‘Our literature is the best in the world’

Hyperactive Michael Gove is at it again.

Autumn apple
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness (John Keats): I hope M Gove approves
Hyperactive Michael Gove is at it again. It’s the old trick of picturing the situation as worse than it is in order to be seen to be bravely pushing through radical reform – when all he was doing was describing what has been in the National Curriculum since the Tories were last in power.
Having quoted Emma Thompson’s criticism of the casual use of English by students at her old school (see below), he told the Tory Conference on 5 October, in the Guardian’s words:

English teaching will be reformed to ensure that the poetry of Pope and Shelley, the satire of Swift and the novels of Dickens and Hardy are at the heart of classroom teaching…. Our literature is the best in the world – it is every child’s birthright, and we should be proud to teach it in every school.

These authors have been in the National Curriculum since the Tories were last in power – I’ve just checked and they are still there, so even those awful Labour types didn’t ban them. Perhaps Michael Gove, described by his former English teacher in the TES as a ‘precociously talented youngster’, hasn’t been doing his homework for once? Mike Duncan, who taught him at Robert Gordon’s College, told the TES: ‘I remember we had a game that we would play. He would come up with the first line of a novel and I would have to guess the title of the novel. I would do the same and he would always guess the title correctly.’ This suggests a new game: the opening sentences of books our leader ought to read next. Here’s a sentence from yesterday’s Guardian to get him started:

While Michael Gove and the Tories are occupied solving problems that don’t exist for the benefit of lunatics who don’t know anything about schools (Gove promises to end ’no touch’ rules for teachers, 2 October), the rest of us will carry on secure in the knowledge that there is no no-touch rule and that children mistakenly saying that they know their rights can be told to shush.

Answer: Carolyn Roberts, Head of ‘an orderly and happy’ Durham Johnston School. No wonder she signed off Struth; The Queen’s English Society may wince at the vernacular, but can you blame her?

What did Emma Thompson actually say?

I went to give a talk at my old school and the girls were all doing ‘likes’ and ‘innits?’ and ‘it aint’s, which drives me insane. I told them, ‘Don’t do it because it makes you sound stupid and you’re not stupid.’ There is the necessity to have two languages – one you use with your mates and the other that you need in any official capacity. Or you’re going to sound like a knob.

Her final comment rather undermines this, don’t you think?

This post features as part of my latest column in NATE’s English Drama Media: I’m afraid I couldn’t resist the temptation to plagiarise myself in the interests of topicality.

Postscript, 7 October: In today’s Guardian, Michael White writes:

Mid-Atlantic telly don Simon Schama wrote a very obliging article about David Cameron for Saturday’s FT without revealing he was poised to join the coalition as its back-to-history-basics curriculum adviser. Confronted with the country’s ignorance of past glories, he could start with the education secretary, Michael Gove, who muddled Isaiah Berlin and Immanuel Kant….

I think it’s categorically imperative that Michael Gove gets this right, don’t you?

And is our Mr Gove right that ‘our literature is the best in the world’? For that matter, whose literature is he talking about? Consider the authors he names….

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