My computer adopted a luddite approach to this 20th blog, eating whole sections of text in an instant and repeating single letters forever. Glancing at the screen showed what I had hoped to be literary, incisive, somewhat cross, incredulous and frustrated prose to be complete incomprehensible nonsense.
I am grateful to Mr Gove for inspiring me to write. In the four decades since I graduated with a decidedly unearned degree in politics I have rarely encountered a politician capable of spouting such garbage. I remember yawning at rabid Trotskyists declaring themselves the new leadership of a soon to be grateful working class, encountering racist nationalists who were as thick as they were wrong and the scariest of all, a group of animal rights activists who showed me a gun. As a committed anarcho- syndicalist with a penchant for individualism and a spot of libertarianism I attended an international conference of Wicked Messengers. We drank and some smoked to enhance clarity and decided Liverpool’s renegade Big Flame, would no longer be welcome in our thoughts. A little later my own group, Southampton Solidarity, stayed up all night to make sure we were able to greet the gasworkers’ change of shift to show them our support. We couldn’t find the gasworks.
I was sort of affiliated to an even stranger international group – The Situationist International who were fantastically and artistically creative, slogan heavy and quite odd. “The Revolution in Everyday Life” by Raoul Vaneigem seemed such a brilliant anti blueprint from the barricades of Paris in 1968 alongside “The Society of the Spectacle,” decrying the template of life in a goldfish bowl watching 50 inch TVs. Unfortunately the situationists were big on expulsions and they swiftly expelled each other. In my version, Guy Debord, the other founder ended up in a supposedly drunken row with Vaneigem and they expelled each other in 1972. The SI died, except that in a typical twist one member had never been expelled because he was a long term resident in a mental hospital.
Why did I associate with such people? Debord made a lengthy film of nothing much: blank screens, incoherent dialogue and occasional static ending in 30 minutes of silence. He wanted to “problematize reception.” Intellectuals watched the film at the trendy ICA cinema in London, possibly in 1968. As the first audience left they passed the queue for the second sitting and not one mentioned the nothingness. This brings me back to British politics and education in 2014 – I have to keep blathering on about the nothingness, the lack of coherent thought and the obscene and real indifference to children’s education.
By the way, I would like to thank the 11 readers from Ukraine diverted into my prose. I have to warn that I have recorded over 100 visits from Russia, meaning they outnumber you by about 10 to 1. Just like their army, I fear.
Gove drops subjects he thinks are useless. Media Studies is rubbished and only partly because The Family Gove were and will be paid well by the corrupting Murdoch empire. As Churchill might have said, never has so much been paid to so few for so little. Politics is out so that students can't contextualise his preening selfish pursuit of unwarranted glorification. RE doesn't count either as the pope never beatified the man who sees himself as more saviour than saint following a visionary chat with Satan. PE has to go to ‘prep’ as the chances of anyone considering the younger Gove to be an athlete is probably limited. You know how cruel people can be to new recruits. In Laurie Lee’s “Cider With Rosie a child spent a considerable time on his first schoolday following the instruction, "Wait there for the present." Go get a rubber hammer, striped paint or dooberry firkins are anecdotedly frequent instructions to apprentices.
Can you believe Gove’s cruel peers had him sign up to the inter house gurning competition telling him he was a natural. Those privately educated wags foresaw his future as an amateurishly created plasticine recreation of alien life form using selfies to frighten miscreant babies.
A shock announcement from @toryeducation where Gove’s “Special Advisors” (Henry de Zoete and Dominic Cummings) are definitely not the authors: Gove to be New England football manager. A gurning Michael swooned, “I have nothing but admiration for the young fellows who daily kick a ball around a field of grass mowed so brilliantly by fabulous groundsmen, of whom I am forever in awe. I must apologise again to Mr Smithies my old PE teacher for I fear I was a total washout on the footie field. running around and that sort of thing. But of course I can manage the England team. I am humbled to be in the same changing rooms as the chaps whose names I will soon commit to memory. I believe in the 2 3 5 system that worked for a month in 1966 when Britannia ruled the goals and a brave Britisher, Pickles the dog, saved the world cup. I will answer my country's call and issue instructions on how to header the ball, how to get mud off one’s shorts and where to buy dubbin for cleaning boots. Always cross with the laces pointing inwards, don’t you know.
