Toby Young took time off from doodling “Gove is gorgeous” in bubble writing on his exercise book to warn that Tory education plans could be reversed. According to Young “Michael Gove's reforms are not irreversible. The Blob will return if Labour wins in 2015 “.
Readers might struggle with Toby's second sentence. Who, or what, is the Blob? The question is becoming more important as journalists try and demonstrate they are up to date with the latest Westminster trends by talking about the Gove v Blob battle.
Fans of 50’s trashy horror will recognise a reference to an expanding alien life form that almost swallows a Mid Western town: In the 1955 film “The Blob” is an amoeba-like alien that crashes into small town America. The Blob expands as it consumes all in its path. It becomes as big as a building before being destroyed by plucky townspeople, led by Steve McQueen.
So why does Young fear a faceless interstellar parasite is going to swallow up Gove’s achievements ? Does Gove himself, who also often talks of the Blob, fear enemies from outer space ?
Gove gave a clue to Blob-ologists in a hysterical red-baiting article be wrote for the Mail. Gove said “School reformers in the past often complained about what was called The Blob”. The ‘School Reformer’ who first raised Blob-fears is American conservative William J Bennett. He was Ronald Reagan’s Education Secretary from 1985-88. He wanted to stuff US schools full of endless tests, reduce the curriculum to mechanistic “facts” introduce new private schools providers, cut teachers salaries and reduce their professional skills. Unsurprisingly he met opposition from teachers, local education authorities and university teacher-training academics – so more or less everyone delivering education. He called this group “the blob”: I think he thought saying “everyone in education opposes my reforms” made him sound a bit mad. Whereas saying “ a giant galactic monster goo opposes my reforms” sounds, er, less mad.
As Gove and his sidekick Toby are so keen to follow William J Bennett’s Reaganite education plan – even though our schools are on the whole better than those in the USA – it’s worth watching what happened to Bennett. He wasn’t consumed by creatures from another planet, but he did have a horrible end. First he went to work for a private education firm called K12. They sold online schools technology, making profit by replacing “bricks and mortar” schools with “virtual” education. However, investigations by the New York Times and Washington post found his firm squeezing profits from public-school funding by raising enrollment, increasing teacher workload, and lowering standards. His “cyber schools” were found to be failing. Bennett didn’t stay with K12 – he has to resign after claiming on his radio show that “you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down”. So when Young or Gove start talking about the “Blob” in education, understand they mean that they are following a racist Reaganite who wanted to make profit selling technologically glossy by substandard kit to schools.