Most recent update:4/1/2004; 5:06:52 AM

 Monday, March 15, 2004

NUNTII:  Another Defense of Classics ...

... from the Scotsman. We've featured a couple of items in the past wherein an editorial from the Scotsman waxes eloquent about the importance of Classics and Latin instruction at the school level. Recent developments in the land of Robbie Burns appear to have necessitated another such outpouring, this time by Ducan Hamilton:

TO THE very stupid, the study of Latin or Greek may appear a waste of time. To such people, these languages are "dead" and have no value. They associate the teaching of the classics with dusty book shelves and Oxbridge privilege.

Such people will view the news that Strathclyde University is ending the last available class in Scotland for those wishing to become classics teachers as either an irrelevant or inevitable development. In the modern world, they will argue, there are more pressing and deserving uses for scarce resources. Latin and Greek, they will opine, are hardly high- volume, cutting-edge subjects.

It is a charge familiar to those involved in teaching arts subjects. But it is a bogus, ignorant view which serves simply to undermine still further any hope Scotland may have of restoring a decent education system.

It is the mentality that demands slavish adherence in our universities to all that is new, modern and commercially valuable. It results in the diminution of the traditional Scottish education. Today, it is turning a blind eye to the decline of the classics; next year, it will be ancient and medieval history, and the year after, perhaps some English literature or language courses.

The Scottish Executive has taken a vow of silence on the ending of Latin and Greek teaching. It says it is a decision solely for the university - except, of course, that most of the critical funding decisions are taken by the Executive. In fact, it is worse than that: Scottish ministers are accused by the university of ordering that the course be axed. The only explanation offered to the university appears to be that it is no longer financially justifiable.

Rather than taking a vow of silence on this matter, we need to hear from Peter Peacock, the education minister, on how this decision can be justified. Never mind blaming the university - surely it is a responsibility of government to ensure that subjects of importance can still be taught in Scottish state schools by teachers trained in Scotland. That, unequivocally, is the job of Mr Peacock and the Executive.

Part of the problem is down to the obsession with moving funding to those subjects and those departments which are commercially lucrative. In one sense, that strategy makes sense - where the public sector can work with private industry, it should do so. Certainly, creating tie-ups between the private and public sectors is a sensible move.

But that cannot become a justification for an obsession that each and every academic subject be commercially viable. IBM or Microsoft are never going to seek strategic alliances with classics departments of Scottish universities. But that does not mean that Latin and Greek have no worth. A government that does not see the difference between monetary value and educational worth is not one worthy of being in charge of Scottish education.

The irony of this approach from a Labour-led Executive is that all it does is to cement the distinction between state schools and the independent sector. Leave aside lower teacher-pupil ratios, the opportunity to play sport and all the rest. Consider that most of our independent schools offer classics teaching, while only 34 of the countryís 577 state schools offer the same opportunity. Consider, also, that the number of students taking classics at Standard Grade rose last year by 30 per cent.

What all of that means is that, rather than using taxpayersí money to level the playing field, Labour is achieving precisely the reverse.

Under this Executive, the attractions of fee-paying, independent schools are greater than ever. I wonder whether creating that incentive for parents to turn their back on the state sector is really an achievement of which Jack McConnell, as a Labour First Minister, is proud? Does the Executive really wish the benefits of teaching Latin and Greek to be offered only to those who can afford it?

All of this leaves us really with only one question to explore, and that is: do we want our children to study Latin and Greek? The answer has to be an overwhelming "yes".

The obvious cognitive development, the likelihood of equipping children with the tools to learn other languages more quickly, and the awakening of some sense of the history of world civilisation are only a few of the points to consider. As important are the development of precise analysis and thought, a rigorous mental discipline and, with Latin particularly, an overwhelming emphasis on logic and deduction. Add to that an appreciation of grammar, and you have an utterly compelling case.

If the Executive needs a financial argument for saving teacher training in this subject, perhaps ministers might consider that one of the most important aspects to investment decisions for multinational companies is the educational ability of the workforce. Are we really to believe that greater linguistic ability, logic and powers of analysis and deduction have no part to play in the modern Scottish workforce?

So, if Latin and Greek offer all these advantages, we need an explanation from the Executive as to why those at private schools should benefit and those at state schools should not.

Oh, and if you donít think Latin has any relevance for you in your everyday life, ask your lawyer what would happen if I tried to sell your house to a stranger without your knowledge. Donít be surprised if you get the answer "nemo dat quod non habet", but relax safe in the knowledge that, because of our Roman law origins, your house is safe - no-one can give away what they do not own.

7:27:28 PM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.


idus martias

  • festival of Mars (day 15)
  • festival of Jupiter
  • festival/rites in honour of Anna Perenna (Happy New Year!)
  • 44 B.C. -- murder of Gaius Julius Caesar
  • ca. 1st century A.D. -- martyrdom of Longinus (the soldier who is said to have pierced Jesus' side with a spear) in Cappadocia

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HUMOUR: Rinse the Blood Off My Toga

The Classic Wayne and Schuster skit is probably the most significant piece of ClassCon to come out of Canada (or at least out of Canadians) in the past century (how's that for hyperbole?). In honour of the day, we must, of course, as a national and Classical duty, link to a transcription of it. (it's a Tripod site ... hopefully we don't eat up all the guy's bandwidth).

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CHATTER: Latin is Alive and Well in Texas (maybe)

We haven't had one of these in a while, and this one actually comes from last week (as GL, who posted it to the LatinTeach list reminded me ... thanks!). In any event, my excuse is it has taken me this long to get past the really annoying registration procedure the Austin American-Statesman puts you through (newspapers which assume you live in the place the newspaper comes from really annoy me). In any event, here's some relevant bits:

In a stuffy portable building on the edge of LBJ High School's student parking lot, a so-called dead language is very much alive.

