Sunday, 15 September 2013
A brief interlude from fashion here. This poem was written following some rather unsavoury news on UK education secretary Michael Gove's latest move. His spokesman gave a very sniffy response to this letter written to The Telegraph calling for a later starting age for the formal education of young children, to ensure time for "physical, social, emotional and cognitive development."
My parents home-schooled me until the age of six and a half. This meant that I had plenty of time to play, think, make, experiment and explore. I value those years of experience beyond measure. Thus I wanted to write something combatting the notion that one must be completing hard sums by the age of five in order to be self-motivated and academically, creatively or vocationally successful later in life.
The villanelle is a tightly structured poem that requires strict, repeated rhymes and refrains. Squeezing anger into a difficult form felt apt. I could respond to Mr Gove and his colleagues through the very medium his spokesman mentioned - poetry. Testing pupils on their academic capabilities from a very young age will not enthuse and excite individuals to become poets. If they do find that they love the craft of poetry, it will probably be in spite of a rigid curriculum, not because of it. Teaching children how to pass tests encourages conformity, not independent thinking and creativity.
In the extended quote from Gove's spokesman, the 127 people who signed the letter were deemed to "represent the powerful and misguided lobby responsible for the devaluation of exams and a culture of low expectations in state schools." My brother is currently at the same state school I attended. Due to the timings of curriculum changes over the next few years, he will either be among the last to sit the current GCSEs or among the first to sit Michael Gove's updated GCSEs. If the former, then his achievements will be devalued regardless of what grades he gets, due to Gove's constant insistence that the current system is flawed, easy and dumbed down. If the latter, then he will essentially be a guinea pig. Between a rock and a hard place. He's just one of thousands in a similar position.
For Mr Gove's department to deflect blame elsewhere should be shocking. But then again, it is characteristic of a man who has continually ignored comments and criticisms from those who have the years of study and the direct, practical experience of teaching and of approaches to learning that he so sorely lacks.
Outfit postings and odes to vintage will be resumed shortly.