As someone who was a Classical Scholar without ever going to Oxford or Cambridge to study/read the subject, I have always found on encountering someone who actually did read the classics at Oxbridge, how surprised they were at my knowledge of the classics – After all if one went to Eton, Harrow or the plethora of Independent Schools (i.e. Public Schools,) then made it into Oxford or Cambridge, why would you think anyone who attended a Secondary Comprehensive School in Birmingham, could possibly learn anything? Matthew Parris, former Member of Parliament, now Author Journalist and Broadcaster, once admitted that he never learned anything at school. Guess what? He went to ‘Public School’ before going on to Cambridge where he got a first class degree in Law, before going on to win a scholarship to study International Relations at Yale. Not bad for a boy who didn’t learn anything at school. Maybe just going to the right schools is all one needs to do.
Those of us who had a State Education rather than one provided by the private sector, actually learned a great deal. We learned that you can’t beat private enterprise because you get what you pay for, whereas most parents and their children see the State Sector as ‘free’ (which it isn’t as it is funded by taxation,) don’t care much and don’t achieve much. Whether it did us any good in later life is another matter. For my sins, while I did learn a great deal from my school days, I learned far more after I left school at sixteen than I did while I was in School. Post Sixteen, I discovered a love of a writing (which the teaching of English Comprehension put me right off at school), learned to be more self-confident, ambitious and see the positive things in myself – Which was never encouraged during my school days I might add. Hindsight is wonderful thing. As a Neo-Classical Scholar, I loved all things Greek – Their Civilisation, Government, Culture, Art and Literature. There is that saying of theirs that goes:-
“For whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make them mad”.
And indeed the Gods and the Fates have it in for Michael Gove. I am sure of it!
I am all for change in the British State Education System but I am not sure Mr. Gove is the man for the job. As Secretary of State for Education, he thinks solutions from the 1940s and 50s is the solution to the problems of educating children in Britain Today. I would argue that we are now nearly two decades into the 21st Century, I cannot see how ideas of seventy years ago would solve the issues of today.
He wants more rigorous testing because the current examinations are too easy. Are they? I would argue young people via coursework and sitting exams are actually working far harder, while learning the process of completing tasks in a uniform and comprehensive manner – Something they are going to do in their working lives and careers. Better to learn it while at school, college and university, rather than going into the workplace and not being equipped with those skills.
It seems to me that Mr. Gove hasn’t taken into account that maybe, just maybe could it be that our children and young people are far smarter and intelligent than he gives them credit for. Examination results over many years has shown a big increase in the pass rates being achieved and that should be welcomed, instead of undermining the success of our children and young people by pulling the rug from underneath them, belittling their successes and achievements by setting them up to fail.
If Mr. Gove is really worried about standards and raising them, he only has to look to China and South-East Asia, where children, young people/students, consistently achieve excellent standards in their education, notably Mathematics and the Sciences. Better to look and learn from the examples of these Nations, rather than turning the clock back. It may have escaped his notice that China and the Nations of South-East Asian are looking forwards not backwards.
Speaking of looking forwards and backwards, if Mr. Gove is so set on turning the clock back in terms of achieving higher educational standards, why is he banning such classic works as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and other classics of American Literature. Take Lee Harper’s Book. From ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ one can learn a great deal about Racism, intolerance and hatred for another person based on nothing more than their skin colour. Racism is not something of the past. It still exists now.
So what is Mr. Gove hoping to achieve? Encourage the reading and study of British Literature? Great literature is great literature no matter where it comes from. During my education, I read just about everything I could get my hands at school and in my leisure time – A pursuit that expanded my horizons no end. So Mr. Gove hates ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. So because he hates it, British Children shouldn’t be allowed to read it? What next? An Orwellian World where Fahrenheit 451 is a reality and certain books are burnt rather than read? I read far more works by British authors than anyone else. And that was without interference from The State. The very idea of banning American Classics by such Authors as Harper Lee and John Steinbeck (Of Mice and Men was also on Gove’s hit list,) from English Literature Courses is simply unthinkable.