"How often the night covers the earth with moist shadows," a student says in Latin. The teenager is reading from Virgil's "Aeneid," the classic epic about a Trojan prince who founds Rome. Teacher Byron Browne asks another to translate the passage from the book, which the students have been absorbing all year as part of their Advanced Placement Latin curriculum.

As the juniors and seniors continue to read and translate during the next 50 minutes, Browne helps put the passages into context. They discuss rhetorical devices, hero motifs and the logic of what they're reading. Browne says such things as, "That's a very Roman way of looking at it."

Although many people consider Latin to not be as practical as Spanish or French, more students are signing up for it in the Austin district, officials there say, and more than half of Austin's high schools and one-third of the middle schools offer it. Eanes, Pflugerville and Round Rock also are among the Central Texas districts that offer Latin. of the movie "Rushmore" aims to win the heart of a teacher by campaigning to keep Latin in the classroom. "I saved Latin. What did you ever do?" he tells a romantic rival.

But Latin as a subject is still struggling to survive in public schools as budget restraints force more districts to slash programs, especially those not crucial to the subjects covered by standardized tests. And there's a shortage of incoming Latin teachers.

[... a long section on some schools considering cuts to their Latin programs and the response]

Know Latin, know our language, says Ginny Lindzey, a teacher at Austin's Porter Middle School who devotes a large part of her time to keeping Latin alive in schools. She's the chair of the Committee for the Promotion of Latin, which is part of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South.

About 60 percent of English words stem from Latin, she said, especially words with three syllables or more.

Latin students, like those in Browne's classroom, learn more than words, though. They tackle grammar, logic and history, too.

Browne beat all other U.S. teachers for a scholarship to Greece last summer to study Latin, and his classroom is full of awards won by students.

Students of Latin tend to love competitions. About 400 of them from across the region came to Austin last month to compete in the Junior Classical League, the centerpiece of which was the certamen, a "Jeopardy"-style competition in which four-student teams battle it out.

The state-level competition will take place next month in San Antonio. More than 2,000 students attended last year's event, including students from Austin schools and Westlake.

"Many people think that a serious student of Latin is bound to be three things in life: a Latin teacher, a lawyer or a doctor," Lindzey said. "(But) classics majors are in demand from a wide variety of employers looking for people who have communication and writing skills as well as an appreciation for detail."

After majoring in classics at the University of Texas in the 1980s, Richard Arellano entered politics. He's now chief of staff for Austin Mayor Will Wynn and a firm believer in the power of Latin.

Although he didn't take Latin while a student at McCallum High School, a pre-college trip to Europe inspired him to tackle it his freshman year at UT.

"It opened up a whole new world," he said. "I felt it was like re-wiring my brain. The rigor of learning the grammar teaches you about what you're actually saying. It makes the language you speak resonate more."

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NUNTII: Classics Lives!

Collierville Middle School recently held a Greek and Roman day:

Collierville Middle School sixth-graders recently wiped out their moms' white bed linens to create togas for the school's Greek and Roman Day.

Greek and Roman history is part of the sixth-grade curriculum. Teachers maximized the lesson by allowing students to re-create scenes from ancient history.

They researched the culture, customs and costumes and presented projects on aspects of Greek and Roman culture.

Some students created a banner to honor their favorite gods.

Others created menus for a Greek restaurant and prepared Greek dishes. These dishes, along with other food donated by parents, were used for the culminating Greek Feast.

For his project, sixth grader Tanner Ogletree drew a floor plan of a Greek building. He also played the role of Matton in the play "Alexander the Great" put on by the Academic Program for the Exceptional (APEX). [more in the Collierville Appeal]

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OBITUARY: Keith Hopkins

From the New York Times:

Keith Hopkins, a professor at the University of Cambridge who was one of the first historians to use sociological methods to study the ancient Roman world, died last Monday at a hospice in Cambridge, England. He was 69.

The cause was cancer, said his literary executor, Christopher Kelly.

Professor Hopkins brought unconventional techniques to the highly traditional field of ancient history, and he was known for the lucid and accessible way he wrote about his findings in articles and the influential books "Conquerors and Slaves" and "Death and Renewal."

Ancient history had mainly been studied by starting with available physical evidence, like tombstones, and forming theories based on that evidence.

Professor Hopkins, who spent more of his academic life as a sociologist than as a historian, preferred the deductive method, forming a hypothesis based on demographic tables, economic patterns and comparative historical studies, and then seeing how the evidence fit the hypothesis.

In his 1983 book "Death and Renewal," Professor Hopkins used demographic models to show that the membership of the Roman Senate was far more fluid than was originally thought. The Senate was not, he argued, a closed, homogenous clique, but an ever-shifting assembly that was constantly being replenished by young, politically active citizens.

In addition to drawing on sociology and economics, he attracted controversy by bringing fiction into the study of ancient history. [more]

On a personal note, I suspect I'm not the only Gen-Xer (or even Boomer) who can credit Hopkins' Death and Renewal for opening up a whole new way of looking at matters Classical. He will be missed ...

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AWOTV: On TV Today

7.00 p.m.|HINT| Mystery Gold of the Black Sea Warriors
Long before Egypt and Babylon left their imprint on history, a
remarkable culture crafted a vast treasure trove of exquisite golden
objects that dazzles the eye and tantalizes the senses. They were the
Thracians. Feared and ruthless warriors, they challenged the might of
the Greek and Roman empires. According to Homer, they fought on the
side of Troy during the Trojan Wars. They left behind an enduring
legacy, epitomized by the renegade slave, Spartacus, then disappeared
into history.

9.00 p.m.|DCIVC| Gladiators - The Brutal Truth

HINT = History International

DCIVC = Discovery Civilization (Canada)

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