Scholia Reviews ns 14 (2005) 13.
James Morwood (ed.), The Teaching of Classics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Pp. xxii + 183. ISBN 0-5215-2763-5. UKú17.95
European School, Brussels
The teaching of Classics in the United Kingdom has been in crisis since 1960 when the universities of Oxford and Cambridge decided that a pass at GCE O level in Latin or Greek would no longer be an entry requirement. This, together with the change to a largely comprehensive school system, brought about a fundamental change in the delivery of classical subjects and meant that from that time those students taking these subjects, though few in number, would have chosen them as options and would generally be more enthusiastic about them. Many Latin classes in the 1950s were grim places where grammar school pupils were drilled through grammar and set texts in the hope that they might gain an Oxbridge place. Unfortunately many of the parents of today's schoolchildren have memories of Latin from this era, or that immediately following, and imagine that things have not changed. They still come to me amazed at the radicalism of the Cambridge Latin Course which is their children's course-book, even though it has been in regular use for over thirty years. James Morwood's excellent collection of essays, from contributors who are professional Classics teachers, charts the changes of this period (1960 to the present), showing the undoubted decline in the numbers of those taking classical subjects, but also stressing the gains to which this enforced reform has led.
This is a story of decline but also one of inventiveness and dedication which has prevented Classics from disappearing from the curriculum altogether. It is clear from this book that there is still enough intrinsic interest in the ancient world to make young people come forward in fairly significant numbers to wish to tackle the difficulties of learning the languages and to engage with the issues raised by the study of ancient civilisations. One problem for Classics that the reforms of the 1960s put into perspective was their over- familiarity. It was after all a cultural expectation that young people should know something of the ancient world. It was in a way too easy. The sheer difficulty and strangeness of learning languages used two millennia and more ago and discovering the cultures in which they had been used had been lost. We are perhaps beginning to recover a little of this adventurousness again.
This is a book written by practitioners of Classics for their professional colleagues, and some familiarity with the mass of acronyms, professional bodies, examining boards and government initiatives is expected. The National Curriculum, introduced for the first time by the Conservative government in the 1980s, features largely as the various revisions that its requirements have gone through have all had knock-on effects for Classics. Needless to say no classical subject was a requirement under the National Curriculum at any stage.
Chapters 1 and 2 (pp. 1-19) trace the place of Classics in the curriculum up to the 1960s and then from the 1960s to the present. In Chapter 1 Christopher Stray treats the historical background but lays particular emphasis on the movement for reform within Classics at the time, which led to the formation of the Joint Association of Classical Teachers (JACT) and the Cambridge School Classics Project. David Tristram takes the story through to the present dealing with the change from grammar schools to comprehensives and the challenges this posed to Classics teachers. Those who stayed on to find a place for Classics in the new type of school were those who undertook the initiatives which have changed the way the subjects were taught. These included the new language courses (the Cambridge Latin Course and others), and the introduction of non-linguistic Classical Civilisation courses. He also traces the debate which took place leading up to the introduction of the common examination system GCSE and the National Curriculum under secretary of state Kenneth Baker in 1988. GCSE was the logical extension of the change to comprehensive schools and created one examination at 16+ years for all candidates of all abilities. Inevitably it led to claims of lowering of standards. Tristram concludes with some figures for examination entry (the only way you can tell in the United Kingdom how many pupils are studying which subjects) which show on the one hand a gradual decline in candidates for Latin but on the other the establishment of steady number of entries for Classical Civilisation at GCSE and A level (the 18+ school leaving examination).
Brenda Gay in Chapter 3, 'Classics Teaching and the National Curriculum' (pp. 20-35), also engages with the National Curriculum but from a more philosophical and educational basis. Gay teaches one of the few remaining postgraduate courses for training Classics teachers (PGCE) and offers a view from the perspective of the future practitioners of the art. The national inspectorate for education (formerly Her Majesty's Inspectors -- HMI, and now more prosaically OFSTED -- Office for Standards in Education) stipulated that education should promote the spiritual, moral, mental, and physical development of pupils and Gay discusses how Classics can contribute to this in terms of moral, social and cultural development. She emphasises just how important the ideas of a shared global heritage and intrinsic academic value are to the maintenance of Classics in the curriculum.
