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Stephen Eastwood
December 2016.
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Should Latin be on the National Curriculum?
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Yes. Classics are actually having a great revival at the moment.

I was talking at an event where the classicist Mary Beard spoke and I thought “why not start a debate among teachers about Classics and Latin?”. A lot of people are promoting Latin at the moment and want it taught in as many state schools as possible, but teachers are resistant. I’m certainly in favour of it, and whenever I talk to parents they think it’s a really good idea. They see something in it for their children. In Derbyshire, where I’m based, it’s only Repton – a public school – that teaches Latin, and that’s not fair.

Teachers don’t like the idea and the reason often given is Latin is not ‘relevant’. They think it’s a dead language, it’s not useful. But the important point about learning Latin is just that – it’s knowledge for its own sake – and that’s very resisted by teachers who think there are more practical things to teach. It’s also a great way of raising the debate about subjects.

"If you said that every primary school should teach sciences, then everyone would say that’s OK, because it’s useful for employment – but with Latin they’d ridicule the idea."

It’s a call for going back to teaching subjects for their own sake rather than focusing on trying to resolve social problems – everything from obesity to radicalisation – through schools, which is the idea that’s been prevalent in education since the New Labour days.

It’s a tragedy that traditional subjects like Latin- and modern foreign languages - are becoming the preserve of private and Grammar schools. I’d love to see Latin taught in every primary school. If you said that every primary school should teach sciences, then everyone would say that’s OK, because it’s useful for employment – but with Latin they’d be against it and ridicule the idea. But I heard of an initiative in which an independent school offered Latin as an after-school class to local, primary schools. It was ridiculed at first, but proved to be tremendously popular. It would be good to see more of these initiatives.