Typos, Spider-man (or the Bible?) and photographs (flattering and otherwise)
The Telegraph has now found a much more flattering photograph of the Education Secretary – but its proofreading has, alas, not improved since (with sorrow) we drew attention to its deficiencies some time ago here and here. There has also been some debate amongst the anguished (but usually polite) commenters on the Telegraph site about the quotation: is it a turkey, is it Spider-man or is it the Bible? Meanwhile, Steve Bell seizes on the image to portray the Education Secretary as a mortarboarded Spider-man in today’s Guardian.
Not far below the warmly lit portrait of a cloistered Michael Gove we read:
Oh dear – and this in the paper of Simon Heffer. As if that weren’t bad enough, the awkwardly worded quotation came in for scrutiny. Telegraph_Reader wrote:
Perhaps Gove was being purposefully daft, but I think the quote is actually from the Bible, or a paraphrase thereof. A quick google suggests I am probably thinking of Luke 12.48:
From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.’
Peter Parker: [voiceover] Whatever life holds in store for me, I will never forget these words: “With great power comes great responsibility.” This is my gift, my curse. Who am I? I’m Spider-man.
Perhaps the conversation next day in the Department went something like this:
Mr Gove, you read English at University – please tell us who found that quotation for you and we’ll sack them. And we’ll have at word with the Telegraph to make sure they send the intern who checked the story back to her parents in the Home Counties.
Goodness, those Telegraph readers know too much! I was just trying to inject a little wit and a populist touch for the journalists and to amuse the Headmasters – not easy, you know, an assembly of Beaks can be quite scary!
Yes Minister – sorry, Secretary of State – but someone’s pointed out it’s rather like the parable of the talents in the Bible. Possibly uncomfortable reading, that book; you know: ‘Blessed are the poor, the meek shall inherit….’
No, stop – meek, that’s just right! I’ve just reminded teachers they should meekly accept paying more and working longer for reduced pensions! And look: even today’s Guardian approves of my style: ‘Striking rhetoric from Michael Gove‘.
Ah yes, sir, but I suspect that may also be the rhetorical device of irony – or just an old-fashioned Guardian pun. And I fear Steve Bell is now drawing you as some kind of cross between Spider-man, a bat and Mr Gradgrind. I’m not sure the PM will see this as good PR, as he’s wont to say.
The Telegraph cooks the books again and Headmaster over-eggs the pudding.
An education that does not provide the tools and the hunger to read beyond the narrow confines of a subject is, in the wider sense, no education at all.
John Newton, Headmaster of the independent (yet also public) Taunton School, fears that students’ literary diet is as bad as the convenience foods too many of them eat. Writing in The Telegraph this week, he adds that ‘current students are no longer inclined to read tougher texts; they are encouraged to read what takes their fancy rather than what nourishes the soul’. The sub-editor seems taken by this culinary metaphor, for the article is illustrated by a photograph of old cookery books. The same books in fact, including (the no longer very) Modern Cookery that illustrated the report, back in March, of Michael Gove’s 50-book challenge to students – and noted here at the time as a rather odd choice of image. Still, who are we to argue with the illustrious ones of the Telegraph and the noble Doctor Newton (no mere ‘Headteacher’ he)? So I’ve used the same image too – I’m sure they won’t mind, it keeps costs down for everyone.
It does nonetheless strike me that the Head is over-egging the pudding when he goes on to write:
The arts have always been an area where the mind should run free within proper limits. Now candidates work like automata. We are seeing the persecution of the independent learner; the reader who imbibes a range of classic texts simply because they are beautiful in themselves is a rare species.
Ah, the pursuit of beauty! How exotic – but, of course, only ‘within proper limits’. Who (even in North Korea) could disagree with that? Especially when we read his approving comments on the International Baccalaureate and the Pre-U, very largely taken by independent schools, where (of course) students ‘enjoy an education which leads to a fulfilled appreciation of what great minds have produced’. No doubt Michael Gove will soon share with us his own list of the works by great minds that all students should read. Except, of course, when they are roaming free, reading round the subject and seeking out fresh culinary delights in Modern Cookery.
