Am I an Enemy of Promise?

It’s hard to be sure, but I think that the Secretary of State for Education is including me in his “Enemies of Promise” claims.

I don’t think I’m a Marxist… but then I’ve never read Marx! But it doesn’t appear that he’s paid particularly close attention to Cyril Connolly’s Enemies of Promise either. Now, I can’t confess to have read it, so won’t go on too much about it, but it did intrigue me that one of the most famous quotations from it appears to be:

Were I to deduce any system from my feelings on leaving Eton, it might be called The Theory of Permanent Adolescence. It is the theory that the experiences undergone by boys at the great public schools, their glories and disappointments, are so intense as to dominate their lives and to arrest their development. From these it results that the greater part of the ruling class remains adolescent, school-minded, self-conscious, cowardly, sentimental, and in the last analysis homosexual.

Given Mr Gove’s fondness for the provision of the great public schools, it seems odd that he should choose so often to reference a book which contains such a criticism… but I digress.

Of course, Mr Gove has not chosen to pick on my personally. But I couldn’t help but agree with the 100 academics that he has so publicly accused, so perhaps I am guilty by association. Like them, I fear that parts of the curriculum demand “too much too young” and that such requirements will lead to a diet of rote learning that will not help create educated thinkers. Like them I fear that the proposed curriculum is “extremely narrow”, and that it shows that the Education Secretary has repeatedly ignored expert advice. Like them, I happen to feel that the CBI – hardly a bastion of leftist thinking – was right when it urged the government to change direction.

But according to Mr Gove, this makes me an enemy of promise. Because I disagree with his approach for creating a curriculum, I am now to be labelled a militant Marxist. It seems a little harsh.

I make no pretence of being a Tory supporter. I find their approach to immigration, welfare, education, the economy… most things in fact, to be wholly in opposition to my own views. But then, as Mr Gove points out himself, the previous government of which I was broadly a supporter was hardly Marxist. Mr Blair, too, shares his anti-union sentiments.

What strikes me as most disturbing about Mr Gove’s outburst is the immaturity of it all. It reads much like a petulant child’s outburst at not being allowed to play the part he wants in a game of war on the school playground. It’s not enough, apparently, for him to set out his rationale, his beliefs and ideology, and to argue his case on its merits – and I will happily admit that the merits are not entirely absent. But rather, he has decided to take the approach of name-calling and petty insults rather than reasoned argument. Apparently we’re in a battle in which we have to take sides?

Well, Mr Gove – I refuse. I will not take sides. I will not pretend to be a supporter of a narrow, right-wing, Anglo-centric, content-driven, uninspiring curriculum. But nor will I allow you to portray me as some sort of out-dated, selfish ideologue. The debate is too complex for that, and by attempting to simplify it in such terms you merely demonstrate your lack of understanding of that complexity. As Phil Allman points out so well in his own blog: “The reality is that where those of us that do not share Mr Gove’s view diverge from his thinking, is in the means and method of how to go about it.”

Oh, and by the way Mr Gove. I have often suggested that an education secretary ought to have at least spent a day in a school classroom before being allowed to make major decisions about our nation’s schools, but no offer will be forthcoming from me to host you. My classroom and its students have rules about mutual respect and decency; you would do well to learn a thing or two from the twelve-year-olds I teach.


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