In his powder blue polyester tracksuit Gove expanded his sporting nouse, “Low expectations have been the cause of society's ills. Autistic kids just need a firm push from better teachers, better doctors cure cancer and everyone can be an opera singer. Insults from recently exposed members of The Blob (anyone anti Gove’s way of thinking) that our boys may be affected by Amazonian heat is another attack by the enemies of promise.” Mickey, as he likes to be known now he’s earned a reputation for taking it, has hastily summarised his team tactics for victory in Brazil in a " Everything I know about footie" short tome likely to emulate his blank paged “Everything I know about Education,” number 9 in the 2013 Amazon chart. It was the Amazon chart which got Michael energised....Amazon, Brazil, footie; had god summoned after a game of word association?
2nd minister for approbation, Elizabeth Truss, has been to China and learned how to be good. Use chopsticks, that's what they do in top of PISA League Shanghai. (Children will struggle to learn to use chopsticks, will get thinner and be able to clean our chimneys. QED.) Despite the fact that the Shanghai education experts cannot account for 200,000 of their child population in their school results, we have got to, got to be like them. Embrace the rule that migrant workers in Shanghai are not allowed to have their kids educated in the area. Fancy a spot of apartheid anyone?
Minister Truss’s policy seems to be that school age kids should stay in school during daylight hours and only go home to sleep. Despite opposition from The National Day Nurseries Association and the Pre School Learning Alliance, sort of experts I guess, Truss says we can raise the contact ratio from 1 adult for every 8 four year olds to 1 to 30 because that sort of work, well, how hard can it be? It doesn’t need teachers either – just “sufficient numbers of staff.” None of it is skilled. None of it matters, Let’s cheapen it. The reason for childcare and early years teaching? We need mums at work, in flexible part time jobs. Mums must go to work but must be at home to welcome the kids at the end of the day; it’s bad parenting if not. Schools must open 8-6 and in the holidays with no mention of quality provision, control or inspection; schools are buildings of containment. We need to give employers greater flexibility in managing the female dominated, part time, zero hours, minimum wage, labour force and schools should play their part in keeping the kids off the street while mum’s at work. At the same time ministers are sympathetic to term-time holidays, it’s not like the kids will miss anything important. I needed four professional qualifications to do what I do; Truss just needed a desire to succeed Gove.
One of the big anti-immigration arguments is that we should force British workers to do unskilled manual jobs when the schools have trained them as demoralized, uneducated, drearily dull, ambitionless, unskilled workers, used to spending longer days in schools, where Gove’s desired pedagogy relies on a daily grind of six one hour lectures and recitation of facts. As economies move from the Industrial Age to the hyper connected digital age with 3 billion people connected via the net, we want to graduate automotons. On such a cruel sea do we float, where our masters are stuck in a golden age of worker servitude.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reports that the UK “has a higher proportion of low-skilled jobs than any country in the OECD, except Spain….30% of workers were overqualified for their jobs, and there were far fewer graduate jobs than graduates…..22% of UK jobs required no more than a primary education compared with less than 5% in Germany and Sweden.” It is hard to blame our schools for this lack of economic progress. The briefly insulting then ingratiatingly creepy Vince Cable says teachers know nothing about the world of work. Minister No 3 should get out of the way. Think on this, Mr Cable: We have increased the supply of skills now we need to improve demand for those skills by increasing the number of higher skilled roles available. Supporting Gove’s stated aim to have more students failing more exams is not enough.
We are deskilling our workforce and again this is shown in our free schools and UTCs where unqualified people are put in charge of children’s futures. I watched on TV a British employer whose factory make models of fighter planes from the time when we won the war all on our own. Chinese labour costs have gone up, British labour costs have plummeted. There were a group of very young white men walking around a big table, picking up tiny model bits, one by one as they walked round and round and round, filling the bags to be put in a box in a way that we now do more cheaply than chinese workers. A fifth of UK jobs need only primary school education? In the words of Luka Bloom, “Take me now God that I’m almost ready..”
The government’s own Social Mobility Commission has found that “private school alumni were 7% more likely to gain an elite job in the media or law than those with the same degree who went to state schools.” Just who are the enemies of promise here?
I want to speak with optimism of teachers’ love of our subjects and missionary zeal for learning, sometimes dormant, afraid to speak their names in a cynical materialistic daytime TV world. Our job is to summon the howls of anguish and to take that torment into the educational transformation of the lives of young people and their communities. It really is better than just waiting around to die.