A post I started writing a couple of weeks ago then forgot about. Until Michael Gove hit the news again for proposing the abolition of GCSEs...

Arriving home after the England vs France Euro 2012 match, I was greeted by an excited four-year-old, eager to tell me about the match:

Mummy, it was a draw! Everybody won!

My first thought: Aw, how cute! My second: Ha, bet that response would seriously piss off Michael Gove!

We all love a bit of Gove-bashing, don’t we? Just the sight of his face, fixed in a permanent expression of priggish outrage at misuse of the subjunctive in five-year-olds, is enough to make the average person want to scream something grammatically incorrect at the top of his/her/their voice(s). In my workplace we even have a picture of Michael Gove’s face pinned on one wall. Every so often someone adds a sarcastic speech bubble, just for their own amusement. I’m not a teacher and I don’t work in a school. Perhaps every workplace has its own Gove-bashing facility, kind of like those relaxation tank thingies you imagine Japanese workers having, but to allow people to let off steam in a peculiarly British way.

I’m starting to worry, though. Maybe we’ve all gone a bit too far. Is he really all that bad? Isn’t he better than a lot of the others? And so I’ve decided, in a moment of complete madness, to see what kind of a defence I’m able to mount for him (you can thank me later, Michael. In Latin).

1. Unlike all the other vote-chasers, you get the impression that he really, really means what he says

Even if it’s total crap. But with Michael, everything’s personal. He started out poor, went to grammar school, pulled himself up by his bootstraps, got to Oxford and ended up mixing with the posh folks! And all he wants is for your child to have the chance to do that too! With the emphasis being on “have the chance”. You can’t have every child doing that. Just the clever poor ones. And the clever rich ones. And probably, as ever, the thick rich ones, too. The point is, if everyone’s given proper hard stuff to study, instead of the liberal pinko shit you get in state schools today, we could have exactly the same inequalities as before, but with better knowledge of Ancient Greek! Plus, a select few grammar school pupils could be living the Michael Gove dream! (Confession: I went to a grammar school. I went to Oxford. Do I think most children should be sacrificed for the sake of a few having the chance to be like me? Of course I do. But the opportunity to implement this just hasn’t arisen. I don’t think Gove should be allowed to get there first)

2. He’s endearingly in awe of academics

I mean, you might not think it. He wants academics to write A-level specs, and he wants them to do training so employers don’t have to bother. The only things he doesn’t want them to do is research, teach and run universities i.e. be academics. But then he says really cute things like this: “I’m a journalist by trade, a politician by accident, and a historian in my dreams”. That’s dead sweet, isn’t it? My partner used to be a professional historian (in the past!), and it’s nice to think Gove dreams of watching students vomit in campus lifts, buying shoes at Matalan and having to tell the millionth knob in the pub that no, we don’t all “already know what happpened by now”. I wonder if many historians dream of being Gove?

 3. He’s probably right about languages, even if it’s for the wrong reasons

Children used to be taught MFL, meaning Modern Foreign Languages. Now it’s to be just FL. Which sounds a bit like “fuck all”, and that’s unfortunate. But on the whole, I think the dropping of the “modern” has much to recommend it. Talking about the environment in German is boring. Being forced to engage with history and culture – in any language, dead or alive – isn’t. It also helps us to value the transferability of a linguist’s skills. It’s not about the language per se, but the learning of a language. I say all this, mind, and I don’t know any Greek or Latin. Perhaps they’re seriously overrated, rubbish languages. Middle High German is good, though. Let’s get that into every primary.

4. He’s probably wrong about the other things, but then so are my dad and my nan, and that doesn’t make them bad people

Several years ago I had a massive row with my dad and nan, who were doing the whole “young people today are thick as pigshit” routine. They’re not, you know. It’s just a thing people say, and it justifies anything: scrapping GCSEs at the drop of a hat, writing off children at a very young age, deeming generations unworthy of jobs that don’t in fact exist, and treating the ones you do employ like shit while claiming they all need “remedial help” (fuck off, CBI). Most young people I know are fine and can do apostrophes and hard sums and everything. Which is no use to them in the current economic climate, but hey, it’s good to know nonetheless.

5. It’s not his fault his face is like that

It just is. He might look permanently priggish, but I, for instance, look permanently grumpy. Sometimes, if I’m out and about and don’t realise I’ve encountered a mirror, I find myself thinking Christ, she looks a miserable cow. Glad I’m not her. Whereas actually, there’s a permanent party goin’ on inside my head (mind you, it’s quite late on at the party, and several people have drunk too much, and someone’s crying and another person’s just thrown up in the kitchen sink. But it’s a party nonetheless). Maybe it’s like that for Michael Gove. Only for him, it’s a veritable bacchanalia, replete with old Etonians in togas who finally accept little Michael as one of them.

This is about all I can come up with. I’d probably have been able to think up more, had I been of the generation who did O-levels and are hence mega-clever (unless of course I’d had to do CSEs, in which case I’d be mega-thick, but also completely invisible in any assessment of what a generation might have achieved). Anyhow, I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m of the dumbed-down generation. Must go now because my youngest is asking me whether dolphins have wheels. Alas, I fear it won’t be the O-level track for him…