It's 2002, Jennifer Lopez’s arse is massive and I'm working as an editor in teenage publishing. We are supposed to be partly educational in attitude so I occasionally paraphrase an interview a teen idol has given and write something like "Bon Jovi says 'Stay in school!'".
The new CEO didn’t know anything about adolescent tastes but his neighbours’ kids had said they liked J.Lo.
At his first planning meeting, he declared I should put J.Lo into all the magazines. I mentioned that I had indeed already featured Jennifer Lopez on the cover of each of our 5 titles.
“Yes,” he snapped, “but we should have J.Lo. The girls next door think she’s great. AND she’s Latino.”
Me through gritted teeth: And for all those reasons we have already put Jennifer Lopez everywhere - too much probably.
Him through nicotine-stained gritted teeth: But I’m not asking for her, I’m talking about J.Lo.
Then J.Lo and behold! I saw on his list of things to discuss it said ‘Jay Lowe’ and the penny dropped. He hadn’t a bloody, cotton picking, public-school confidence misplacing, photocopier jamming, powerpoint presenting, smug-smile wearing, MBA quoting, fucking clue.
Previously I’d only bumped into him when he had demanded the IT department change his email address. The company style was first initial then surname so I was email@example.com. The company wasn’t called that but I can’t tell you what it was called for legal reasons. Neither can I tell you what my boss was called but his first initial followed by his surname made it sound like he was a lady who ran a brothel. Someone more secure might have carried it off but not him. Publishing is full of slightly prefecty but clever women and he hated being corrected by them.
His predecessors at the Acne Gazette (it wasn't called that either) were no better. The rollerblading years were the worst. The endless whacky pictures of rollerblading postmen, rollerblading dogs and for the Valentine’s Day issue; a dated picture of a French boy and girl holding hands while they rollerbladed in front of the Eiffel Tower.
I held teenage focus groups and geekily researched teen trends but it was no good telling my boss that the craze for in-line skates had passed because a. He would have said "I’m not talking about in-line skates, I’m talking about Rollerblades." b. He was so convinced he was right that he refused to listen.
But all that was 'back in the day' as I believe the kids today might say, so why mention it now? Michael. Gove. Like every single one of those bosses at ‘Puberty publications, Gove swooped in from Up-his-own-Arseland thinking he knew better than the grassroots people who had immersed themselves in the practicalities and issues of the job.
I know the education system has flaws and needs to adapt to a changing world but let’s just say if Gove becomes Secretary of State for Health, many hospitals will be taking delivery of a heck of a lot of leeches to fight MRSA.
He changed his mind about the EBacc this week and I credited him with facing facts and doing a 180 of his own accord. But apparently not. Like a U-turn in a driving test, examiners forced him to do it.
I don’t disagree with everything he has ever suggested; learning a language at primary school seems a good idea. I wasn’t sure about learning poetry by rote but some educationalists have claimed that reciting things word for word can be both comforting and inspiring in later life. And I guess it helps politicians regurgitate the party line on Question Time.
But why does Michael Gove seem so keen to change things in the face of what people tell him is actually required? Some cite his own face of course. (Is it me or does a lot of topical satire at the moment hinge on the words ‘ugly’ and ‘posh’?) Some people will say it’s because he’s a Tory which seems a lazy explanation. There was a lot of dumbing down caused by Labour in my opinion. But there is a large dose of ego and careerism at play with Gove and it isn’t helpful. There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’ and perhaps there should be no Gove in Government.
I taught stand-up comedy to kids with anger issues for a few weeks. They were amazing but I was a novelty and they were actually encouraged to express their frustrations. Every morning I sat in the staffroom with the real teachers; mostly women, who dealt with having 30 kids in a classroom, all with different needs at the same time, every day. And the crap they have to put up with.
If you think the world’s leading martyrs’ website is Al-Qaeda’s, you’re wrong. It’s Mumsnet. Many on there, along with hack comedians will point out the long holidays teachers get. But teachers have to be robust and dedicated for concentrated periods of the year.
I don’t know any more about raising educational standards than the boy Gove. If it was left to me I’d say make TV more challenging. Teaching seems to be like going on X-Factor, there are some naturals but there are a lot of idiots who think they’d be brilliant at it without actually knowing how hard it can be or ever doing it. These are the types of people that say things like “Those who can’t, teach.” Yeah, right, or become The Secretary of State for Education.