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Primary Education News
News Fists full of sausage, Michael Gove declaims his vision of the future
The education secretary starts to explain his new subject for schools – Goveathonics – but is suddenly whisked away to see three giant dancing M&M's
When I first met the future education secretary Michael Gove in 1992, I was writing jokes for him when he was a satirist on the groundbreaking Channel 4 opinio-tainment show A Stab in the Arras. Last summer I attended the programme's 20th anniversary reunion, a sausage-on-a-stick event at M&M's World in Piccadilly Circus. Also partying were the show's other writer, known today as the frog-loathing novelist Tibor Fischer, and three of Gove's former co-presenters, the footballing comedian David Baddiel, the epicure Tracey MacLeod, and Norman "Normski" Anderson, who was then, and remains, Britain's foremost Normski.
Despite remembering me, Michael Gove was unable to shake hands, as his two small fists were full of sausage meat that he had spat on and then squeezed into a pulp, but he was enthusiastic about the future. "There is a deeper philosophical question behind the forthcoming formulation of the new curriculum, Lee, and it is this, this, and this alone," Michael Gove proclaimed. "Namely, what is education for? Why test children at all? The answer Lee is this, and this only. It is in order to stratify society, to sift the wheat from the men, the sheep from the chaff, and the boys from the goats."
Pausing to compact his sausages, Michael Gove warmed to his theme. "There is an old saying in the Michael Gove family, Lee. 'Not every slave can be in the circus.' The facts children are taught are arbitrary. Of course, there is crude political capital to be gained from skewing their selection towards appeasing special interest groups – nostalgic patriots, frustrated nationalists, foaming Trotskyites, malleable religious factions, furious ethnic minorities and such like – but ultimately I'm looking for some way of judging one set of children against another. Which is why I have come up with one new, and revolutionary, subject that will be studied exclusively and by every child. Michael Goveathonics."
Michael Goveathonics intrigued me. But at that moment, Michael Gove was dragged away by a delighted Normski, wanting to show him three statues of giant dancing M&M's that had captivated his imagination. "Look after Lee, we go way back," Michael Gove called to his attendant special adviser, Dominic de Zoot, who co-helmed the twitter parody account Tory Education News. Soon Michael Gove was posing for photographers, his arm around Normski, his top button adrift, his tie suddenly askew, and wearing the rap singer's baseball cap at a coquettish angle. Zoot, carefree from sausage and coated chocolate as only a younger man can be, immediately forwarded me a first draft of a sample Michael Goveathonics exam paper from his app-pad.
Perusing the paper later, it dawned on me. All the questions in the Michael Goveathonics modules merely tested the pupil's ability to learn facts about Michael Gove. For example…
Question 3 Who, according to Michael Gove, "deserves, of all people, to come back from the dead and win a new following of thrill-starved souls in thrall to his dark magic"?
a) Comedian Charlie Williams
b) Dennis Wheatley
c) Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson of Throbbing Gristle
d) Ali Bongo
Question 18 In Michael Gove's 1985 poem Larking About where do the sexually active teenage boys he both despises and envies store their vomit?
a) In sealed Tupperware boxes
b) In pint glasses
c) In their heads
d) In their souls
Question 27 What was Michael Gove describing when he said "the cure might be worse than the disease"?
a) Going to bed wearing boxing gloves while a pupil at Robert Gordon's college, Aberdeen
b) Extra regulation of the press
c) Having his consistently bitten fingernails smeared with earwax by Matron.
d) Ed Balls
Question 104 The verb "gove" means…
a) To stare like a fool
b) To predict the future
c) To tame ferrets, shrews or weasels
d) To take plums from trees without consent
It was too perfect. Students completed the work online, allowing teachers to track their progress. Correct answers earned them points, which they could trade for images of spectacles or lips to make their own avatars further resemble Michael Gove. The answers to the Michael Goveathonics questions were undeniable and not open to debate, and should anyone question them, then Michael Gove himself would stand as the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong. Like some kind of god.
Although I'm not about to pretend that learning mathematical equations and proper grammar on a part scholarship and a waifs' charity bung at a private boys' school was not an invaluable and unfair privilege, the incidents of my education that I remember being especially inspiring all occurred outside, or on the fringes of, the curriculum. At my infant school I learned humility, having been kicked into the urinals amid hooting laughter and micturated upon at length. And that was just by the teachers! (I am no Pamela Stephenson Connolly, but I wonder if it was seeking to recreate this experience that drove me to become a stand-up comedian?)
At my junior school, our teacher blushed inwardly as she quietly stopped reading us Alan Garner's The Owl Service, having found it a little too fecund, thus sending me off to devour the book alone, sucked into a sphagnum bog of sexy druidical Celtoid mytho-poetics that were to leave unshiftable stains on the white underpant of my imagination.
In the second year of secondary school, an English teacher abandoned impulsively the proposed double spelling lesson to speed-declaim the entire second half of Albert Camus's The Outsider, turning vulnerable pre-teens into nascent existentialists.
And in the final week of sixth form the priest that taught me A-level religious studies stopped me in a corridor before lessons and advised me, apropos of nothing, that without doubt there could not be faith, setting me free, before hurrying away. This was a moment of lightning-strike educational clarity it would be difficult for even Michael Gove to quantify and replicate, and it had little to do with the ability to learn facts about Michael Gove by rote. And, in case you are wondering, the answers are b, c, b, a.
Stewart Lee has curated The Alternative Comedy Experience for Comedy Central, Tuesdays at 11pm.
Live dates details. David Mitchell is away