Michael Gove and the King James Bible

The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has vowed to spend £370,000 sending a King James Bible to every state school in the country. According to the Guardian, the aim of the proposal is to ‘help pupils learn about the Bible’s impact “on our history, language, literature and democracy” and will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the authorised version’s publication’. Unsurprisingly, several church leaders have given their assent to the move whilst the National Secular Society has vehemently opposed it. Equally predictably, an ‘online Guardian poll showed an 82% opposition‘. To the Guardian’s surprise (despite failing to catch anybody unawares who pays any sort of attention to what the man says), Richard Dawkins has come out in support of the proposal in today’s Observer.

Now, one must point out a few issues with this. In the first instance, despite Gove’s claim that this will aid pupil learning, one gets the distinct impression this is a rather more self-aggrandising proposal. For example, does learning about the cultural impact of the King James Bible require gold-leaf lettering stating that the Education Secretary personally sent the Bible to the school? Similarly, is Michael Gove’s own personal foreword – set to replace the already existing foreword – really necessary to achieve his stated aims? One suspects the answer, in both cases, is a firm ‘no’. The Education Secretary has not asked whether any school wants a new copy of the King James Bible but has simply foisted this upon them (along with his own, personal foreword). This suggests he is less concerned with how the school will use it for educational purposes and rather more concerned with having his name in gold-leaf lettering.

In respect to Gove’s stated aims, there are several further questions. It seems highly unlikely that there are any state schools in the country that do not hold at least one copy of a King James Bible already. Even were we to grant the presupposition that there are indeed some schools without their own copy, how effective could one Bible conceivably be as a teaching aid in a school of several hundred pupils? Moreover, why is he sending one copy to every school in the country – as this proposal clearly presumes one solitary Bible is an adequate teaching aid for any school – when there are doubtless many schools that already own one?

However, the biggest issue is not that Mr Gove is spending £370,000 on something that will do absolutely nothing to achieve his stated aims. Nor is it that this proposal amounts to little more than a self-important act of hubris. The real issue is, despite £370,000 amounting to little more than governmental pocket change, many people will become extremely exercised about this issue and, in the process, divert their attention away from the very real millions and billions squandered elsewhere. In reality, despite my feeling that spending £370,000 on a single King James Bible for every school in the country is not a wise use of that money, it is nevertheless not a large enough sum to trouble me too much if it is spent in this way. Sadly, many people will spend so long agitating for, or against, this colossal waste of time that they will overlook much larger, more significant issues taking sums out of the public purse.