Matthew Burns

LATIN UNDER THREAT?

The Times has recently reported on concerns that A Level reforms may mean a decrease in the number of pupils taking Classical subjects – such as Latin, Greek, or studying the ancient world in English through Classical Civilisation or Ancient History – at A Level.  

This would be a reversal of what has been the case in recent years, in that more pupils study Classical subjects every year – for instance, Latin GCSE numbers have risen by 25% over the past three years nationwide.  Not something to be sniffed at – particularly at Sedbergh, where our Classical Civilisation GCSE cohort has more than tripled in the past two years and we saw 100% A* grades at A2 Greek in 2014!

So why are they so popular?  Isn’t Latin “as dead as dead can be?” Parents may shudder to recall mechanical verb chanting, or the infamous “Romans go home” sketch from Monty Python.  Of course, studying the formal patterns of Classical languages does provide a strong basis for language acquisition and understanding – the US College Board reports that Classicists have the best verbal reasoning skills of any applicants for graduate level courses at university.

However, in the 21st century Classics pupils are far from just linguists.  In lessons our pupils are geographers when they study the cataclysmic eruption of Mount Vesuvius that buried the city of Pompeii in ashes.  They’re historians when they evaluate different accounts of the debauched behaviour of Roman emperors.  

They’re artists as they evaluate the purpose and skill behind Athenian vase painting.  They’re philosophers as they critique Aristotle’s ethical theories.  And of course, they’re students of literature as they analyse just what makes the epic poetry of Homer and Virgil so timeless and powerful – even in the original Latin or Greek.  

Classics is the ultimate cross-curricular subject – because it informs every aspect of the world and how we live in it today.  The Government’s latest reforms demands education in “British values” – and where else does democracy, one of the fundamental British values, originate than the ancient Athenians thousands of years ago?

Classicists are Lord Mayors of London (Boris Johnson).  Classicists write the world’s best-selling book series (J K Rowling).  Classicists form the world’s biggest band (Chris Martin from Coldplay).  All that can start with a little “amo, amas, amat” – but that’s only the beginning.

Andrew Hollingbury

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