A sonnet to Michael Gove

For dverse poets we’ve been asked to write a Miltonic sonnet. Although I live in New Zealand, I still follow the education news in Britain. I’m generally appalled by what the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, is doing. Here, I address him regarding his history curriculum (see this Guardian article for more about the issues):

In order you’ll put all our kings and queens,
lining them up to be taught by timeline,
old rulers consigned to junior minds,
where facts will be learnt by human machines.
With less time given to what might have beens,
children will miss important subtle signs,
cramming names and dates, no room to opine,
or deeply understand historic scenes.
To fully grasp how history courses,
don’t just recite and respond flippantly,
we should teach first and secondary sources,
evaluate, question, think critically.
We have to learn from the past: good and bad,
so time to end your education fads.

Listen here (courtesy of soundcloud):


40 thoughts on “A sonnet to Michael Gove

  1. excellent…love topic…and a debate we have here as well…what to teach…as you probably know we teach to the test, though many are starting to figure that out a little better with time…we have a US History class that focuses on well the US but also a world history that focuses on everywhere else…i agree i think history should be well rounded and not so focused as there is much we can learn there…not only in our own country but everywhere…well done on the form

    • The teaching of History is a hot topic in Australia too – as we move into the early days of rolling out the Australian Curriculum! The History course currently is beyond teaching time allocated in schools – especially those schools currently locked into one semester History and one semester Geography for Years 7-10..

  2. Excellent work, both form and content. It’s so much easier to test rote learning–give these dates and names back to me on a test–than it is to test a true mastery of how “history courses.” But if we fail to teach kids to really think, who cares about whether they know names or dates? Anyway, nicely done!

    • Thanks. i think there can be a tendency for each generation to think its education was superior to the next (whether true or not), and that can lead to unnecessary (political) meddling, which stresses children who find goalposts changing all the time.

  3. History and I did not get along until I started college. Perhaps if it had been taught in rhyme, such as your fabulous sonnet, I would have developed an interest at a younger age.

  4. Oh I so agree with your thoughts, it’s the same here history gets lost in the curriculum, I think history is so important and it was one of my favourite subjects at school. You did a wonderful thing with this form, great rhythm and it said something so important. Excellent write!

  5. ah this is so true..it’s not just about facts and figures but trying to understand what happened and why it happened…the older i get, the more i want to understand how history played together and there’s so much to learn…excellent work rowan

    • Thank you Claudia. So many factors come in to play with how events arise that we need children/adults to have flexible enough minds to handle the complexity.

  6. This hits me hard and close to my heart as this is one of my passions. Western education outside of Finland needs a huge overhaul. We have these cookie cutter factory schools pumping out kids for corporate agenda. Discipline, repetitive mundane is what we teach, when we should be teaching the whole student molding critical thinkers not afraid to question authority respectfully. You capture this nicely. Thanks for the hit upside the head.

  7. I appreciated you sharing a sonnet on this topic. Truly, I think that anyone can LOOK up on the internet names and dates of all the kings, queens, famous whoevers. That information is readily accessible for all, does not have to be memorized. Being able to draw conclusions, have opinions, etc. is MUCH more valuable to concentrate on!

  8. Milton himself was consistent with the structures of his octaves, but had quite a number of variations in his sestets. You’ve managed to structure your sonnet well, and brought it to bear on a very relevant topic, the history curriculum in England, and through this, our views on education. Milton – having pioneered poetic forms as social commentary, in his era – would have approved.

  9. Wonderful sonnet! If I am correct, in the 80’s our government eliminated the requirement for current events in high schools…that, combined with history and critical thinking is being taken out of Texas curriculum…to the detriment of our grandchildren and their kids and so on…is unacceptable to me…I hope this move us to care and make ourselves heard..thanks you..

  10. Fun and accurate jab indeed — I like political poetry. And the reading was a great addition. Thanx for taking the time to record it.
    I am pleased that my son is learning a bit less American history and a bit more about the world than I did when I was his age.

    • I used to love it too (and still do). I nearly studied it at University, which meant I had to put up with the joke “but there’s no future in that” : )

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