It’s estimated that no more than 100 people are conversationally fluent in the classical (yet presently very topical) language of Latin.
And by all accounts, all one hundred of those people are presently alive, well, and commenting on my recent thread about education on LinkedIn. Who knew I was so well-connected to the elite?
As an enthusiastic writer, an avid reader, and an all-round geeky geek about learning, I absolutely adore language (including Latin), and I have both enjoyed and profited from what language affords me the opportunity to do. With my native language of English being a complete mongrel of the best and worst of many other tongues, Latin will even influence and shape the tools I choose to use in my work, I’ve no doubt. But Latin as something we need to start formally teaching and learning in modern day schooling as a foundation within our already broken education system? I think we’ll struggle to breathe life into that idea, somehow.
Latin has the undoubted propensity to be both incredibly beautiful and astoundingly boring. And, it’s certainly as debatable as a last bastion of civilisation as it is dead as a decidedly dead dodo; which is a species that presumably died out because they were forced to do Latin at school and just ended up giving up on life… Yep, whether we like it or not, Latin is a dead language, in the sense that it’s definitively not spoken natively by anyone in the world as a main language. It’s true.
This statement of actual fact caused much consternation of the highest order on my original post – and across similar posts on the platform – because people started to muse with great gusto about how they personally and positively loved the language, and so therefore they’re by all rights single-handedly keeping it very much alive. None of them relayed any of this in Latin, by the way, which I found to be a massively missed opportunity on their part…
For those who may have missed it, this whole debate has come about in response to the UK Government’s latest swing-and-a-miss at making education any kind of productive or progressive priority for our children. I paid no real attention at first, to be fair. I’m no fan of politicians at the best of times, but as a former teacher, the only thing I put the current Government at the top of the class for is their staggering ability to appoint the most out-of-touch people to the position of Education Secretary. Who knew you could mess it up quite so many times? Impressive, really. They all speak Latin though, so there’s good stuff there…
A common argument around the social media uproar has been that Latin is the basis of several other languages that one day our kids may go on to learn. My view in that case is that they should be given the opportunity to learn those languages from the start, then; especially if they’re very much alive and functioning in our worlds of culture, business and pleasure.
For me, this previously never-even-hinted-at heralding of Latin is exactly the same as when grammar pedants completely ruin it for everyone with their, “I’ll think you’ll find…” interjections of pure smuggery whenever anyone dares to gib a gerund, split an infinitive, or (hold on to your pearls) start a sentence with ‘And’.
And that’s another thing. For all those pedants with their prescriptivist views who claim that playing about with our wordage is the reason why society is in the state it’s in (it’s never class – it’s the classics, obviously), I put forward the case that the world would be a lot more of a positive and communicative space if people didn’t become so horrendously condescending about personal choice and use of language, and instead focused on the points being made so that we can actually talk about stuff.
Not everyone who wants Latin back on the curriculum is a pedant, of course, and it would be totally unfair and unjust of me to say that. Some great discussions have been had with those people. The pedants in particular do love Latin, though – and I know exactly why. It’s because it’s dead (I’m sorry but it is), and because it can’t be changed, or modernised, or messed with. As someone who generally hates change, I understand this. Latin is fixed and dead and so can’t be bastardised. It both knows the rules and plays by them, and you’ll almost never see someone make a mistake with it on their Facebook posts. Admittedly, I don’t think you’ll ever see a facebook post written in Latin at all, but you get my point. Oh, unless it’s from the Pope’s Facebook account, that is. Yes – he speaks Latin (I’m told), so that’s good enough reason for all of our kids to be pushed to speak it, too, because he’s the head of a community of 1.3 billion* people, don’t you know! Oh, and spoiler alert, I hate to ruin the romance, but unless he’s giving a good old mass, the Pope speaks Italian, what with him living in modern-day Italy and what-not.
In wading through all the posts about the topic over the last 48 hours, I noticed that none of the people arguing for the inclusion of the subject on the curriculum have ‘proficient in Latin’ proudly listed on their LinkedIn profiles, which I find odd considering how so many of these people seem to – for the purposes of the point on the thread – put their entire success in life down to the fact they were made to study it since the day they sprang from the womb…
As mentioned, though, it’s not just the sticklers who love a bit of the Latin. Indeed, there have been a few surprises in terms of who’s got stuck in with the debate about whether or not there’s a place for the subject in our schools and on our curriculum. And that’s the heart of the matter, remember. This isn’t about ‘should we ever lose sight of Latin’ (and for the record, I don’t think we should). This discussion is about the fact that millions of pounds of money has now suddenly been found for education, and is to be used with sole intent to get this subject back on the curriculum; A curriculum that’s already unfit for purpose given the wants and needs of the children we’re trying to raise into the world right now. A curriculum that became infinitely more depressing and bleak the minute that the UK Government decided there was no money at all and so cut The Arts from the creative heart of its coffers.
