Michael Gove Still Ending Good Things

The Darkening Slopes

This post-Brexit ‘victory’ and vacuum it has created for those of us who expected a different outcome is painful, to say the least. It is also genuinely disturbing and worrying – even, I suspect, for many who voted Leave, but I don’t mean those apparent hoards who did so not imagining the consequences and who are now regretting that decision. There might be some, even many, but I think it is a fanciful idea to want there to be legions of guilt-ridden Leave voters. Those fuelled by the hatred urged through years of UKIP’s nasty rhetoric and that Farage poster won’t be crying in their comfortable sleep.

That vacuum is being filled by many other ones, and perhaps what I write here will be as empty of substance. I mean the newspaper and online and TV/radio commentaries and interview outpourings of angst and retribution and rethinkings and accusations and…..it is endless. Much is extremely articulate and convincing – for those of us wanting to hear why the country’s democratic decision was wrong – but it is too late. And all of the observations about the lies of the Leave campaign – for example the notorious £350 million per week to now go to the NHS – are meaningless because surely we all knew this at the time, apart from the morons who thought that singular example possible. Why act so outraged that politicians lied?

It will probably appear churlish considering the actual reality of our political situation as well as the existence of this preamble, but I want to turn my comments here to an observation linked with examining. I know, that sounds like what follows is going to be quite ridiculous. When I state this will be connected to Michael Gove, it could appear to resonate with EU and British/Conservative political relevance, but those in the know of my writing about him on this blog will realise instantly it is all to do with Gove’s time as Education Secretary.

Before the ‘educational’ focus: with Michael Gove likely to be the major campaigner/orchestrator of Boris Johnson’s Tory Party leadership bid, and then offered a major cabinet post as reward if successful, there is this political relevance. However, my link is to do with the quality of understanding students are continuing to demonstrate about John Steinbeck’s book Of Mice and Men as I mark their GCSE essays. What strikes me as such a pervading irony is that so many students’ empathy with Steinbeck’s care and concern for the disenfranchised and marginalised and vulnerable at the time the book was set mirrors precisely what seems to have been lacking as a similar care and concern in the demographic – that older generation, to put it simplistically but not wholly inaccurately – who voted to Leave [I know that vote is/was more complex than this: I think specifically of those who harboured a sole anxiety about ‘immigration’ and the fear-factor attached to this – like that infamous poster – above and beyond understandable concerns]. Could Michael Gove have foreseen the need to prevent a younger generation encountering and being persuaded to identify such cares and concerns in literary texts – in this case American texts – and thus had them banned from study for this reason?

Obviously not. His decision was bereft of anything other than miserable megalomania. Also, we must presume many who voted to Leave had read these very American texts in their own GCSE studies as teenagers from some years ago! Indeed, a far more relevant literary text that might teach us to care for one another in the way many of us perceive to be the philosophical and social and communal point of belonging to the European Union is The Inspector Calls, a book that hasn’t been banned. I am currently marking hundreds of students’ responses to this where they demonstrate as well their clear understanding of, and apparent agreement with that play’s theme of a shared responsibility and community spirit.

So, where has this surmise taken me and any readers? Into that vacuum, as I suggested. I think my point must be that amongst all the turmoil of these last few days post-Brexit and the volumes of reflection written and spoken already about this – to which I add this miniscule contribution [there is more on Facebook….!] – I have taken rewarding and comforting solace in the wise words of a younger generation writing in their GCSE exams as part of a larger process of hoping for a happy and prosperous and positive life in their futures. From the solid knowing to stunningly outstanding responses, I feel humbled and honoured so often by their writing. The fact that so much of this has come from writing about the closing of the book Of Mice and Men where George shoots Lennie, and that empathy I have referred to with which students understand the language and imagery and thematic touchstones, it has struck an emotive chord in these current traumatic times.

It also therefore makes me, as ever, incensed that Michael Gove is still so instrumental in ending good things.

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