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Part 2: The regrettable path towards Gove’s commendable aspirations

January 24, 2011

So, what’s my problem with the 2011 Curriculum Review? I understand its ambitions and agree with them.

I don’t agree with the obsession with ‘tradition’ that made a mockery of our education decades ago. If Gove’s words are to be taken as entirely precise, his new curriculum will churn out teenagers who are ignorant, unadaptable and incapable of debate.

Restricting history, which encompasses the history of the world, to the history of England will bore students to death and scare them off a subject rich not in facts, but debate. History is but our memories and as such, mostly opinion. What is the point of a student memorising the previous 50 monarchs if they aren’t able to decide whether they were any good or not? Giving history borders is futile. We have been conquered, and we have conquered.  Why not get pupils to remember by rote the order in which Africa was carved up bit by bit by greedy westerners? How about they memorise the order in which the colonies, one by one, fought for and finally achieved their independence? English history, for over 2000 years, has equated world history.

Gove’s criticisms of the current curriculum have nothing to do with the skills it equips pupils with. He does not claim it deprives students of  abilities like numeracy, literacy or deliberation.

Instead, he claims it’s not teaching them enough of “English-ness”.  He wants Winston Churchill and Florence Nightingale back in the classrooms.  This is a worrying direction. It stinks of an arrogance we used to have in our country, the kind that describes our history as ‘proud’.  I had such a whitewashed history, where we learnt nothing of people who descended from Africa or Asia except that they are very, very hungry (in one geography assignment we had to build a replica shanty town  – one girl put real cobwebs in hers), and classes where we were told Europeans invented art, science and literature. If we read black literature, it was ‘post colonial’ – written with the pens the British had been kind enough to leave behind when they packed their bags and went home.

Gove thinks geography should be about naming capital cities and rivers.

"Shouldn't you be reading Proust?"

Our young people should be learning about demographics and societal shifts; population issues across the world and climate change. Instead of naming rivers, isn’t it good that a GCSE in geography will actually teach you how they are formed, how to keep them clean, and what happens when you don’t? I want the future generation to be knowledgeable in this rather than the ability to name the stretch of water that passes through Budapest.

Life is not an episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Someone should tell Gove this. If he wants our young people to flock to traditional subjects and to renew schools’ enthusiasm for teaching them, he needs to divert from his obsession with facts and figures. His terminology only riles teachers, unions and left wing commentators who cannot advocate his admirable goals because he is using dated methods to get there.

“This is a pointless review when ministers have already determined that children should have a Fifties-style curriculum, Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT said. Whether this is Gove’s intention or not, his language certainly points towards this.

There is no point ushering an era of the baccalaureate if the recipients gain them with the ability to recite, and not interpret.

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