By Academia or Tweet, the Classics For All

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The
classics and class have always been uncomfortably linked. In this
country’s education system, knowledge of the classics was traditionally
the gatekeeper of privilege. If you acquired the classics (even
as a humble stonemason’s son, like Thomas
Hardy
) you gained a passport to the establishment. Fail (like
Hardy’s character Jude) and the corridors of power remained out
of reach. And, despite a vigorous history of auto­didacts such
as one Alfred
Williams
– born in 1877, he taught himself Latin and Greek
by chalking up irregular verbs in his forge – the gate has
remained largely shut to the working classes. It is no coincidence
that the high-watermarks of the British empire and British classical
learning were more or less coterminous.

Even
the words classics and class derive from the same root, a point
made by Professor Edith Hall at the Classical
Association
‘s conference earlier this month. The Latin classis
comes from the verb clamare, to call out. A classis
is a group of people "summoned together". It is a word
associated with Servius Tullius, one of Rome’s early kings, who
is said to have conducted the first census. The men in the top six
classes were classici. By the second century AD, the
term came to be used of the most distinguished authors – the
scriptores classici.

However, the
baby has been thrown out with the bathwater. The impulse in the
latter half of the 20th century was, instead of broadening access
to the study of ancient languages, to slowly strangle it, at least
in state education. The result is that Latin and Greek have become
more, rather than less, the preserve of independent and public schools,
their inevitable poster boy the Eton-and-Balliol
man Boris Johnson
. With splendid paradox, the government does
not recognise Latin – the progenitor of most modern European
tongues – as a language as far as the curriculum is concerned.
Just 27 PGCE
places are available to would-be Latin teachers each year, and a
mere eight places in graduate on-the-job training schemes.

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the rest of the article

May
1, 2009

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