The row raging this week over whether the current English Education Secretary’s idea to include Latin on the curriculum (link here) in a handful of state schools is a good one or not is interesting.
As someone who studied for a History and English degree it is fair to say both of those subjects would have benefitted from having some knowledge of Latin.
Indeed, being able to read Latin would have been very useful when studying Norman and Medieval History with a university tutor who wanted her students to understand the documents being studied in their original form.
I attended a state comprehensive school and on arriving at university one of the only Latin phrases I knew was “passus sum jam” (it’s a long story…)
This phrase was certainly true when remembering those painful lectures where we were struggling to read original documents!
But our tutor did eventually have to abandon efforts to teach us all Latin when it became clear our time needed to be spent on studying the actual history we needed to know and understand.
Happily I survived and achieved an Honours degree without being fluent in Latin. However, I could see how learning it when younger may have helped in my studies in a number of ways.
As a mother language it would have been useful when learning other languages, further developing my vocabulary or understanding poetry written throughout history for example (link here).
The only other Latin I knew as a teenager was “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”. Of course, this great poem by Wilfred Owen – studied for O-level English – exposes the lie of the phrase by describing the sheer horror and futility of war.
And the questions I am asking myself regarding Gavin Williamson’s latest idea are:
- Why now – what new lie is being hidden or ignored?
- Who has he discussed this idea with – any education experts at all?
- Where is the money being moved from in order to fund it? (Perhaps he thinks few resources will be needed and a quill and scrap of paper will suffice?)
- How will we find enough Latin teachers?
- And last but not least…. Why is he not listening to education experts who would tell him that now (remember the pandemic?) is NOT the time to be focussing on a gimmick to try to cover up the fact the country is being badly run by people who, on the whole, don’t think much of those of us having to rely on a state school education.
Money is in very very very short supply in education.
The cash injection needed to ensure proper recovery post-pandemic is enormous.
We need to focus on properly supporting children, young people and educators – including those with special educational needs and disabilities who always get sidelined – to help them come through the pandemic with minimal impact.
And to have any chance of achieving this then sufficient money needs to be spent on ensuring the correct help and resources are in place.
I have absolutely no problem at all with teaching Latin in state schools. But now really is NOT the time to be solving a problem we don’t have.
The headline of this blog – translated as “I have suffered” sums up what we have all been through this last 18 months.
The Government needs to focus on what is needed right NOW in our schools and colleges not to be wasting precious time fiddling while Rome burns.