Conservative Party conference: Attempts to make Shakespeare’s plays cool is ‘viciously racist’

Classic literature should be taught in its original form, youth worker tells the Tory faithful

Attempts to make classic literature relevant to ethnic minority pupils in the inner cities through “inane, yoof-centric” methods were denounced as “viciously racist” by a youth mentor who addressed the Conservative conference.

Lindsay Johns protested that it was “massively condescending” to believe that children can only respond to Shakespeare's plays if teachers are able to present them as “achingly cool”.

Mr Johns, a volunteer worker with teenagers in Peckham, south-east London, was invited to speak from the conference platform by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary.

He said: “Hamlet doesn't need a hip-hop sound track for young people to enjoy it or understand it. It's been doing just fine for the last 400 years.

”It's not only incredibly patronising, but also viciously racist to think black and brown kids in the inner cities will only 'get Shakespeare' if it is set to a hip-hop beat and presented in three minute, MTV Base style chunks.

“It is positively evil to deny inner-city kids access to the manifold joys of hearing their national poet's true voice - in essence, their birthright - simply because of a culture of low expectations.”

Mr Johns hit out at the “vacuous PC educationalists and the hand-wringing liberals” who opposed Mr Gove's requirement that secondary school children are to read at least two Shakespeare plays in full.

“The sonnets of Shakespeare or the novels of Austen and Dickens are relevant to all young people in this country today, irrespective of their class, colour or creed,” he said.

“To deny kids in the inner cities access to such mind-expanding, life-affirming and potentially life-changing authors is not only undeniably selfish and wrong, but is actually positively nefarious.”

Mr Johns said the Leaders of Tomorrow programme, where he works, was “unashamedly anti-ghetto grammar”, as well as “anti-baggy jeans, hoodies, baseball caps and any other pernicious accoutrements of bling culture which you see in those execrable music videos, and which we feel are retarding our young people's development and hindering their progress in the wider world.”

Lindsay Johns wanted classic literature to be taught (Reuters) Lindsay Johns wanted classic literature to be taught (Reuters)

 

He told the conference: “We aim to get our young people out of the debilitating spiral of the poverty of aspiration which can afflict so many in inner-city environments.”

Another speaker, Jo Morley, from Bedford, broke down in tears as she told of the impact the free schools initiative had had on her 14-year-old son's education.

Mr Gove mounted a scathing attack on two teaching unions whose members went out on strike, accusing them of putting ideology before their pupils' interests.

He said: “While we gather here today the leaders of the militant teaching unions have gone out on strike. And the reason they have gone out on strike in a new example of a twisted militant logic, is that they want to stop good teachers being paid more money.”

Members of NUT and NASUWT unions march through Cambridge (PA) Members of NUT and NASUWT unions march through Cambridge (PA)

 

Mr Gove said: “Children lose a day of education, parents have to scrabble to pay more for expensive child care and the prestige of the teaching profession, which we all want to see re-enforced and built up, takes a knock.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions