The educators’ plight

I first saw this cracking Michael Gove quote at Guy Fawkes’ blog:

“One set of history teaching resources targeted at year 11s – 15 and 16 year olds – suggests spending classroom time depicting the rise of Hitler as a ‘Mr Men’ story.

[…]

I may be unfamiliar with all of Roger Hargreaves’ work but I am not sure he ever got round to producing Mr Anti-Semitic Dictator, Mr Junker General or Mr Dutch Communist Scapegoat.”

Ouch!

Gove’s continuation is worth quoting:

“But I am familiar with the superb historical account Richard J Evans gives of the rise, rule and ruin of the Third Reich and I cannot believe he could possibly be happy with reducing the history of Germany’s darkest years to a falling out between Mr Tickle and Mr Topsy-Turvy.”

Oh dear.

These pieces come from this speech by the UK Education Minister. He was skewering teachers’ approach to providing pupils with ‘relevant’ material.

Gove makes a number of good points, but having had my attention drawn by the humor, I want to note one aspect about his approach that I think is wrong: the emphasis in literature and drama that says pupils must learn pre-20th century material. For example, Shakespeare. Why?

I had to study the Blasted Bard at school. I hated it.

My kids had to study it, too. Guess what; they hated it too.

Shakespeare and the like is difficult, and hard work. But so is some modern stuff; age is no guarantee of quality. But Shakespeare and the like are burdened with archaic language that does nobody any real good.

I hate the theatre as a medium, probably because of having the Blasted Bard forced down me at school. I’m sure I am not alone. And it’s not that I don’t want it taught at all; I just do not think it’s a good starting place.

If you want to teach kids, inspire them. Inspire them with something they can relate to. (No, not flipping Mr Men.) So in drama, for example, kids can learn modern works to get a solid grounding in the medium. Then, and only then, having a decent foundation to work with, their teachers can think about the Bard. (If they must.)

I suppose there is a balancing act, but while Gove is right to talk about quality being important, quality does not begin and end with everything that is pre 20th century.