2018 has seen the irruption into the public sphere of longstanding disagreements within the British Classics education world about the content and purpose of our courses. If you’re confused, here’s a potted history.
c. 1700 The terms ‘Classics’ and ‘Class’ both acquired the meanings in English they now bear, ‘study of ancient Greece & Rome’ and ‘position in socio-economic hierarchy’.
by 1730 Latin and Greek, which are time-consuming and therefore easy to withhold from working and working-class youngsters, become adopted by all elite male educational institutions as the preferred curriculum. The use of Classics in social exclusion and divisive rhetoric is inaugurated.
1944 Butler Education Act brings secondary and indirectly tertiary education even in Classics to a small proportion of working-class and lower middle-class students via grammar schools.
by 1955 Courses in Classical Civilisation begin to be rolled out enthusiastically in non-grammar-non-private-secondary sector by enlightened educationalists, only to be sneered at by self-styled ‘proper’ Classicists.
2010 The Charity Classics for All, at that time no supporter of Classical Civilisation courses, founded at instigation of Telegraph / Spectator journalist and former university lecturer Peter Jones.
2017 Advocating Classics Education project is launched to support teachers of Classical Civilisation and Ancient History as well as those of classical languages, and works officially and amiably with Classics for All.
2018 Divisions harden COMPLETELY UNNECESSARILY in response to things commissioned by Peter Jones for the Classics for All website.
14th May It posts an inflammatory review by Oxonian Richard Jenkyns (a well-known defender of elite classical values), commissioned by Peter Jones, of Exeter Uni Professor Neville Morley’s brilliant and progressive Classics: Why it Matters. Jenkyns writes that the book is ‘an attack on Classics’.
25th May Morley’s calmly inclusive response to Jenkyns’ review is published by Classics for All: ‘it’s not that I wish to destroy his language-focused approach to Classics, but I do see it as just one element of a much broader, inclusive and multi-disciplinary approach’.
5th August One patron of Classics for All, Boris Johnson, writes in a derogatory way about a small and vulnerable group of Britons in the Telegraph. Two other patrons, Charlotte Higgins and Natalie Haynes, write to Classics for All to say they will resign as patrons if Boris Johnson doesn’t. They are also both committed patrons of ACE and often speak in public about how important Classical Civilisation courses are.
|Arlene Holmes-Henderson, one of the editors|
9th October Classics for All Trustees will meet to discuss What To Do About Boris. Given the line-up of Trustees and their self-descriptions, it is going to be a bumpy ride.
The meeting could decide our subject’s future. Will British Classics entrench itself deeper into the class war after 320 years, or form a united public front? Unity would mean no more disrespecting of either Classical Civilisation courses or any British citizens. This matters. Six nerve-wracking weeks to go.