Dream School, Jamie Oliver and me
You might already have got wind of something I have been keeping a bit quiet about. I have been one of the teachers on Jamie Oliver's "Dream School" project -- a sort-of reality tv series in which a series of celebs, poets, politicians and academics teach a group of 20 kids, all of whom have ended up without 5 GCSEs at grades A to C. The project lasted six weeks or so, and I think I had 4 lessons -- all filmed.
My job was to teach them Latin.
Many hadn't done any foreign language past the age of 14... let alone something as structured as Latin. Most of them started out with some pretty decided views on what was and wasnt useful in life. So why do it?
Well,the bottom line is that it would have been cowardly and hypocritical not to take it on. If, like me, you go round shooting your mouth off about how great a subject Latin is -- then someone says why not come and have a go teaching our tv class . . . well it's a bit hard to say 'thanks, but no thanks'.
Was it wise? Probably not. But I got a lot further than I thought I might.
Who knows how it will look on tv? But Jamie is an aspirational, good-news kind of person .. so presumably it won't be a total disaster. Realistically, I had a higher mountain to climb than most of the others. For a start, I wasn't a celeb and they certainly wouldn't have heard of me. Then, I wasn't teaching them something that would get much of a round of applause down the local club. It wasnt, for example, quite like going sailing with Ellen MacArthur. Or, if I believe what's in the news today, it probably didnt quite equal the excitement of Robert Winston getting a sperm sample out of them . . .
But all the same it was a bit of a triumph (for me and them) to get about half of them reading, straight and in Latin a two line epigram of Martial ("Non amo te, Sabidi . . . "). I'm hoping that in 20 years tine they will remember the slightly eccentric old bat from Cambridge who taught them that , and they will encourage their kids to take up Latin when, and if, it's offered. After all, the educational process has a long view.. it's not just the GCSEs you get (or fail) now that counts, it's what you still remember half a life time away.
If there was a moving moment, it was when I had three of the students I had got to know best up to Cambridge to meet some of our university students. In some ways they were worlds apart. In other ways they had all kinds of overlapping concerns and anxieties, even if they had come to very different conclusions... mostly money, and what kind of investment formal education was likely to be (that will only get worse).
So watch with compassion please. And dont let AA Gill get me down.