Conserving tradition by expanding skills


Michael Gove’s (Conservative Education Minister) main focus is the lack of social mobility within this country.   He bemoans the fact that civic life is filled with white upper class men.  Gove blames this trend on the working classes lack of cultural capital.  If ‘vocational’ is a key term within Stephen Twiggs education strategy.  The main word in Gove’s tool kit is ‘excellence’.  This word get repeated throughout the text. Excellence is linked to academic knowledge/learning. For example, excellence is linked to the knowledge of the literary canon and other traditional subjects taught in a traditional way.  He has critiqued contemporary subjects such as computer and media literacy.



He believes that this more traditional mode of learning would empower the marginalised groups, breaking through their ‘ignorance’ and enabling them to play a greater role within society. I have several issues with this view. Firstly, I must question Gove’s individualistic view that this country’s lack of social mobility may be blamed entirely on the individuals lack of cultural capital.  I would state that the lack of economic capital plays a role in the inequalities faced by many people in this country today.  In addition, I would argue that; the lobbyist driven, old boys club that is Westminster excludes many who do not conform to the norm. Secondly, what does he want the student to focus on. The traditional cannon excludes many of those whom he wishes to include. Thirdly, I would suggest that, given the power of technology and mass media/new media, that it might be a good idea for students to be given an understanding of these information sources.



Gove uses two quite surprising reference points as a base for his thesis.  I never thought that I’d hear a Conservative politician reference Jade Gooding and Gramsci in a speech on education. Remembering Jade Gooding, Gove speaks of his anger at those critics who mocked Jade for her lack of intelligence/cultural capital.  Gove argues that the critics should turn their attention away from Jade to the education system that produced her. It was the Comprehensive system, with its lack of; discipline and high brow content, that failed Jade Goody and not her own failings.



Then, to root his arguments in a firmer theoretical footing, Gove turns to the writings of Gramsci.  Gove argues that Gramsci criticised theorists, such as Rousseau, who called for an education system that allows the child to shape their own learning.  Gove and Gramsci argue that this style of education disadvantages the disadvantaged whose families may not have a high level of cultural capital.  They, therefore, need education to provide a thorough base.  Gove and Gramsci argue that they will receive this from a traditional education; that is based on excellence, based on traditional subjects and cannon, and taught in a disciplined manner. Therefore, an education system, like the system created by Rousseau, stops the working classes from achieving success.




Grove argues that Gramsci's thoughts have been justified by our current situation which has an education system that espouses subjects that have a lower level of academic rigour at the detriment of those classical subjects that involve a high level of academic excellence.  This system does not give students a knowledge of culture that is needed to succeed in public and civic life. He argues, mirroring the thoughts of Gramsci,that this has left the disadvantaged without the cultural capital that they require to succeed in life.




We need to question Gove’s individualistic views of social mobility. For him, a person’s ability, or inability, to succeed rests upon their own access to cultural capital, ignoring the social aspects that help or hinder a person's ability to succeed. It ignores the way that our cultural/social/political environment, with its lobbyists and old boys network, inhibits or aids a person's progress.




It must be said that Gove's views are not simply academic. He focuses some of his attention on vocational education. Like Twigg, Gove bemoans the skills gap that exists within the United Kingdom. In addition, like Twigg, Gove places an emphasis on apprenticeship schemes. Moreover, he mirrors Twigg in his views that an emphasis be given to vocational skills and training. If we read another speech of Gove, we get a glimpse of one flaw in Gove's argument.. He seems not to acknowledge those industries that combine brains and brawn, such as computer game design and new media. In fact, we have seen, in his policy and rhetoric that he has a low opinion of subjects, such as media studies, which combine theoretical and practical skills.




It may seem, on the surface, that Gove, with all his pop references and talk of socialist theorists, is making a radical departure from traditional Conservative rhetoric. However, if we look more closely, we see that Gove’s views coincide with Conservative policy. Firstly, there is a strong emphasis on traditional subjects, canon and values that coincides well with his party's drive to conserve these very values and institutions.  Secondly, his views of education seem to opine for the Grammar school system favoured by the Conservative Party, in which academically oriented students receive a traditional education, leading to university. While, those students who do not have an aptitude for, or seem not to have an aptitude for, academic learning are pushed towards vocationally orientated technical schools, leading towards apprenticeships and a job. Once again mirroring the Labour Party’s policy, we see that this policy dichotomizes students and the subjects which they are encouraged to study. We see that some students are pushed towards the academic at the expense of the vocational skills that they will need to compete in, or understand, the world of work. While others, will be vocationally adept but will not have the cultural, or political capital to play a full role within the civic/political arena. We are in danger, if we follow this path of having politicians, who make the decisions that will control our future who have no understanding of work and the new technologies that are rapidly becoming the driving force of our future. While others, who have those skills will not have the skills needed to shape the policy that shapes the future of the technological forces; that they understand, that we use everyday and that will increasingly drive our future.




This dichotomy seems to be at the heart of both parties education policy. I fear that it will limit the possibilities open to both future citizens and the country that they will serve