Michael Gove dumps Mary Seacole
The Education Secretary Michael Gove has bowed to the detractors of great Victorian Mary Seacole, and removed her from the National Curriculum.
Gove has stated that students should learn about traditional figures such as Oliver Cromwell and Winston Churchill.
Truth is, Michael Gove would find it difficult to find a history teacher who sacrificed teaching either Winston Churchill or Oliver Cromwell for Mary Seacole.
Seacole’s detractors such as William Curtis of the Crimean War research have called the interest in Seacole, ‘a disgrace to the serious study of history’.
This view along with Gove’s says more about their own prejudices rather than illuminating, educating and inspiring children of all races.
Seacole’s story is much more than about the Crimean war where she made her name. It is a story of endeavour, great bravery, but perhaps above all it is about how an ordinary woman, with no privilege, and no support from the nation she served, became so revered by the army class she administered and the British public.
On her own volition, Seacole left her native Jamaica for London to sign up as one of Florence Nightingale’s nurses. She was refused both a ticket to travel, and when she eventually found another steamer that would take her, she was also then refused by the British establishment to help the nursing efforts in the Crimean war.
Undeterred she made her own way to Balaclava a town in Crimea, in the Ukrain and set up her own brand of resting place and nursing home for the injured British soldiers very near the front line.
Word soon got back to London about this courageous woman, who it was said would be dodging bullets to get men to safety. Her contemporary at the time Florence Nightingale poured scorn on Seacole’s unconventional methods, including allowing dying and very sick men to have a ‘tipple’. However, these very brave men loved Seacole, and after the war had ended, when they heard that she had fallen on hard times rallied to support her.
What makes this story fascinating is that it wasn’t just the officer and army class that sought to help Seacole after the war. It was estimated that more than 80,000 people came out to pay tribute to this woman. When was the last time that amount of people –the size of Wembley stadium full, came to pay tribute to an ordinary woman? I can’t remember either.
By any standard Seacole was a great Victorian, that a creative teacher can wrap around subjects such as the Crimean war, nursing, racial prejudice, and above all that great human endeavour, particularly by an extraordinary ordinary woman. A simple yet valuable lesson that seems to have been lost on our Education Secretary Michael Gove.