Another day, another Michael Gove controversy. Perhaps one of the more inept members of parliament in recent years, he has changed the face of education, often to the dismay of students and teachers alike.
This week it would appear that Gove has turned his attention to being a media commentator, criticising history programmes such as Blackadder for providing ‘misrepresentations’ of the First World War.
Writing in the Daily Mail last week, the education secretary wrote that such shows ‘denigrate virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage.‘ He also took aim at shows such as Oh, What a Lovely War! and The Monocled Mutineer.
Aside from that, he categorised teachers who introduced such programmes to schoolchildren as ‘left-wing academics.’ Ouch.
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I wonder if Michael Gove has actually seen an episode of Blackadder. Throughout the entire series of Blackadder goes forth, it was clear that the soldiers were depicted as brave but with a hint of sadness about them, fearing for the end of their lives. I’m not sure if this was an attempt by Gove to paint every soldier as a fearless superhuman or something, but it is not fooling anyone. For countless accounts and memories, we know that the war was full of ordinary people from ordinary walks of life who did something extraordinary. They were, however, human nonetheless and so still experienced things like fear and desperation.
The sacrifice was great, I know. But to start attempting to change their memory is quite appalling. Unless of course, you assume Gove is trying to rewrite history to suit the victorious side a bit more – a tad ironic.
Indeed, Sir Tony Robinson, who played Baldrick throughout Blackadder’s run, said that Mr Gove had ‘made a very silly mistake… and I think to make this mistake, to categorise teachers who would introduce something like Blackadder as left-wing and introducing left-wing propaganda is very, very unhelpful. ‘Naturally, the opposition had something to say about this. Shadow Education Minister (and, appropriately enough, TV historian) Tristam Hunt called Gove’s comments as ‘crass’, saying that “The reality is clear: the government is using what should be a moment for national reflection and respectful debate to rewrite the historical record and sow political division.”
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It would appear that Michael Gove’s comments have not gone down well. I personally believe that programmes like Blackadder had a certain way of portraying characters and situations that brought to life what happened. Rowan Atkinson’s dry humour and Stephen Fry’s deliberately pompous nature gave us an alternative look at what happened, but without losing the message. Not for the first time then, I think Gove is some way off the mark.
Of course, this particular row has created a certain other debate about education… Should we use fictional television (or any television, for that matter) to help teach parts of history?
Yes Throughout my time growing up, I always enjoyed TV channels such as the History Channel, National Geographic and other factual channels. I also loved Blackadder and Dad’s Army and countless other shows.
Bringing TV into the classroom is a great way, it can be argued, to bring different historical events to children’s attention. For some reason, some events aren’t considered so interesting to students. I remember looking at a particular area of history that none of us found very interesting…. grab a copy of Blackadder to explain it in an amusing way, interest restored.
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For me, it was also nice to see famous faces acting out great parts of history in what are now considered classic comedic sketches. People like Rowan Atkinson, Arthur Lowe, Tony Robinson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Clive Dunn are all immensely famous people who came to prominence because of their great portrayals of history.
If you move to the non-fiction side of things, you can’t help but get inspired and interested by different stories of what happened back in past wars. I remember watching huge documentaries on the Second World War and being fascinated by what happened. It has a more interactive feel to it than simply reading out of a textbook. Television has a way of inspiring, when it’s the right thing.
No Well, there is always an argument that nothing beats getting out a textbook or finding the old war poetry to paint a great image of what’s going on. Many great accounts of war and other important events are written down for all of us to reflect upon.
You could also make the argument that recreating what happened in fictional pieces never truly lets us comprehend what happened, especially in the tragic horrors of war. Comic shows may not portray it accurately, at the expense of comedy.
Indeed, some people argue that some of the meaning is lost in certain historical dramas when famous actors are used in different parts. For one reason or another some people remember the actor more than the events that took place.
When you look at non-fiction programmes out there, designed to educate… Well, as Churchill is believed to have said “history is written by the victors” so you do wonder about the complete historical accuracy of even the ‘factual’ programmes out there. The trouble is, you could say the same about textbooks out there, seeing as many criticise history textbooks for leaving out certain parts of history that we choose to ignore (one example could be the Allied war crimes committed in the Second World War – never once did I see it in a textbook, but we have a great degree of certainty that it happened.)
So where do we sit on all of this? I personally believe that even fiction has a place in learning history. Great interpretations out there of different events, good or bad, are considered some of the finest works out there. And, as I’ve written previously, history is about interpretation to a great degree, I wrote about this when I looked at graduate prospects.
Perhaps Gove should get off his high horse. Such programmes are, ironically, a great part of our history and leave a greater legacy to us than he ever will. In my view, history can be remembered well from what we thought about it.
Where do you stand? Drop us a comment.
You can check our article on world history here.