Monday, May 13, 2013

Mr Grumpy

I'm late to this, but Michael Gove's speech on "what it means to be an educated person" was really rather good. There aren't many politicians whose speeches can actually be read for pleasure, but Gove's always repay attention.

The extent to which Gove attracts hatred and loathing from the left is really quite remarkable - a testament probably to the extent to which his reforms are actually working. Even so, the response to the most news-y bit of the speech has been extraordinary.
One set of history teaching resources targeted at year 11s – 15 and 16 year olds – suggests spending classroom time depicting the rise of Hitler as a ‘Mr Men’ story.
If I may quote – “The following steps are a useful framework: Brainstorm the key people involved (Hitler, Hindenburg, Goering, Van der Lubbe, Rohm…). Discuss their personalities / actions in relation to the topic. Bring up a picture of the Mr Men characters on the board. Discuss which characters are the best match.”
I may be unfamiliar with all of Roger Hargreaves' work but I am not sure he ever got round to producing Mr Anti-Semitic Dictator, Mr Junker General or Mr Dutch Communist Scapegoat.
Aggrieved educationalists were split into two camps: those who argued that no-one would really teach like this, and that this was irresponsible sensationalism; and those who argued that this was a perfectly good way to teach, and that this was irresponsible anti-educationalism. The inventor of the approach sets the record straight here:
The activity actually starts with the following discussion point: "If the Weimar Republic was a Mr. Men character, which one would it be and why?". With a projected image of the characters on the screen it produces some interesting answers - for example "Mr. Worry" (inability and unwillingness to take firm action against the Nazis) to "Mr. Bounce" (the dramatic 'recovery' of 1924-28) and "Mr. Mean" (refusing to increase unemployment benefits after 1929 with disastrous results). Similarly, those students who regard Hitler’s speechmaking skills and charisma as the key to his rise to power will choose a different character to represent the Nazi leader compared to those who focus on his ability to merely capitalise upon the Weimar Republic’s weaknesses or those who blame the impact of the Great Depression - and so on.

I'm not sure this helps much. Reducing a polity to a single human characteristic is simply vacuous. Children's books can carry a wealth of ambiguity and sophisticated characterisation. Infants' books (and that's what the Mr Men series are - my 4 year old loves them, but if she's still a regular reader at 10 I'm going to be concerned) cannot. Reducing a complex historical period to a one-dimensional anthropomorphised emotion is actively unhistorical. What on earth are you supposed to learn by calling Hitler Mr Grumpy?


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