Wednesday, 22 August 2018

A Short History of Class Divisiveness in British Classics


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.

Peter Jones
1975         Direct Grant Grammar Schools (Cessation of Grant) Regulations spell twilight of availability of non-elite teaching of Classical languages but an increase in state-sector Classical Civilisation courses.

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
15th August       Peter Jones uses the opportunity of reviewing an excellent new book about teaching Classical Civilisation AND classical languages, Forward with Classics, to ignore all its articles on Classical Civilisation and all those by women, while inexplicably attacking the Labour Party and all classical subjects with 'no grammar'. 

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.

Natalie Haynes
Summation: 
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.

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