Is this the revenge of the Mr Men?

Janet Downs's picture
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“Before he rushes to judgment about young people, Michael Gove should make sure he has researched the evidence thoroughly. Otherwise he risks coming across as Mr Sloppy," said Tristram Hunt, Labour education spokesman and historian. Hunt was commented on the news, which first appeared here, that all but one of Gove’s surveys which supposedly proved teenagers’ ignorance of history were unreliable.

But has Mr Gove boobed again by attacking a history lesson plan which featured the Mr Men?

Gove faced questions yesterday by the Commons Education Select Committee about his condemnation of the resource. He told MPs he had personally done the research for his Brighton College speech after being alerted to the “Mr Men history site” by a Labour-supporting teacher described as a “very informative voice in the education debate”.

But the site is not named the “Mr Men history site”. It’s Active History, a popular site which contains hundreds of lesson plans for secondary age pupils. Teachers from all over the world subscribe so they can access them.

Mr Gove’s defence of his ridicule rested on this statement:

"The striking thing about it is that while there have been some people who've been offended, or who've disagreed with the thrust of the argument, no-one has disputed that it's a popular resource, no-one's disputed that it was material that was aimed at 15- to 16-year-olds, and opinion divides on whether or not it's appropriate."

The striking thing about Gove’s comment is that he seems to expect someone to say that this resource was unpopular. But that can’t be answered. Unless Russel Tarr, the website’s author, keeps a record of how often each resource is accessed then there’s nothing which will dispute or prove its popularity.

The second striking thing is that Mr Gove seems to expect someone to say the revision lesson wasn’t aimed at 15-16 year-olds when the rubric clearly says it was.  Perhaps Mr StruckDumb will step forward to claim that iGCSE candidates are not aged 15-16 but are really in Year 1 so any lesson plan designed for iGCSE can be used with 5 year-olds who are, of course, familiar with the Weimar Republic.

The popularity of the resource is actually irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether only a tiny number of teachers downloaded it or there were thousands. The teachers who chose to download it obviously thought it might work with their pupils. And that’s the point – they are professionals. They should be able to use their autonomy to choose activities they might find useful without the possibility of being sneered at by politicians or, worse, other professionals. Equally, they should be free to reject any plan they think is not appropriate.

What is also striking is that Mr Gove picked on one resource among thousands on a well-used and much-praised website to “prove” that the teaching of history had been infantilised.

But Russel Tarr quotes Einsten:

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Explaining something simply is not infantilising. And if explaining something simply means recruiting the Mr Men then so be it.

Orwell used animals to explain how revolutions can turn sour and how dictatorships manipulate and control. That wasn’t infantilising either.

 
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