Michael Gove, Nelson Mandela and the King James bible

by Stephanie Peacock

It is often said that the only way a politician can leave a legacy is to name a building after himself. I say “him” because, other than a hundred Conservative clubs in the provincial towns of England, I cannot think of a building that carries the name of a former female politician. There is the Centre Pompidou in France, The Reagan National airport. You can’t walk through a Labour borough in London without finding at least one tribute to Nelson Mandela.

Michael Gove, though, got an ‘A’ for originality last week. Michael has created a whole new genre of political legacy. Without any sense of irony, Mr Gove has personalised his very own version of the bible. For ever more, the Michael Gove King James bible will be a sought after piece of ebay memorabilia.

Of course it was Mrs Thatcher who once said that “No-one would remember the good samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had money as well”.  Of all of Mrs Thatcher’s biblical quotes, this is the one that most showed her to be out of touch. The Michael Gove King James bible may be the education secretary’s good samaritan moment: an act of political messaging that spectacularly misses the mark.

Pupils and parents will see this for what it: a misguided and expensive piece Govian spin. According to reports, the gesture could cost the taxpayer £375,000. At a time when dinner ladies are striking over their pension increases this is an appalling piece of mixed messaging. There are a lot of dinner ladies you could make happy with £375,000.

Michael Gove is a contradiction, a man who lives in many eras. There is the utopian Gove who lives in John Major’s vision of 1950s Britain with its village green cricket and warm beer and, now with added texture to the mirage, every child clutching their own copy of the Michael Gove King James bible.

Then there is the other Michael. Gove the ruthless ideologue, of the 1980s axe wielding Thatcherite variety. In this world, it still might be acceptable to hold your Michael Gove bible but certainly not your free bottle of milk.

The two Michaels in conflict make it hard for him to understand what a child in 2011 would do with their personal copy of the Michael Gove King James bible. The two Michaels assume that a state school pupil has no interest in British cultural history. This is not my experience from the classroom. Capture a child’s imagination and you can fill their minds with the most exquisite gems of history, but to do this requires creativity and, dare I say it, modern thinking.

If Gove was serious about allowing pupils to explore the richness of the King James bible, then he should spend the money on a website. The text of the bible, combined with study modules, leading commentators and area for discussion will get more young people engaging with the manuscript than sending one hard copy to a school secretary. But actually reading and understanding the context of this version of the bible is not the primary intent of Mr Gove. The story of the Michael Gove King James bible appeared in the Daily Telegraph. Mr Gove, living in John Major’s 1950s, envisions blue rinse Tory ladies nodding in approval over potted tea and marmalade on crusty toasted bread. It’s almost quaint but not quite enough to overcome the shudder when I think that he may be in charge of our children for another three years.

The case of the Michael Gove King James Bible points to other areas where the conflicted secretary of state gets distracted from the core business of teaching and learning. It’s not just his preoccupation with promoting a so-called classical education, with every child learning Latin and the history of Her Britannic Majesty’s Empire.

In a recent article in the Guardian he appeared to express surprise that a school that was “predominately Asian” should enjoy Shakespeare. It’s often the tiny observations that point to a bigger problem. And the bigger problem for Mr Gove is that he simply misunderstands children from different any lifestyles different to his own – that of the London elites with big dining tables.

In throwing money away on a biblical gesture, he isn’t just living in two different eras; he is living in a different world. The tragedy of Michael Gove is that he knows it.

Stephanie Peacock is a teacher and one of the West Midlands representatives on the national policy forum.

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4 Responses to “Michael Gove, Nelson Mandela and the King James bible”

  1. Nick says:

    We could always create a new tax to pay off government debts. After all new taxes solve every ill, including Scrofula and STDs.

    Now for a name.

    How about labour tax with a small ‘l’ so as its not confused with the Labour party, capital ‘L’?

    Or how about Brown tax?

  2. Stephen says:

    “No-one would remember the good samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had money as well”

    I’ve got to disagree with you and agree with Margaret Thatcher. It is important IMO when reading/quoting the Bible that all parts are understood. The good Samaritan is not just about a good deed. It is also that the Good Samaritan was short of cash but still gave the inn keeper what he could. It is also about the trust shown by the inn keeper that he agreed to look after the injured man at his expense until the Samaritan came back and reimbursed him. There are multiple levels of ‘love your neighbour’ in the parable and the value money is important in understanding them.

  3. swatantra says:

    How about all the Parties forgoing printing their next Party Manifestos and donating the money to the King James Bible Trust instead? They could throw in a free gift of a crucifix for each child as well with the money raised.

  4. bullwick says:

    A man on holiday in Greece stops at a Taverna and asks the owner if he has a room for the week. Yes was the reply and it’s 200 euro’s. The man agrees and gives him the money and says ‘ I will be back in two hours with my suitcase ‘.
    The Taverna owner takes the 200 euros and nips up the road to pay a builder for repairing the wall at the back of the Taverna. The builder takes the 200 euros and knocks on the door of a plumber to pay him for a repair to his water pump which supplies his house with water. The plumber takes the 200 euros and pays an electrician who has just rewired some lights and plugs in his house. The electrician takes the 200 euros and nips down the road to the Taverna and pays the owner for a large familiy meal which they had the night before. Five minutes later the man on holiday arrives back at the Taverna with his suitcase and apologies because he has to leave the Island in one hours time. The Taverna owner gives him his money back and says kalispera to the man who leaves quite happily.

    Moral: What goes round comes round.

    If Mr Gove had given ONE Bible to each school and asked them to pass it around each pupil he could have saved £370,000 pounds.

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