Gove’s “Liberation Theology” Speech
One reason Michael Gove will never be prime minister is that he cannot resist a good joke. His speech to the Social Market Foundation yesterday was a joy to read, partly because his mockery of right-on attitudes was so pointed.
Those who enjoy wealth and power in our society – however bohemian their lifestyle, artistic their circle or ostensibly progressive their politics – over and over again find themselves choosing schools with the most traditional of structures and academic of curricula for their own children.
Timothy West and Prunella Scales, Polly Toynbee and Alan Rusbridger, Will Self and Deborah Orr, Mick Jagger and Bryan Ferry, Keith Richards and Keith Allen, Gary Lineker and Richard Curtis all chose to spend their money on rigorously academic schooling for their children in the private sector. As did, of course, Stella McCartney and her husband Alasdhair Willis after complaining that there was no decent state school in their particular stretch of Notting Hill.
This is mostly unfair, as these people, apart from Toynbee (and possibly Rusbridger by indirect editorial responsibility), have not criticised traditional education or private schools as far as I know. But it is quite funny.
And the speech is a brilliant and passionate argument for “conservative” schooling as the instrument of “progressive” working-class advance, cheekily quoting Antonio Gramsci in his support. And he describes this commitment to giving all children the kind of education driven by the high expectations that middle-class intellectuals take for granted for their own children as this Government’s “liberation theology”.
As Ian Leslie argues, equally brilliantly and passionately, on his Marbury blog, Gove seems to bring out some people in a form of derangement. He deliberately provokes educational conservatives, because it is fun, but because his arguments are unanswerable this seems to drive them to a particularly irrational state.
As Leslie points out, the idea that Gove is an ideologue reckless with evidence is just rubbish, and his Social Market Foundation speech is a detailed rebuttal of it. The argument for the English baccalaureate (although why it has to be called that I don’t know) is powerful.
Just recently, Gove announced the end of the AS-A2 split in A-levels, which means pupils will no longer have to take exams every year at 16, 17 and 18. I don’t agree with him on resits; I thought modern liberal Conservatives believed in giving people a second chance.* But I do agree on course work and only wish he would do something about the silliness of personal statements on Ucas forms too.
Yet all this – not to mention his tactful but firm commitment to the principle of all-ability state schools – is treated as if it were a return to the strap, the workhouse and aristocratic elitism.
What is it about Gove that bends even sensible minds out of joint; that drives intelligent people absolutely batty with rage? His programme is really just a continuation of the last government’s, just speeded up. I don’t remember the left burning effigies of Alan Johnson.
There’s some weird personal stuff going on that I can’t even begin to explain (much like Blair, the very sight of him seems to make some people’s eyes flash red and the green pen to jump out of its scabbard).
But I think the deeper problem is that Gove came into government to get big things done, and he is doing them. We’re not used to that in this country. We find it downright offensive. And that explains a lot about the mess we’re in.
*Update 2: Sorry, the position on resits, or retakes as they call them, is more complicated. The new rules prevent module retakes before the final exam. I am not sure about that.Tagged in: academies, education, michael gove, schools
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