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

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season