As I’ve said before, I’m not a believer, but my wife is a practising Catholic and we’re raising our daughters as Catholics (because, you know, I promised we would when I married her). So I attend Church occasionally, and a couple of weeks ago, while I was listening to the Gospel reading and the priest’s Homily, an unexpected thought came to me.
Michael Gove is a modern-day Pharisee.
I’ll declare my potential weaknesses here (mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa – see, the Catholics are reeling me in!!), in that I’m a self-acknowledged, middle-class, hand-wringing, bleeding-heart liberal. But this is just What I Reckon, so humour me.
Anyway, the reading and Homily focused on the perils of self-righteousness and the virtues of humility.
Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Michael Gove (or George Osborne, or Iain Duncan-Smith, or David Cameron – although I genuinely believe he feels a bit more guilty in the dark recesses of his soul) behaves in ways that make him appear like the self-righteous, preening pharisee of this parable.
- Like many Government ministers from all parties, he has no special qualifications or experience to be Minister for Education. Seemingly rejoicing in his own inexperience, his blitzkrieg policy introduction of Free Schools also doens’t care about teachers who have actual teaching qualifications or experiences. You know the old saying,“Those who can do, anyone who fancies it, teaches”...
- Like many Government ministers before him, he commissions reports and advice from the learned and experienced in his field of responsibility. Unlike many ministers, he seems to ignore their advice if it contradicts his own preconceived ideology. Never in my understanding have so many experienced academics and professionals been so roundly ignored.
- He seems to despise every aspect of UK education. Children are unmotivated and lazy, parents inattentive, schools run-down and ineffective. classroom teaching assistants unnecessary, teachers militant unionistas who resist any change…
- He seems determined to undermine every aspect of UK education. Teachers’ morale is battered by the constant shifting of goalposts and priorities. Exam curricula are changed mid-course. Grading standards are changed midway through the year, when it’s too late to change. When more children work hard to achieve higher grades, the grades are belittled and demeaned. When children don’t achieve his standards, they’re demeaned and belittled. Schools and children are beset by tests from age 6 onwards, and when they adapt their behaviour to meet the demands of the public league tables, he chastises them and changes the rules again.
- Despite decades of evidence to the contrary, he believes the best way to educate any and every child is to drill them with facts and test them with exams. Creative subjects are less important, coursework is for wimps and cheats.
- Despite his evident lack of expertise, he rewrites curricula to his own agenda. Apparently History now stops at around 1980. That implies Margaret Thatcher, the miners’ strike, the fall of the Berlin Wall is less essential than knowing about the Plantagenet monarchs. In my life, (as a teenager in the 1980s) it would be like not studying the Cold War.
- He’s almost insufferably smug and sneering about how righteous he is, wanting to get children to read George Eliot, or spell ‘accommodate’, or help Britain ‘win in the global economy’, without providing any evidence for how his ideas will help, except his own cast-iron assertions.
I’ve not linked to any specifics to support my assertions, as you could find evidence with a simple Google Search, or indeed just read Michael Rosen’s excellent Letters from a Curious Parent, published in The Guardian.
When I think of Michael Gove, I recall my A-level history studies of the 19th Century, when Prime Minister William Gladstone was renowned for his extraordinary convictions – which others often described as insufferable self-righteousness, and this memorable put-down from his political opponent Benjamin Disraeli…
The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this: if Gladstone fell into the Thames, it would be a misfortune. But if someone dragged him out again, that would be a calamity.
I’m not a believer, but I might be forced to reassess if one day, hopefully very soon, Michael Gove was humbled, and our children and their teachers were exalted.