An open letter to Ed Balls (on teaching Latin)


From Tony Keen’s weblog (source: click here)

“Rt Hon Ed Balls MP
Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families
Sanctuary Buildings
Great Smith Street
sw1p 3bt

Dear Mr Balls

I am writing concerning your comments on BBC Radio concerning the teaching of Latin. Unfortunately I did not hear these when broadcast, and am only able to judge them as reported in the media. But I gather that you stated that few businesses are asking for Latin, and that you have never been shown an inspiring Latin class, whereas you have been shown inspiring classes in dance, technology or sport.

I am not surprised that businesses are not asking for Latin, but I doubt many are asking for sport or dance either. In any case, our educational needs should not be geared solely to the needs of business. To do so would reduce our educational establishment to business schools and technology colleges, with only English and foreign languages surviving from the humanities (and even then clearly only for commercial use, and not for reading Voltaire or Tolstoy in the original). Of course we need business schools and technology colleges, but a nation that had nothing else would be intellectually and culturally impoverished.

It does not surprise me that you have never been shown an inspirational Latin lesson. But it is illogical to assume that, because you have not seen any, they do not exist. There is no subject so inherently dull that it cannot be presented to a class in an inspiring fashion by an enthusiastic and motivated teacher. Many, if not most, students able to study Latin will recognise that inspirational Latin lessons certainly exist.

I would suggest two reasons why you have not been shown any. First, the vast majority of state schools, due a number of factors, of which lack of government support is one of the more important, have dropped Latin from the syllabus. So they are not in a positio0n to show you an inspiring Latin lesson, even if they wanted to.

The second reason is that when a government minister comes to visit, a school wants to make a good impression, and so will gear what they present around what they think will contribute to that. For at least twenty years, education ministers from both parties have given the impression, explicitly or implicitly, that they do not look with favour upon Latin as a subject. Hence the school will show the minister a lesson in a subject (such as dance, technology or sport) that the minister does look upon with favour. In other words, you are not shown inspirational Latin lessons because you and most of your predecessors have given the impression that you do not want to be shown inspirational Latin lessons.

So, Mr Balls, I offer you a challenge. Next time you are in a school where Latin is taught, ask to see a Latin lesson. I think you may be surprised.”


Catullus rocks your socks – watch your language!


A brilliant exercise in text and context (link will open in new window):

New weblog!


From the classicists list:


The Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents (CSAD) at Oxford University
has started a new blog to update students, scholars and the general public
on the centre’s research projects.

Best wishes,
Caillan Davenport
CSAD Newsletter/Web site Assistant

The Power of the (electronic) Word…


A review of Mary Beard’s weblog ‘A Don’s Life’:


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The Gift of Speech


Here is an interesting article about ‘Ciceros’ of our times: (link will open new window). Sometimes one wonders who gets insulted most by these historical analogies: Cicero, Obama, or Mandelson?

Lost in translation?


The opening words of the Christian Bible reconsidered: creation or separation? (And will the creationists turn into separationists now?)

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New Rule: You Cannot Be a Classicist If Capital Letters Annoy You…


A woman in New Zealand lost her job for excessive use of CAPITAL LETTERS in her “confrontational” email correspondence (giving a whole new meaning to the notion of ‘capital crime’!).

Paul Luna, Professor of Typography at the University of Reading, has made a comment on this, referring back to the use of capital letters in Roman inscriptions (of course minuscles weren’t used at all at that time…) which has hit the press recently: (link will open new window!).