Monday, March 15, 2010

An open letter to Ed Balls

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.


Sarah said...

Good post - there is a discussion of this issue on the 'Pickled Politics' blog too.

Anonymous said...

I'd be interested to know how many French/German/Spanish classes ministers get shown round. It's not that language classes aren't interesting, but they aren't really geared up for being 'on show' in the same way that a sports class is.

Anthony said...

Good post.

Also just to note (re a post way back in 2006!) that the blog you once mentioned on Rosemary Sutcliff which was here on blogspot has moved to including the old posts. might interest you about how The Eagle of the Ninth led someone to the clasics

I can no longer get at the old blog - I have no idea why!