And is all of this because the Government truly believes that the addition of Latin as a subject to be formally studied will be particularly beneficial to the children of state schools? No. By their own words (in English, not Latin, I noted), it’s because they want to showcase how Latin is not a language purely for the elite, anymore. It’s their way of showing they’re ‘down with the kids’, in essence, but instead of putting something the kids are actually down with on the curriculum, they’re simply taking something that everyday normal folk have no interest in and saying, “Come hither, people who can’t afford to pay for your education… Isn’t this what you crave in your quest for equality and opportunity? Come ingest all the Latin you can stomach…”
I can’t stomach that at all.
I’m delighted that money has been found and is to be invested in education, but a dead language? Really? Here’s a thought – how about spending that cash on some resources for the teaching and learning of a more universal language that benefits our children in life, travel and business? Or a push to introduce such languages (including BSL/ASL) a lot earlier in our children’s lives? With the optimal point for language acquisition hitting long before adolescence, let’s get these languages – and there’s so many of them – to kick into our curriculum early doors. Early years, in fact. Maybe. Actually, I’m still trying to get my child to learn consistent use of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in English, so I don’t know…
Oh… the other things we could teach our kids… Pensions, tax, mortgages… DIY, meal planning, parenting… There’s loads, if I’m honest. I’m literally just spouting off the ideas that come to me as a 39 year old who’s struggled with ALL of those examples in the last week alone, thanks to the lack of any ingrained formal education around the matters.
I generally hate the curriculum we have in UK schools, I really do. But, I’m a realist. Whilst I left a career in teaching partly because I believed it to be in no big way creative, conducive or progressive, I’m also a realist, and know that whilst it’d be lovely to have ‘whatever our children are interested in and want to choose’ making up the school day, said school day would soon be filled with every hobby and pastime you can think of before we’ve even looked at basic literacy and numeracy.
Amazing? Without doubt. In any way realistic, feasible or manageable? Sadly not.
Having said that, I’d much rather have the curriculum designed by a state school teenager than a clueless MP…
I laughed off the whole concept of putting Latin on curriculum when it first came to my attention, figuring that either a) it’d never happen, and b) knowing that if it did, it wouldn’t be the first or last utterly ridiculous and useless (yet still massively detrimental) thing the Government have ever done, but the more I’ve seen people get quite cross about it (I had to use that word given all the Catholics who waded in), I’ve wondered why it angers them so much that anyone would be against the inclusion. Admittedly, it’s a certain demographic of people harbouring certain views, but I think what’s saddened me the most, is that a lot of these people actually have the same child-centred view that I do, in thinking that the education system is a broken one, and that our kids just don’t enjoy what’s served up to them from 9 til 3 every day. It’s all the more baffling, then, that they believe the answer isn’t to use this newfound cash injection to re-instate funding into The Arts and all the wonderful creative and enjoyable sessions it can offer, but instead to plough it all into something that’s got zero cultural relevance to how our kids speak, how our kids write, or the world our kids will go on to live in.
Give me a good old Latin phrase or motto to throw into a conversation to allow me to feel temporarily elite with status and knowledge, and I’m anyone’s. I love it! But tell me it’s going back on the curriculum 50 years after it pretty much, um, died… I can’t get on board with a rationale for that. By all means give our kids the opportunity to learn about Latin, but to insist they learn to speak and write it in a world that will never require them to do so is a waste of modern day money, in my opinion.
Out of respect for anyone who reads this and doesn’t agree with me, I’ll give you a free pass. I can sense that since the first paragraph you’ve been positively sizzling with the opportunity to tell me that, “actually, most of the words you’ve written in this piece originate from Latin… fnar fnar…”
Unclutch your pearls, and instead of focusing on the way I choose to write, focus on the points I’ve made – of which, you may actually agree with some.
Given the state of social media in modern day society, I’d suggest THAT’S a skill that needs to be taught in our schools.
*As a parent of a pre-schooler, I’d love to know how many of that number only became Catholic to get their kid into a marginally better school…