding along on the adrenaline highway, gives you a buzz, no matter what you've done to the victims of your need. Lou Reed wrote the magnificent Heroin, "when I'm closing on my run and I feel just like Jesus’s son." Too many drugs for Lou I'm afraid. When I spoke with him in 1975 no matter what I said, he really didn't seem to be hearing a damn word. Is that what it’s like for you, Michael? Do you get so high on your own unilateral pronouncements that spell harm for others that you feel somehow connected to your god? Or is it worse than that, if you know better than everyone else, if they are all bad professors, bad academics, bad headteachers, enemies of promise and you know that you are right, are you claiming omnipotence? Are you David Icke’s twin, another son of god?

If you could just come down, lay off your drugs and listen to the cacophony of well-reasoned sense that's deafening the rest of us.

Michael, given that it’s all about me, why not start trying to emulate my recent years and I’ll stay away forever from attacking yours. Put some effort, time and thought into listening to teachers, parents and children, spare a moment for those who have more experience than you, who have been to schools that haven’t been specially treated for your visit. Other than that apologise for your sins and find something more appropriate for your skills lounge lizzarding for example, fly fishing using only your own face or writing tedious memoires.

And you know don’t you that you are already a best seller. “The thoughts of Michael Gove,” 96 pages of blank pages, emptiness, subtitled “Everything I know about teaching,” is in the Amazon Top 20. And I can think of no clearer, more honest representation of a minister’s knowledge and expertise. I have a copy and I have studied every word. One reviewer has said “the man who has done for education what the Titanic did for pleasure cruising”.

I wonder though, does a democratic society need Michael Gove. As Tennessee Williams elegantly wrote, “If I get rid of my demons I might lose my angels.”

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