Andrew Stone

History in the making?

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After provoking even headteachers to heckle him, Michael Gove's plans for a new curriculum for school history look to be in trouble. Andrew Stone looks at the growing campaign against them

It is quite an achievement to provoke a conference of headteachers to heckle you, but education minister Michael Gove has never been short of personal ambition. The high-handed arrogance which has characterised his treatment of teachers and schools, and which prompted the backlash from the recent NAHT conference, is equally evident in his plans for school history.

Priests of Our Democracy

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Marjorie Heins

Contrary to the common focus on the Hollywood Ten and nuclear spies, the most numerous victims of the McCarthyite witch-hunts in the US in the 1950s were public sector workers, and educationalists in particular. The stories of these "priests of our democracy", as Justice Frankfurter described them, and the class war waged against them by federal agencies, are the heart of this extensively researched and well-written account.

Continuum

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A cop show with a lead called Cameron may not sound enticing to readers of this magazine, but stay with me. For a start, Continuum reinvigorates the tired police procedural format with a time-travel story arc, and does so more credibly than the late and unlamented Crime Traveller.

In the process it raises interesting questions about the kind of future capitalism is creating, and the role of collective action in social change.

The plot follows Vancouver cop (or "Protector") Kiera Cameron, who is transported back in time from 2077 to the present when a group of rebels called Liber8 effect a daring escape from their imminent executions. She dedicates herself to preventing them from subverting the future, in the hope that she will discover a way to return to her time.

Victors' Justice

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Danilo Zolo, Verso, £14.99

The subversive notion that leaders of Western nations could be considered "war criminals" has become common sense for millions of people influenced by the anti-war movement. Victors' Justice describes the innovative precedents set by the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals - that a court could be set up on the terms of the victorious powers with retrospective jurisdiction and hold individuals to account for state crimes.

An inspector galls

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Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, has never been at the top of teachers' Christmas card lists.

But its popularity is reaching new depths with the introduction of a harsher inspection framework.

The new criteria use the blunt instrument of exam data to critique schools' performance. While this has been true to some extent since Ofsted's Tory-induced inception, it has always in the past been tempered by an awareness of the great challenges facing working class schools. But now the "value-added" progress enabled by teaching and support staff working in the most difficult conditions has been deemed irrelevant.

Why Not Socialism?

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G A Cohen, Princeton University Press; £12.99

This pithy little book was Marxist philosopher G A Cohen's last book before his recent death. It is an essentially optimistic work, which applies analytical logic to consider and respond to the familiar objections to the feasibility of socialism. Anyone who has been an activist for any length of time will recognise these points - essentially that socialist cooperation is utopian or inefficient or undesirable, or a combination of the above.

Stalin's Nemesis

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Bertrand M Patenaude, Faber & Faber; £20

Leon Trotsky spent the last four years of his life in a prison-like exile in Mexico. Pursued by Stalinist enemies, he survived an armed assault on his home before succumbing to the blows of Ramon Mercader, a GPU agent posing as a political sympathiser.

The Pitmen Painters

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Director Max Roberts; National Theatre, London, Until 14 April

This funny, warm and thought-provoking play tells the true story of a group of Ashington miners who went to an art appreciation course run by the Workers' Educational Association (WEA) and became renowned painters. Lee Hall explores similar themes here to those in his previous work, Billy Elliot, as so-called "high culture" clashes with the often grim reality of working class life.

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