Michael Attenborough, outgoing director of the Almeida Theatre, has launched a brilliantly coherent attack on Michael Gove’s attitude to education and the Tory Government’s downgrading of the arts. A member of one of Britain’s best-known media dynasties, he let fly in a letter last week to The Stage. The content is now going viral. Here’s the nub of it.
‘I’d be surprised if any voters show up at the next general election. Have politicians really not noticed that the public now regard them with a lethal mixture of mistrust and boredom?
‘All we hear is endless debate around fiscal policy, the national debt, inflation, etc – in other words, exclusively materialistic, money matters. And while such considerations are important, they are only half the story and instinctively the public knows this. When are we going to find a politician who has the guts and the vision to address that which is invisible, that which we carry around inside us, the other half of the National Health, our emotional, psychological and spiritual health? Our humanity, our human nature.
‘Don’t be under any illusion; this is as connected to public life and politics as that which is visible. Many factors shape our personalities; one of the strongest is education. We are currently polluting our young people as carelessly as we are the planet. The dictatorial, narrow focus that governs the national curriculum is precluding any proper debate as to what kind of education we want for our children and our grandchildren.
‘The very word education comes from the Latin word ‘educo’, to lead out (not to cram in), and this is where the arts come in, with their unique ability to develop communication skills and moral and social awareness, to inspire creativity and self-expression, to instil a sense of self-esteem, self-confidence, achievement and hence identity. To produce rounded, responsible future citizens of the world. To question our assumptions and prejudices and reaffirm our basic values and our shared humanity. To crucially give the lie to the idea that nothing really matters any more except money.’