Saturday, September 10, 2011

Toby Young, Latin and the nature of elitism

The charge of "elitism" is often thrown about by people on the left when someone disagrees with their views on education. It's usually hard to know what they mean by it, but if the concept has a clear meaning it must be the idea that certain sorts of education should be confined to children from the upper or middle classes.

So it was very puzzling to read in the Guardian this morning that Toby Young's West London Free School
has faced accusations of elitism, partly for making Latin compulsory up to age 14.
It seems to be that requiring all children to study Latin is precisely the reverse of elitism. It is the left-wing demand for "relevance" that often means that an academic curriculum, and everything it opens the doors to, is denied to children from poorer families.

It happens that I went to a comprehensive in Hertfordshire where everyone did Latin in the second year (or Year 8, as I think the young people say these days). It had recently ceased being a grammar school - and a very traditional grammar school at that, because we were still wearing school caps in the early 1970s - but it was a comprehensive and one that was to produce no lesser figure than Dr Richard Grayson a few years after me.

And I am grateful that I did study Latin there, because when I got the chance to take Latin O level up here in Leicestershire a few I jumped at it. And studying it taught me the grammar I was not learning in English and awakened an interest in the Classical world, two factors that led to my studying Philosophy at university.

So I am very keen on requiring all children to study Latin.


Andrew Hickey said...

I'm not sure I'd want to *require* all children to study Latin - some children will have no aptitude for languages, and so on. But I do agree that making it an *option* for everyone should be encouraged. I know that doing GCSE Latin (even though I wasn't particularly good at it and only got a B) helped me enormously with both my English and my French.

Paul Griffiths said...

Children should certainly not be required to study Latin, and for a better reason than that some may have no aptitude for it. It would be an abuse of state power.

I’m also rather sceptical of claims such as “to learn X, you must first learn Y”. I suspect that this masks an inability to teach X.

Tom King said...

I'm not sure the argument about 'requirement' is a good one. You could equally say that not all children have aptitude in mathematics - education is not about aptitude, at least not at the primary/early secondary levels.

Having said which, there's no real need for children to learn Latin, provided they are given a good grasp of grammar by their English teacher. This is easier said than done, as Paul suggests.

Anonymous said...

I wrote a while ago that classical studies would soon be as limited to the upper classes as they were a hundred years ago. As a result of the left wing agenda you write about, it is the bright working class children who have suffered. Where will the future Tony Harrisons come from?