Hardly the dawn of the Age of Aquarius is it, but this week we shall finally see what the current government, or rather Mr Gove, wants our children to study in this bright new 21st century.
Two “leaks” so far have had great responses from the Guardian Comment is Free website and we are confident that further announcements will initiate a similar flood of responses. Michael Gove would do well to have a read of the below the line comments because there are some extremely sensible and thought provoking ideas from people who have clearly spent a lifetime in education with an absolute focus on the needs of the child, and simultaneously the needs of society and the future economy.
So Mr Gove has firstly announced that he wants all children to be able to recite poetry.
On first hearing this, the automatic response is to dismiss it as ludicrous because of the fact that there is the sneaking suspicion that accompanying such a demand will be a list of poems that teachers have to teach, which will probably be largely based in the 18th century. However, if Mr Gove applies one of his policies of freedom for teachers to teach what they want, then this could actually be a move to embrace with enthusiasm; not necessarily the reciting by heart idea but certainly the study of contemporary poetry and writing.
How about this one for instance?
Pity the plight of young fellows
Too long abed with no sleep
With their complex romantic attachments
So look on their sorrows and weep.
They don’t get a moment’s reflection.
There’s always a crowd in their eye
Pity the plight of young fellows
Regard all their worries and cry . . . . .
The rest can be heard on the YouTube clip of John Cooper Clarke reciting this poem that has now been used in Plan B’s film “Ill Manors”.
Or maybe this?
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Or maybe this?
I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other time it’s only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand.
I suspect that Mr Gove will not be allowing the likes of John Cooper Clarke, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan into his repertoire of acceptable poetry but it’s worth a try.
And it is precisely this sort of poetry that children and young people should be enjoying – if not to recite, then to consider the meaning regarding how we perceive and treat our world, one another and ourselves.
Mr Gove has made it clear that he doesn’t want to prescribe a personal, social and health education curriculum but he has stated categorically that schools should consider the social, moral, spiritual and cultural needs of all pupils. Also, there is still that duty to promote wellbeing that was instigated as law in 2006. Doesn’t poetry such as this help to develop and nurture?
Of course Mr Gove also forgets that many children already do learn poetry off by heart and recite it. Take a quick glance on Facebook and you will see many children reciting poetry in their ‘status’ bar.
They recite lyrics from their favourite songs. They are significant to them, so significant that they want to share the lyrics with other friends.
When in school do they get the chance to do this?
Of course, the lyrics are enhanced by the multiple creativity that makes up songs. Music and beat helps to accentuate and emphasise, and sometimes add more meaning to a word.
Maybe if Mr Gove would concentrate more on all forms of art, we could have some extremely thoughtful people in the world, who enjoyed sharing their love of certain things and don’t end up doing wicked things like melting down important bronze statues for money, as reported in the papers today.
Respect; that is what we are trying to achieve.
Just a small aside, the Guardian reports that Mr Gove “will promise a new focus on the traditional virtues of spelling and grammar when he sets out his plans for the teaching of English in primary schools later this week.”
Mr Gove, and indeed the Guardian….. please discuss the meaning of the word “virtues”.
The second leak refers to the notion of all primary school children beginning to learn a foreign language, which according to Mr Gove could include Latin or Greek. Yes indeed- that’s really going to help them to live in the 21st Century!
Actually, it ought to be applauded. It’s excruciating how little we, as Britons, bother to learn even the basics of the languages of the countries that we might be visiting, and yes, the idea of conversational language acquisition seems fairly sensible. However, is it okay to be able to say “Je t’aime” or “Ich will Frieden” or “私はあなたを尊重する ” if we cannot understand what love, peace and respect really are?
Where is the emphasis and has this new national curriculum got it right? Are we really helping children and young people to become intelligent? Are we really preparing them for their lives as children and then into adulthood? What are the virtues that we really want to teach that go beyond being able to spell “ridiculous” and learn that 12 times 12 is 144?
We wait with anticipation for the full announcement of this curriculum, and will undoubtedly comment further.
One good piece of news within these rumours – SATs for 11 year olds may finally be on the way out, but what on earth is going to be there instead?
So veni, vidi, vici? Let’s not let Mr Gove conquer, and cause more lost sight as far as 21st Century education is concerned.
Michael Rosen PhD, author, poet, ex-children’s laureate, educationalist and university academic, has been writing with his usual passion and humour about these issues. Take a look at these posts: