Why does Gove believe dead languages and Ancient History are more important to learn than the Arts, R.E, Sports and Technology?

5 December 2010
Local Schools Network
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It’s official. Finally, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has proclaimed that Ancient History is more important than a whole raft of subjects that might actually teach our teenagers something of value. If you look at the list of “approved GCSEs” for the English Baccalaureate, you’ll see that Ancient History sits proudly there as an approved Humanities GCSE, yet Religious Education, a fascinating GCSE that has turned many students onto philosophy and an appreciation of other cultures, is not there. Nor are key subjects like Physical Education, Art, Music, Design and Technology, Drama and Media Studies — to name a few GCSEs which are very popular with our children at the moment. Moreover, they are subjects that really help children learn about the modern world. But, of course, they are no good because they don’t teach us things that happened thousands of years ago. We couldn’t have our children learning anything about the contemporary world now, could we? That’s far too edgy. Instead, we’ll send them to sleep by speculating endlessly about what might or might not have occurred in Ancient Mesopotamia, much of which is basically unknowable anyway!

Naturally, vocational subjects don’t get a look in; anyone taking them is obviously “rubbish” and “stupid” in the eyes of this regime. But Classical Greek, Biblical Hebrew and Latin all get the official stamp of approval. These are “dead” languages, spoken out aloud by no one except dusty old professors in Oxbridge colleges when they’ve drunk a bit too much sherry. You can’t go on an exchange trip to Ancient Rome or Athens. I learnt Latin at school and can’t speak a word of a Modern Foreign Language as a consequence; I used to know a lot of useless archaic words and grammar which I’ve forgotten now. I wasted my time learning an utterly redundant language when I could have been learning something useful. Incidentally, most of my peers opted out of doing Latin for O Level; even at the highly selective private school I attended, most of the children found it very boring!

It just shows you how hopelessly out of touch the Department for Education are at the moment. Furthermore, I don’t think the Department has a good idea of what true learning is; the best learning is that which explores a living, breathing context. The living contexts for Latin, Biblical Hebrew and Classical Greek disappeared thousands of years ago; these subjects are as dead as dodos because these languages are no longer alive, no longer present on the lips of the living. While they are not worthless subjects to study — their vocabulary, grammar and values permeate our culture — they definitely should not be privileged above other living languages or living subjects. For example, a Drama student can go and see some theatre, a Music student attend a concert and so forth, while students of dead languages cannot participate in a living, vibrant embodiment of their discipline in this way.

I suspect though this is yet another way of undermining state schools and promoting the private sector. They are mostly taught in private schools as a dodge to get their thicker students into Oxbridge or the Russell Group Universities: they are generally much less competitive courses to get on than subjects like Medicine.

How can Michael Gove claim to represent the people by imposing such absurdly out-of-touch ideas upon our school children? The curriculum reads more like something you’d find in schools in 1910 than 2010.

I think quite soon millions of school children are going to wish this government was Ancient History!

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5 comments

  1. “Religious Education, a fascinating GCSE that has turned many students onto philosophy and an appreciation of other cultures, is not there”

    Tedious subject that, after 3 years of colouring in, becomes an effort to use psychological manipulation to indoctrinate students in relativism, surely?

    Presumably Gove’s choices are based on whether subjects are academic or not. Hardly an unreasonable priority for a Baccalaureate. Who is likely to be smarter, a child with a GCSE in Classical Greek or one in Media studies? Learning about “the modern world” is no substitute for learning about the best that has ever been thought or said.

    from oldandrew
  2. I think a Media Studies’ student will be much smarter: they will know how to make films, to make music, to analyse what happens in the media, to not be a victim of a false “hierarchy” of knowledge that this government is trying to perpetuate.

    from francisgilbert
  3. Oh right, so you are defining “smarter” in terms of creativity and agreeing with you?

    As opposed to, say, being good at disciplines with a significant cognitive component?

    I swear you are trying to make Gove’s policies look good.

    from oldandrew
  4. I think Media Studies has a significant cognitive component; they certainly develop pupils’ thinking skills in lots of ways. But ultimately, I have to acknowledge that I am on a hiding to nothing trying to say that one subject is better than another; they are asking different things of the pupils.

    While I can see you’re not too happy with what I’ve said, I sense an undercurrent of frustration about Gove. What are your thoughts on his policies thus far?

    from francisgilbert
  5. There is no such thing as generic “thinking skills” and talk of developing them in a lesson is usually code for letting kids have a chat rather than learning.

    With regard to my views on Gove, rather than repeat myself here, I should probably just give you the link:

    http://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/the-education-white-paper/

    from oldandrew

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