The historical context section concludes with some speculation from Marion Gibbs about the place of Classics in a future curriculum (pp. 36-42), where it will be possible to take Classics courses at university without having studied them at school, and where new government initiatives allowing greater freedom of choice and academic extension programmes for high-flyers may create room for Classics courses to develop. Richard Shannon (pp. 43-50) gives examples of good practice in teaching, using extracts from the lesson observations of an inspector. Finally the question of special needs is treated. Here it should be remembered that special needs includes those from the highest ranges of ability as well as the lowest, who may not be catered for by the standard one-size-fits-all curriculum. Classics, it is argued, can have a place here.
Part II surveys Classics from primary to higher education. One of the most innovative and interesting developments in language learning recently has been the publication of Minimus by Cambridge University Press. Barbara Bell, the author, outlines (in Chapter 7, pp. 61-72) the rationale behind this JACT-supported venture which is having considerable success, judging by numbers of copies sold and the number of primary schools reported to be using it. This is a Latin introductory course for primary pupils in Key Stage 2 (7-10 year olds). It looks convincingly like the excellent English- language story books for this age group, thanks to Helen Forte's illustrations. In a number of short chapters it introduces some basic language points centred on the engaging mouse character Minimus who lives with a family at Vindolanda near Hadrian's Wall. Nothing dispels the dusty atmosphere of old Latin grammar books better than this.
The authors and collaborators of the best known Latin language courses give up to date accounts of the developments in their field, prefaced by Brenda Gay on the 'Theoretical Underpinning of the Main Latin Courses' (Chapter 9, pp. 73-84). Pat Story writes on the Cambridge Latin Course and Maurice Balme and James Morwood on the rival Oxford Latin Course (Chapters 10-11, pp. 85-94). John Taylor introduces his new Greek to GCSE course in an overview of Greek language courses in English (pp. 95-105).
Julie Wilkinson is a practising teacher in a comprehensive school; her piece on working at the 'chalk face' (Chapter 13, pp. 106-16) gives a true feel of what it is like to promote Classics in a state school. Packed with statistics and interpretation of them, her chapter shows the difficulties she faces on an everyday basis, but also what can be done given the dedication and hard work of the teacher. Classics in the United Kingdom has traditionally included subjects which other countries feel belong elsewhere. Ancient History and now Classical Civilisation expand the field beyond the languages, and accounts of the developments in these two areas, together with work being done in computer technology, conclude Part II.
Finally James Morwood and Lorna Hardwick provide chapters on Classics in universities (Chapters 17-18, pp. 145-59). It is possible now to begin the classical languages as an undergraduate at university even on a full Classics course at Oxford or Cambridge, and there are now a wide range of options from Classical Archaeology and Ancient History to many combinations of Classics with other subjects (Modern Languages, Philosophy, English and others). The Open University with its open access to students of all ages has had a remarkable success with its courses and the numbers of those signing up for Latin and Greek language courses have surprised everyone.
The book concludes with a chapter entitled 'Twilight Classics' (pp 159-169): a phrase well known to teachers who teach their subject outside the normal school timetable. It is a remarkable tribute to the dedication of these teachers that lessons go on in this way, but where numbers are insufficient to be catered for conventionally this becomes a necessity. There are sufficient requests for this to be a regular occurrence. Judith Affleck gives an inspiring account of this from a historical perspective. She also draws attention to a number of residential schools. The JACT Greek Summer School, for example, attracts over 250 students every year. In addition there are developments in distance learning via connections using computer technology.
Classics has seen off the fall of the Roman and Byzantine Empires, the Dark Ages and several secretaries of state for education; even taking into account the concerns expressed in this volume, I don't think we need be too worried.