Gove tries to claim Gramsci

Speaking on 5 February, Tory education minister Michael Gove claimed to have been inspired by Antonio Gramsci, who was a leader of the Italian Communist Party in its early years.

Either Gove has never read Gramsci, or he is lying about him.

Especially since Harold Entwistle wrote his book Gramsci: Conservative Schooling for Radical Politics, it has become quite widely accepted on the left that Gramsci had what would now be called 'reactionary' views about schooling, or even about education in general.

Both of these things are untrue. He did not hold the kind of views about schooling that Gove ascribes to him. And he did formulate a revolutionary socialist conception of adult education.

Gramsci did criticise ostensibly "progressive" educational reforms introduced by the fascist government in Italy, under Giovanni Gentile as education minister. What Gramsci was criticising at this point was the combination of Montessori-type approaches with a certain system of vocational education introduced by Gentile (i.e. rather than Montessori's methods per se, though Montessori did support and collaborate with the fascist regime).

He was talking about the type of schooling that a workers' government would need to introduce, not about a reform of the arrangements made by the capitalist class. He wrote: "If one wishes to break this pattern one needs, instead of multiplying and grading different types of vocational school, to create a single type of formative school (primary-secondary) which would take the child up to the threshold of his choice of job, forming him during this time as a person capable of thinking, studying and ruling - or controlling those who rule".

He did emphasise some of the merits, as he saw it, of the set-up that preceded Gentile's reforms, but he was not saying that it would be either possible or desirable for a workers' government simply to go back to that, nor was he saying that the existing state could or should do so.

Gove - or whoever wrote his speech - tries to do what many Tory ministers have done in speeches in the past, ie set up a contrast between two imaginary entities: an extreme form of progressivist pedagogy on the one hand and a "traditional" or "academic" teaching method - as if these are (a) real options, and (b) the only options.