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Primary Education News
News Michael Gove attacks use of Mr Men in iGCSE history lessons
Education secretary claims use of Mr Men characters to study Hitler is symptom of culture of low expectations
The education secretary, Michael Gove, has attacked a "culture of low expectations" in English schools, criticising the use of Mr Men characters in teaching 15 and 16-year-olds about Hitler.
Too many teachers were treating "young people on the verge of university study as though they have the attention span of infants," Gove said. He said worksheets, extracts and mind maps had replaced whole books, sources and conversation in history and other subject lessons.
"As long as there are people in education making excuses for failure, cursing future generations with a culture of low expectations, denying children access to the best that has been thought and written, because Nemo and the Mr Men are more relevant, the battle needs to be joined," Gove said.
Gove told the Brighton College education conference: "I may be unfamiliar with all of Roger Hargreaves' work [the author of the Mr Men series], but I am not sure he ever got round to producing Mr Antisemitic Dictator, Mr Junker General or Mr Dutch Communist Scapegoat.
"But I am familiar with the superb historical account Richard J Evans gives of the rise, rule and ruin of the Third Reich and I cannot believe he could possibly be happy with reducing the history of Germany's darkest years to a falling out between Mr Tickle and Mr Topsy-Turvy."
Active History, the online resource for history teachers Gove was referring to, has a lesson plan in which iGCSE students depict the rise of Hitler as a Mr Men story. The plan says Year 11 students should have finished studying the rise of Hitler prior to this activity, which is designed to help teenagers test their knowledge by sharing what they have learned with Year 6 students.
It encourages teachers to get pupils to "brainstorm the key people involved (Hitler, Hindenburg, Goering, Van der Lubbe, Rohm…). Discuss their personalities/actions in relation to the topic," the website says.
The Active History site is run by a history teacher currently working in an international school in France.
Other resources produced by the Historical Association, which speaks for history teachers, encourage primary school teachers to teach about the early Middle Ages by asking pupils to study the depiction of King John as a cowardly lion in Disney's Robin Hood.
Gove has faced criticism from academics and even one of his own advisers over his plans to reform the history curriculum.
In a letter in the Observer signed by the presidents of the Royal Historical Society, the Historical Association, the higher education group History UK and senior members of the British Academy, the education secretary was attacked for failing to offer children a broad education in the subject.
Others have said drafts of the new curriculum amount to little more than a list of dates in history and are too focused on Britain.
Gove also criticised the Guardian saying: "I also suspect that all of us who are parents would be delighted if our children were learning to love George Eliot, write their own computer programs, daring to take themselves out of their comfort zone and aspiring to be faster, higher or stronger.
"Unless, of course, we write for Guardian Education."
He also attacked the writer and poet Michael Rosen, who writes a column on a Tuesday in the Guardian's education pages. Rosen has attacked a new spelling, punctuation and grammar test primary pupils will have to sit for the first time this summer.
"Mr Rosen criticised the test on the basis that there was no such thing as correct grammar … I could argue that nothing is more likely to condemn any young person to limited employment opportunities – or indeed joblessness – than illiteracy," Gove said.
"I could point out that the newspaper Mr Rosen writes for has a style guide, a team of trained subeditors and a revise subeditor as well as a night editor and a backbench of assistant night editors to ensure that what appears under his – and everyone else's – byline is correct English."