Gove + Zuckerberg = Elitist Victorian Education 101

Mark ZuckerbergThis past week, education secretary Michael Gove suggested that he wants a national curriculum that will create the next Mark Zuckerberg.

Okay, that’s not quite what he said. If that had been what he’d said, I might not have bothered to write this post, as surely that would have implied a curriculum that was creative, fostered ingenuity and was embracing of new technologies. What the education secretary actually said was:

“When Zuckerberg applied to college he was asked what languages he could speak and write – as well as English – he listed, French, Hebrew, Latin and Ancient Greek. He also studied maths and science at school. He would have done very well in our English baccalaureate. And the breakthroughs his rigorously academic education helped create are now providing new opportunities for billions.” (, 2011)

Now, I’ve got no problem with Mark Zuckerberg. He created a website that has revolutionised social networking; he’s an astute guy, working alongside some brilliant individuals who have helped him to grow his creation into a billion dollar company; and from what I can tell, he is not actually the complete a**hole that the book: ‘The Accidental Billionaires‘ and the film: ‘The Social Network‘ would have you believe him to be. However, I do not believe that the fact that he can speak and write “French, Hebrew, Latin and Ancient Greek” or that he “studied maths and science at school” had anything to do with his success. I’m fairly certain that his study of IT had a significantly large part to play in it. That, coupled with a healthy dose of ingenuity (not a subject on the national curriculum) and creativity (again not a subject in itself) had a major role in helping him create Facebook.

You see, there are two significant problems with Michael Gove’s thinking. One, there is plenty of proof to suggest that education does not guarantee success. The myriad of entrepreneurs who have been successful ‘sans-education’ is huge. Two, the subjects he refers to as being part of an “academic education” are only a small piece of the puzzle in helping young people to develop the skills they need to survive in the 21st century. The point being, that a student who studies Philosophy, Drama and Art is just as likely to be the next Mark Zuckerberg as a student who studies Maths, IT and Latin.

What I resent is the implication that certain subjects are considered more academic than others. In fact, we should insert the word ‘better’ in place of academic, that is what Michael Gove means after all! This is the sort of elitist thinking that was being steadily eroded during the Labour party’s time in government. It is now being rebuilt by the so-called ‘coalition’, like elitist bricks stuck together with an alarmingly unhealthy dose of cynicism towards new technologies. The curriculum review is a waste of time and tax payers money; nothing more than a placation exercise; as I firmly believe that Michael Gove knows exactly what he wants the national curriculum to look like. In case you haven’t heard, Michael Gove wants lessons to “emphasise the learning of facts”. I think both my own students and Mark Zuckerberg would tell Michael Gove to go shove his lessons where the sun doesn’t shine. After all, he can find out anything he needs to know via Google or by asking any one of the 500 million people who are on Facebook. I’m not suggesting that facts have no place in education but to see them as the basis of an “academic education” is more 19th century than 21st.

It’s time to make our voices heard. One subject is not better or more important than another. We should be offering our students greater choices and freedoms not taking them away. And we should not be considering a return to a Victorian era curriculum that will certainly leave British school children wanting in comparison to their European, American and Asian counterparts. It’s time to take a stand. It’s time for disruption, it’s time for the edupunks to stand up and be counted.

Who’s with me?

Image: Jolie O’Dell

Published by

James Michie

Husband, Educator, Writer, Runner...

26 thoughts on “Gove + Zuckerberg = Elitist Victorian Education 101”

  1. These are indeed very worrying times! I cling onto the rumours that I have heard that Gove will not be in position within 3 months! Will that change things? I don’t know…

    What can we do? Voice our opinions and hope he listens? Somehow I don’t think that will work. What I hope is that school leaders are strong enough to meet the legal requirements of a new curriculum in a creative way with technology or tools through a vision for what is right for the pupils at that school that engages them.

    One thing for sure… As a profession, we face the biggest challenge to date! To fight, speak, lead, challenge, enthuse, engage, enrich and be creative for our pupils! Isn’t it bad enough that they are being educated in a climate of financial crisis, but in addition to this a climate of political crisis in education?

    1. I fear that no matter who is at the helm the damage has been done. We are on a ship whose journey has been plotted for us.

      But all is not lost. After all, we have two choices:

      1. We can sink the ship.
      2. We can mutiny and plot our own course.

      I am far more in favour of the latter but if worst comes to worst…

  2. Hear, hear! We have to stop this change as it is taking us so backwards it is untrue. We live in a 21st century not 40 years ago when ICT was a futuristic thought. Scary!

    1. Some of us live in the 21st century, yes. Clearly though, there are those of us for whom the 20th century (let alone the 21st) never happened and are clinging furiously to our slates and copy books!

