I have a video to show to our esteemed Secretary of State for Education, Mr Michael Gove (hereinafter referred to as Mr Gradgove for reasons that will be explained below).
I was listening to him speaking on the radio the other day and defending his views about his proposed review of the Curriculum taught in our schools. He seems to think that we are best served by going back to the past… to the golden age where children sat in desks and learned facts. It reminded me so much of Dickens‘ famous character Mr Gradgrind from his novel “Hard Times”.
Mr Gradgrind is well named (as usual for Dickens). He grinds children into the ground with the repetition of facts, facts and more facts… thus… Mr Gradgrind: whose voice is “dictatorial”, opens the novel by stating “Now, what I want is facts” at his school in Coketown. He is a man of “facts and calculations.” He interrogates one of his pupils, Sissy, whose father is involved with the circus, the members of which are “Fancy” in comparison to Gradgrind’s espousal of “Fact.” Since her father rides and tends to horses, Gradgrind offers Sissy the definition of horse. She is rebuffed for not being able to define a horse factually; her classmate Bitzer does, however, provide a more zoological profile description and factual definition. She does not learn easily, and is censured for suggesting that she would carpet a floor with pictures of flowers “So you would carpet your room—or your husband’s room, if you were a grown woman, and had a husband—with representations of flowers, would you? Why would you?” She is taught to disregard Fancy altogether. It is Fancy Vs Fact.
So here we have it… the Victorian concept of filling the child with facts….. but is it learning? Dickens criticised this approach through his representation of the “facts dictator” and saw the value of what he called “fancy” and what we would now refer to as creativity.
Mr Gove is a facts man, he seems to believe that there is a body of information that constitutes the learning that our children need…. but is there? I would very much like him to look at the video below and then see what the world is now for our children. Where would Mr Gradgrind’s ideas fit into this world?