In a speech remarkably reminiscent of Charles Dickens' infamous schoolmaster, Mr. Gradgrind, in 'Hard Times', Education Minister Michael Gove announced this week that the school curriculum must now focus on facts and figures, a return to the old style system where children learned dates and informational snippets by rote.
"In 1950, every child in England knew when the Battle of Hastings took place," said Mr. Gove, and added, wistfully, "and they also knew who Winston Churchill was."
When it was pointed out by a heckler that in 1950 Churchill had just led the nation through a World War, and was still alive, Mr. Gove became testy.
"And that's what we want!" he exclaimed. "More testing! And you can't test on wiffly-woffly arty-farty stuff. You can only test on facts."
"Was Gradgrind one of his personal heroes?" He was asked. Mr. Gove's eyes misted over.
"You can say that again."
"Was Gradgrind one of his personal heroes?"
"Repetition! Yes, I like that. Drums the stuff into their thick little head, until they're so full of useless inormation that they're too brain-dead to argue about anything. Rather, I mean, it reinforces the educational experience, you see."
Those of us who are old enough to remember dreary history lessons, where we took reams of notes on the dates of meaningless treaties and battles, or geography sessions where we spent our previous youth marking the names of rivers on maps, might be slightly uneasy about this 'volte face' in our children's education. Surely history is best taught creatively, interactively, with an imaginative approach so that the child can feel involved and develop empathy with the period and its people? Likewise with Social Geography, part of the broader canvas of Humanities?
"Oooh, nasty long words there." The Education Minister frowned, distinctly uncomfortable. "Too many 'ivelys' and 'ities' for my liking. No, I go back to that marvellous passage in Dickens, the bit where Gradgrind asks Sissy Jupe to define a horse. None of your airy-fairy nonsense about its mane flying in the wind, its strong muscular body seeming to float over the ground as its black coat ripples in the sun.... The clever little Miss Jupe correctly identifies it as a quadroped. Top marks, girl! Top of the class."
And what, one might ask, about Art, Drama, Music and - dare we mention it? - Philosophy.
Mr. Gove was predictably scornful. "Daft stuff. Just leads to jobs in those stupid soaps, or people cutting up sheep and putting them in glass cases and ripping off the Tate. As for Philosophy, what use is that? You don't exactly see job adverts saying, Philosopher wanted, must have experience in Logical Positivism, or Dynamic Platonist needed for Industrial Manufacturing Firm. Do you?"
Er, no, Mr. Gove, you don't. More's the pity.
Meanwhile, this paper is setting up a readers' competition. Prizes for the best FACTUAL descriptions of Michael Gove. Word limit 12. Closing date: midnight tomorrow. Shouldn't be hard!