Go(ve) Fuck yourself

The Conservatives are at it again; American classics are to be dropped by a GCSE exam board as the Education Secretary calls for more British books to be studied. I doubt he’ll push for 1984 to make the new reading list and suspect this new ‘nationalism’ towards English literature is a politically charged appeasement, a desperate attempt to negate further losses of the Conservative-right to UKIP…

Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mocking Bird are two powerful stories of the human condition and both are inline for the chop. Their social and civil themes still resonate with readers now, irrespective of locale or origin, they tell a ‘human-story’ of beauty and tragedy with resounding relevance to contemporary British life. And yet, Michael Gove ‘really dislikes’ them, describing the high percentage of students studying them as ‘disappointing’. He’d much rather they studied English works like Shakespeare but look beyond the books, read between the lines and question his motives; you’ll soon see the table’s tilted.

Even with the best teachers few 15 year olds are going to be able to, let alone want to, appreciate Shakespeare. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds especially are far more likely to feel alienated by silver-tongued iambs and Shakespearian meters than to suddenly engage and go on to study politics at Oxbridge. It’s hard enough getting them to spell and punctuate let alone comprehend such prose asAnd since you know you cannot see yourself, so well as by reflection, I, your glass, will modestly discover to yourself, that of yourself which you yet know not of.’… Even the Senior English lecturer at King’s College, London warns only offering English authors will put kids off reading and yet, nobody seems to care…

Don’t forget, the 15 year olds affected were born in 2000! The turn of the millennium! An age of immediacy; of HTC’S and ADD, fast food, quick-breaks, mobile phones, and microwaves, a modern age of TXT TLK #’s and rehashed talk of out-dated texts. If you expect your children to learn despite these modern distractions, you must engage them with a relatable modern stimulus…

The U.S. classics have it, they address prominent social issues like racial and gender discrimination, forced and chosen segregation, and social and economic divides that are unfortunately just as prevalent in Britain today. If you think they’re not you’re deluding yourself. We’re a society hiding behind politically correct language and excessive Health and Safety regulation as if censorship equates to some kind of equality. It doesn’t.

In order to ‘teach’, the content of a text must have an affiliation with the student’s contemporary life. Literature must spark a student’s interest in the world they live in by offering perspective on situations they will inevitably encounter. From an existential position like this, it doesn’t matter if the situations are positive or negative, both variants bear direct relation to the student and so, the student’s empathy for characters can steer them toward critical-thought….

I happen to like Shakespeare by the way, I just know I didn’t at 15. I found him too far removed to have relevance to my teenage life. I’m not saying English writers should be avoided. Modern English literature is still worth a read; Animal Farm survived this round of cuts, though probably because it’s political satire is aimed safely at Russian failings rather than domestic ones. Gove probably sees Napoleon as a resourceful governing swine rather than a totalitarian, land-owning pig…

I’m aware great literature is the product of both form and content, Shakespeare mastered both, I grant you, I just don’t think literature from the late 1500’s is that relatable to a kid with a computer in his pocket. Acclaimed philosopher and writer, Ludwig Wittgenstein would agree. Wittgenstein’s influence is still felt in almost every field of Social Science and in 1999, a survey among American university lecturers ranked his book Philosophical Investigations as the most important book of 20th-century philosophy. In it, Wittgenstein points out ‘conceptual confusions surrounding language are at the root of most philosophical problemsto share a language is first and foremost to share a “form of life”, that is, meaning arises from being together in a single landscape.’ Therefore, in context of educating the country, understanding and communicative clarity are dependent on a common ground between reader and writer, not through dusty literary acclaim. Linguistic ‘limitations don’t come from the functionality of language, but rather from a simple incompatibility between forms of life’. That’s you and me, Mike. Our perceptions juxtapose as much as our experiences, and thus, so do our summations.

For example, I see the American classics as a bridge between social-division; they fuse high art and low art, making it accessible to all. The pomposity of xenophobic legislators that would readily dismiss such works clearly shows they never understood the text (if they read it at all). I’m sure Gove can site quatrains, couplets and quantative meters, but I’d bet my next pint he couldn’t with a view to saying anything of merit.

The days of education for education’s sake are gone. When The National Association of Head Teachers’ 2013 vote of no confidence in Gove’s policies went ignored, we should’ve asked why. When the Education Secretary neglects to incite sophisticated thought and critical-thinking in school I’m left questioning his agenda. Schools that once strived to breed the ‘best and brightest’ are now too distracted by box ticking and Ofsted review to initiate the intellectual development of students. And as long as we’re telling the truth, I, like Mr Gove couldn’t care less about the kids, I only give a shit about the curriculum because the only way to reduce population growth, short of Orwellian Birth-control, is by ensuring that future generations are capable of sophisticated critical-thought. That they’re able to recognise the social and economic consequences of the decisions they and their governing elite make.

Quite simply, American classics are being cut from state schools because they’re ‘dangerous’. Of Mice and Men chronicles the pursuit of happiness against a backdrop of hard times and harder, mostly unwanted, work. I don’t know about you, but bucking hay seems a tad more satisfying to me than stacking shelves with a company-issue plastic-smile. Gove’s ‘reforms’ are grooming the education system to produce obedient workers, state-schools all over the country are at risk of becoming no more than production lines for a minimum-wage work-force geared to stack-shelves until retirement.

Unfortunately, democratically elected bodies long to govern populations just smart enough to pull the levers and answer the phones while being dumb enough to passively accept shittier jobs, less pay and longer hours at companies that don’t care about them. That’s why education is so poor in this country and why it will never change. Gove doesn’t want a democratic nation of free-thinking individuals capable of critical thought; It wouldn’t serve The Party’s interest to have a sophisticated populous capable of sitting around a table and working out how badly they’re being fucked by a system that through them over-board 30 years ago…

Britain’s full of kids like me, Mike. You can’t teach us, you’re too far removed. Your points of reference have no cross-over. Not unlike Bill Shakes, you’re education policy or my employment prospects. Alas, logic rarely gets a look-in with wealthy political figures, the powerful are set in there ways, that’s how they keep the power…

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