Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Mr Gove among the historians


The Education Secretary, Michael Gove (above) has recently looked increasingly out of his depth when wading into academic conflicts. His latest howler - saying that 'left-wing' teachers use TV's Blackadder and other fictional representations of the Great War to push a version of history actively hostile to Britain, even to 'denigrate virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage' themselves. 

Now this is, of course, nonsense - a fact so patent and so obvious that even his Conservative colleagues have started to mutter and laugh about him behind their hands. He appears not even to have read the original source he was quoting from, let alone thought more deeply or read more widely. A long and involved historiographical debate has long (and quite properly) raged about whether Britain's generals might have done better with the hand that they were dealt. Whether all the muddy slog, all the killing and all the dying, might have been cut short - and even whether it was all worth it in any case. But a left-right struggle over patriotism? Where has Mr Gove been all these years? Silly me: I had thought it was often conscious right-wingers who had questioned the skills of the generals and the wisdom of fighting the Kaiser in the first place. All my History studies and degrees, all my training and learning and teaching, must have been for nothing.

Anyway. This blogger's major thought was actually nothing to do with any of that. It ran like this: has Mr Gove been watching the same series as I did, all those years ago? The Daily Mail's original coverage of his ruminations peddled the myth that Edmund Blackadder is portrayed in increasingly 'gutless' attempts to avoid the fight. Well, that's true up to a point; but the final fade of this serial seems him fight and probably fall all the same, and it resolves into a field of poppies that couldn't be more respectful, more proud and - yes - more patriotic if it tried. For an Education Secretary to so misrepresent a piece of art - one used to stimulate debate in schools, as pointed out by one of its stars, Sir Tony Robinson - is as disappointing as it is ludicrous.

As the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War approaches, we're going to see a lot more of this.

It'll all be bilge. All this blog can advise is: go ahead and read some good books on the conflict. Don't listen to self-serving politicians who don't seem to grasp the most basic tenets of A-Level History.

And that is all there is to say on the subject - for now.

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