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Saturday, 26 November 2011

The one book of which there is never a shortage

Michael Gove, English Secretary of State for Education, has caused controversy (again) with his decision to send a copy of the King James Bible to every school in the country.

At an estimated cost of £375,000, the aim is to mark the 400th anniversary of what is undeniably a very important book.  In the words of the Department for Education:
"the King James Bible continues to shape our culture. Understanding the story of its publication and the impact it has had on today's English-speaking society is an important part of the teaching and learning of history and language."
This is probably all true.

Two questions come to mind, though.

First, will all similarly important books be sent to schools?  The Complete Works of Shakespeare?  Darwin's Origin of Species?  Victoria Beckham's Learning to Fly.  And if not, why has he chosen the one book of which there is never, ever a shortage in schools?  

Second, how does he imagine the eager population of a school (on average, about 150 in a Primary School; about 1,000 in a Secondary) will share this particular book?  Presumably he knows that most children can't happily share with one other child, let alone nine hundred and ninety-nine.  And this is true even when they don't care about the object of their attention.  Once they find out that the book will have a foreword by Mr Gove himself, schools across the country will descend into the animalistic frenzy of a One Direction concert.

Not surprisingly, secular groups have been outraged by this idea.  They see it as an unacceptable attempt to push Christianity further in schools.

But the King James Bible is not really a religious text in the way that 'the Bible' is.  Even Richard Dawkins likes it.  The book is one of those texts that make up what is sometimes called 'the canon': the books that form a literary foundation of our culture.

Personally, I think it is a great idea to promote great books.  But I cannot scratch the niggly feeling that this will not the first of a series of grand actions, and that it might just be a rather costly attempt to support a view of England that belongs in the history books.

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