(The alert reader will have noticed that I have eschewed the hyphen in ‘overcook’ but used it in ‘over-egg’. Pussyfooting again….)
Hyphenation leads to a discussion of private universities, private incomes and the Archbishop of Canterbury
I’m excited to bring you a lunchtime update on my previous post. I’ve just got round to reading Terry Eagleton’s splendidly splenetic article about Grayling’s private university in Tuesday’s Guardian. There (at the foot, appropriately, of column two), is today’s word – hyphenated! But it’s also on a line break, so it’s ambiguous. The online version settles it – and is worth quoting for its own sake:
If education is to be treated as a commodity, then we should stop pussyfooting around. I already ask my students at the start of a session whether they can afford my £50 insights into Wuthering Heights, or whether they will settle for a few mediocre ideas at £10 a piece.
He’s clearly underselling himself: today’s edition of the paper reveals that Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen (currently in the news for matters from which we shall avert our gaze) is the non-executive chairman of a company, AB Produce plc, selling pre-washed vegetables. ‘The register of members’ financial interests records that he is paid £7,773 monthly for six hours work.’ I make that £1295.50 an hour, which is probably rather more than Terry Eagleton gets, even (as Simon Jenkins points out in an equally acerbic piece in the paper) ‘as “excellence in English distinguished visitor” to America’s private Notre Dame Catholic university. There he gives three weeks’ teaching per semester for an undisclosed sum.’ Jenkins tuns the knife in the man he dubs ‘the Kropotkin of our age’ (Jenkins must have had a luxury education too), saying ‘moral consistency has never been a Marxist strong suit’. It’s a safe bet that this is a lot more than the hourly rate of AB Produce’s vegetable washers. Why, it would take him a mere 42 hours to pay for a whole degree at Grayling’s New College of the Humanities!
There’s nothing academics like more, of course, than a good scrap with their colleagues. So immediately underneath Jenkins’ article today, Giles Fraser, formerly lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford and now Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, writes about yesterday’s blog post topic, Archbishop of opposition. With the skill of a true philosopher, the Reverend Doctor manages to spear both Ian Duncan Smith and A C Grayling with one blow:
The “quiet resurgence of the seductive language of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor” needs a proper kicking. Perhaps our atheist intellectuals are too busy setting up their private universities to get stuck into the fight.
Still, as the old saying goes, fine words wash no parsnips.
He pussyfooted all right. He declared in grandiloquent style for undiluted Americanism, but he had nothing to say about hyphenism.
Of course, to hesitate over this is mere pussyfooting – not something Prime Ministers and Archbishops have time for.
Which reminds me that yesterday’s tweet and blog post have become today’s Guardian headline for the turbulent priest. I’d like to say it was because this blog is so influential that it’s read throughout Westminster, but I suspect the mundane truth is that the wording was so apposite that even a journalist on a proper paper couldn’t resist.
Meanwhile, back in the OED, I’m both disappointed and intrigued to discover that hyphenism has nothing to do with lexicography but ‘the state of being a hyphenated American; the attitude or conduct involved or implied by this.’ Wikipedia offers some enlightenment that explains why this would be an issue in Woodland in the middle of the First World War:
Hyphenated American is an epithet commonly used from 1890 to 1920 to disparage Americans who were of foreign birth or origin, and who displayed an allegiance to a foreign country. It was most commonly used to disparage German Americans or Irish Americans (Catholics) who called for U.S. neutrality in World War I. Former President Theodore Roosevelt was an outspoken anti-hyphenate.
This particular issue may have faded into the mists of history (though divided loyalty still seems a hot topic to some American politicians), so how about adopting the term anti-hyphenate for those in favour of email rather than e-mail and other stylistic simplifications? That’s still stirring up debate – see Think hyphens aren’t contro-versial in The Guardian and Substuff‘s tweet yesterday:
‘Keep an eye-out for all our latest reviews.’ What is the reasoning behind that hyphen?
On this, it’s time to stop pussyfooting: I’m definitely an anti-hyphenate. I think.