Michael Gove is not, all satirisation aside, a stupid man. But his belief that people will view his education policy as a purely educational move is utterly misguided. He has redefined of the history curriculum as a patriotic imagining of the achievements of great British men & women, (but mostly conservative white men), He has defended World War 1, a technological revolution in slaughter by Europe's old imperial powers, as a combination of German antagonism and strong British response by it's generals and their eager cannon fodder, the plucky Tommy.
This whitewashing of the truth, carefully editing out the stupidity, horror and brutality of history, ignoring the key tenet of comparsion between nations and cultures is undoubtely political in nature. His latest move, with English literature is very similar. Louis Althusser, a man unlikely to feature in Gove's new curriculum, suggested that
'the school.... teaches 'know how' but in forms which ensure subjection to the ruling ideology or the mastery of its'practice.'and Gove's new ideas for what should appear on the new curriculum demonstrates this. Appearing the same day that UKIP are likely to see a boost in the European parliament, his new, highly politicized and nationalised take on what should be considered literature worthy of study is more relevant than ever.
Mr Gove's new criteria for works worthy of study include a Shakespeare play, Romantic poetry, and a pre-20th century novel (which he has strongly recommended be a British work such as Dickens or Austin) and a post 1914 work written anywhere in the British Isles. The message being sent out, in axing classic American works from Steinbeck and Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird is that Mr Gove is hoping to subtly tend towards a traditional, perhaps even bourgeois approach. While I do admire the emphasis on studying whole pieces of work in his new syllabus, the limited choice available outside of a certain romanticised British canon (less than 25%) paints a political picture of the rich, textured world of literature using very thin, Tory blue brushstrokes.
Having studied for my English Literature GCSE five years previously, the changes in the curriculum seem bizarre and likely to turn more students away from the subject. While Macbeth was indeed a pleasure to study and remains my favourite theatrical work to this day, I was far more
'the whining schoolboy with his satchel, and shining morning face, creeping like snail'when it came to more cumbersome Great Expectations. Our poetry selection, shining boldly with works by Duffy, Heaney and Hughes, felt far more relevant than the literarily beautiful but, to a 16 year old, rather unengaging Tennyson and Browning. I thoroughly appreciate the descriptive language of the romantic works but this has come far more through personal enjoyment than what I was prescribed by AQA.
My love of English as a subject was truly developed after this time, during the IB, in which the curriculum managed to entice far more readily. James Joyce's Dubliners was studied in tandem with The Merchant of Venice; Angela Carter's wonderful Bloody Chamber combined sensually electrifying language with a more poignant message than any romantic poetry. Theatre from Sophocles, Anouilh, Ibsen and Lorca, poetry from Larkin and Heaney, these works were no less beautifully written but came embodied with a sense of vibrancy. Michael Gove either believes in or is trying to reproduce a love of reading in which the status quo is never actively challenged, removing any elements of the radical in favour of the traditional.
Britain has indeed produced some of the world's best literature, but to presume that we have done so alone and prescribe a romp through literature that assumes as much ignores the world outside of our shores. If you want to inspire a love of literature, by all means select politically diverse works, gorgeously written, intellectually challenging pieces. But do not pick and choose a whole curriculum in accordance with a narrow, personal political vision.