Straight to the Core: Gove, the Arts and the Core Curriculum

Nelson Mandela said that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”, which is why politicians can’t help but meddle.

Here in the UK, with a long and – with a few notable exceptions – inglorious history of political meddling in the education of our children and young people, we currently have an ├╝ber-meddler in the shape of Michael Gove (pictured), the Secretary of State for Education.

Mr. Gove is convinced, with the passion of the true zealot, that our education system is broken and that it needs a complete overhaul. He is particularly obsessed with the need for a ‘core curriculum’ which essentially takes us back to the 3R’s with some science and technology attached. I have nothing personal against young people being able to read, write and count. Actually I think it’s quite important. I think science and technology are important. But I do object strongly when – in order to achieve his ambition – Mr Gove decides that the arts are an irrelevancy when it comes to the content of his ‘core curriculum’.

Mr. Gove is an intelligent man. After all he was a leading journalist on The Times, and therefore ought to be used to ensuring that he quotes his sources accurately. Well, he keeps going on about how his ideas for this arts-free ‘core curriculum’ are informed by his admiration for the Massachusetts Common Core of Learning. As well he might be. The education system in Massachusetts is at the top of the US educational league tables.

Now, I don’t know if Mr. Gove has actually read the Massachusetts Common Core of Learning, or whether – returning to his journalistic habits – he is studiously ignoring the inconvenient truth. But there, in the Massachusetts Common Core of Learning, in stark black and white, is the following:

“All students should:
Acquire, Integrate and Apply Essential Knowledge (in)
– Literature and Language
– Mathematics, Science and Technology
– Social studies, History and Geography
– Visual and Performing Arts
– Health

Under ‘Visual and Performing Arts’ there is:
– Know and understand the nature of the creative process, the characteristics of visual art, music, dance and theatre, and their importance in shaping and reflecting historical and cultural heritage.
– Analyze and make informed judgments regarding the arts.
– Develop skills and participate in the arts for personal growth and enjoyment.

Under Literature and Language:
– Read a rich variety of literary works including fiction, poetry, drama and nonfiction from different time periods and cultures, relating them to human aspirations and life experiences.
– Analyze implications of literary works, and communicate them through speaking, writing, artistic and other means of expression.

All students should:
Use Mathematics, the Arts, Computers and Other Technologies Effectively
– Apply mathematical skills to interpret information and solve problems.
Use the arts to explore and express ideas, feelings and beliefs.
– Use computers and other technologies to obtain, organize and communicate information and to solve problems.
– Develop and present conclusions through speaking, writing, artistic and other means of expression.

In 2006, UNESCO declared: “International declarations and conventions aim at securing for every child and adult the right to education and to opportunities that will ensure full and harmonious development and participation in cultural and artistic life. The basic rationale for making Arts Education an important and, indeed, compulsory part of the educational programme in any country emerges from these rights. Culture and the arts are essential components of a comprehensive education leading to the full development of the individual. Therefore, Arts Education is a universal human right, for all learners” (The Road Map for Arts Education,p3)

Please note the “essential components of a comprehensive education”. Perhaps Mr. Gove’s dislike of arts education derives from his antipathy to the word ‘comprehensive’?