Saving Latin from the Tory Party
For me, one of worst effects of the Michael Gove education agenda, with its stress on traditional skills, is that it tends to make Latin look as if it is the favourite subject of the radical right wing. At the same time -- it makes it an easy symbolic target of any Labour parliamentarian looking for a cheap hit against "syllabus Gove".
"What do the Tories want for schools?" Answer: "Toff, useless subjects like Latin, not useful subjects like engineering etc".
One of the many offenders in this regard is Andy Burnham. And last night, on Question Time, he took basically the line I've just crudely summarized. And in fact (for all Burnham's no doubt many other virtues) he is a repeat offender in this respect. In February he was on Any Questions and said some very similar things, proving his radical educational credentials in the time-honoured way, with a pot shot or two at Latin.
In this case I decided to object, so I emailed him to ask if he would like to come and see what we do in Cambridge with Latin and Greek (maybe rather different from what he expected). Needless to say, his assistant explained ( correctly, I'm sure) that he was much too busy with his other commitments to take me up on the offer. So I replied graciously (I think), asking her to pass on a few words to her boss, saying how radically exciting etc the study of Latin was and how Classics as a subject had one of the best employment records of ALL uni subjects.
She replied as follows: "He does know - but sometimes he has to make a point...". (Something about the honesty of politics may be at stake here, don't you think? He knows about the virtues of the subject, but scoring a quick one against the opposition is just that much more important...err?)
To be fair to Burnham, he probably saw none of this exchange himself. And he is no worse than a lot of those who aim a wandering bullet at Latin when Gove and the rest look as if they are supporting it. But it's all a pretty cheap trick -- particularly if (as I suspect) you dont really have much idea what studying Latin is all about.
Cards on the table.
I have no desire to make Latin compulsory for anyone -- I only want it to be available to kids, no matter how rich they are.
I don't even expect everyone who does it to enjoy it. I rather disliked Physics at school, but I wouldn't want to ban it on that score. (And as for utility, most higher level pure Maths has little or no utility... & doesnt even allow you to decode the date at the end of a movie, which knowing Latin numerals really does).
What I can't stand is that kind of playing to the philistine gallery, without much knowledge (so far as one can see) of what studying Latin is about, or why and how it might be "useful".. and why it might have such a good employment record.
And the idea that it is a "conservative" subject? Well, let's remember that for an awful lot of the history of the subject (and it might still be useful in this way now), it was a shining bastion of secular enlightenment against the various different versions of religious conservative fundamentalism that threatened to swamp us.
And come on everyone, what did Karl Marx do his PhD thesis on.... ancient philosophy?