    1. Fantastic post Jamie, thanks for the link. I am subscribed to your blog but that one seemed to have slipped me by.

      “Regressed” is definitely the word. I have not been a teacher for that long (in the grand scheme of things) but from my limited perspective, education had certainly changed for the better since the days when I was a student myself, under the previous Tory government. To think that we could be head back towards the sort of education I had myself or worse is exceptionally worrying.

      I’m a forward thinker. Backwards simply does not compute – literally!

  3. Couldn’t agree more, although I think now more than ever we need to be cautious of just preaching to the choir. Twitter and the blogoshpere will of course echo with cries of damn right, the big challenge is twofold namely a) how do we encourage our school leaders to be leaders rather than followers. The simple fact is, if schools refuse to buy in to this baloney then a very strong statement is sent. This leads us, however, to the second challenge b) there are too many schools, heads and educators invested in an elitist, selection based education system that still sees success as 5 A*-C in a narrow band of subjects. For grammar schools, academies etc it’s in their interests to allow this kind of elitist bullshit to re-dominate the educational system.

    It’s not the willing edupunks and innovators we need the support of, it’s how to win over those schools who are quite comfortable with a victorian education because it’s how they define success for their pupils.

    1. Totally agree! And I sincerely hope that the choir can sing loud enough to encourage our school leaders to join in. I too worry that the current stats based culture will result in most school leaders doing everything they can to please the government rather than considering the best interests of the people that actually matter – the kids.

    1. Ironic, isn’t it, that the education he envisions for young people is most likely reminiscent of the education he received himself. And therefore, is in itself, an indictment of how bad an education it would be!

  4. I remember watching the pre-election Education Debate and being horrified at Gove’s rhetoric, but then being almost reassured by the advent of the coalition, because David Laws had been as impressive in that same debate as Gove had been frightening. It was a huge loss when Laws stepped down just a few days later… Who’s advising this Education Secretary? Katharine Birbalsingh, no doubt, but who else? So very frustrating…

    Personally, I cling to the notion that perhaps the choice of subject and content don’t matter as much as the acquisition of good learning habits and dispositions. I don’t in fact worry too much about whether or not ICT is taught as a discrete subject: I think it’s a core literacy and inspirational teachers like the people writing here will be weaving it into every discipline, whatever Gove may say.

  5. Excellent post James-was thinking exactly the same when the original link came out-was trying to think how I could convey those thoughts into 140 (no chance!).

    Agree entirely with your sentiment.

    Gove has indeed lost plot and I am sure will endeavour to persuade us that his ‘vision’ is the right one for the future education of our pupils.

    It’s up to us to keep the faith!

  6. I think this is getting worrying. Gove clearly doesn’t understand what ICT is all about. Probably thinks it’s all Word and PowerPoint. I would agree that ICT is not a purely “academic” subject but we need students – all students – to understand it and all its implications – not just to be competent users.

    Our generation started using the internet bit-by-bit. Embracing new aspects of it and learning about it as it came along. This current generation and all the ones to follow are being hit with the full – and growing force before they are old enough to be able to synthesise it.

    1. …and Media Studies too. The point is that the World Wide Web is here to stay and increasingly, more than ever, business, commerce, education, elections and campaigns are beginning life online.

      In case he hadn’t noticed, the world has become a much smaller space. People’s outputs can reach a global audience in seconds and this has huge implications for the current and future generations of children that enter our doors.

      It is surely then our responsibility to provide them with the tools to decipher the online landscape both technically, e.g. website creation or email security; and analytically, e.g. how media institutions are using services like Facebook and Twitter to augment their more traditional outlets.

      The very absence of IT and Media in Gove’s rhetoric speaks volumes – suggesting that they have no place in his curriculum and the notions I have sited above have never crossed his mind.

    1. Thanks for explaining this one via Twitter – as I said, I was definitely having slow moment when I first read it. 🙂

      I guess it depends on how you measure success. However, Zuckerberg and his popular social experiment are judged in the future I think it is fair to say that he has succeeded in connecting people. Whether those connections are meaningful or not is a different matter all together. Like Brett Kelly wrote recently I feel that FB “involves wading through an incessant flow of inane bullcrap” and I simply do not have time for it.

      Besides anyone that I want to have a meaningful connection with I see everyday; have their number in my mobile; have their email address or speak to them regularly via Twitter. FB as far as I see it, is like going back to your home town every time you log on, only to bump into people you didn’t intend to ever see again.

      Okay, realised I have gone way off point and entered into a whole different discussion. Still, I feel better for getting that one off my chest!

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