Friday, 23 September 2011

Society for the Promotion of Pagan Knowledge


A new society has been formed with an ambitious agenda.  A well-organised and highly educated cabal of zealous volunteers around the nation means to infiltrate as many state schools as it can. Its avowed aim is to inseminate infant minds with the fruits of pagan learning.
And I heartily approve.

Don't worry: I'm not talking about white-robed beardies evangelising about the joys of human sacrifice (as if modern pagans would do anything so risqué anyway), or some sort of Society for the Propagation of Pagan Knowledge.  The group in question has adopted the far more comforting moniker of 'Classics for All.'
Latin masters around the country have moaned for decades about the need for a sound classical education to be restored to state schools. But no more kissing of gleaming marbled rumps: this worthy charity puts money where their mouths have been, giving grants to support Latin teaching by volunteers in primary and secondary schools.
In return for their efforts, they can no doubt look forward to plenty of sneering accusations of elitism from the educational establishment. Note that it is always one particular elite, a middle-class liberal elite, that makes such calls. To me, they sound patronising: Latin's too hard, the lower orders won't cope, so let them learn woodwork. Or better still, something suffixed by 'studies,' invariably easier than the subject from it derives. So, business and computer studies is egalitarian, mathematics elitist; they can manage tourism studies, but not geography, Hispanic studies but not Spanish, religious studies but not theology, sports studies but not biology and of course, classical studies but not Latin.  As it happens, none of these subjects are easy, but the only people who believe that they are all equal in the eyes of the world are their teachers and right-on headmasters. Parents and, more worryingly for students, universities think otherwise. And so, by fobbing pupils off with A-levels and GCSEs that the people who matter don't take seriously, lefty educationalists perpetuate the very social immobility that they claim to abhor.
So, Latin as a tool for social justice? Well, yes, frankly. But it is far more than that. We all know the routine arguments about how it helps with English literacy, the learning of foreign languages, etc..  But far more important than any of that is that classical wisdom forms the very backbone of European civilisation. Without it, one cannot hope to understand the origins of European literature, art, architecture, history, philosophy or languages. In short, it is an essential part of our national and European identity. Our country has been fumbling around for its lost identity for decades, digging desperately behind flag-draped cushions on the infested sofa of capitalism. The Agora and the Forum surely offer better places to start than the nihilistic marketplace of consumerist celebrity culture. A classical education shows that there is so much more to life than this. The glories of the ancient world give hope for the future, as much as its horrors give prophetic warnings.
For the Christian, there is even more reason to support the work of this charity. Even the most rudimentary study of early Church history and patristics will show how dependent Christianity is on Greek philosophy and Roman law. This besides the facts that Greek is the language of our principal scriptures and Latin was the lingua franca of Western Christendom until only fifty years ago. As St Paul's encounter at the Areopagus in Acts shows, ancient pagan wisdom has permeated the Christian faith from its very origins. We fail to understand this at our peril.
So, a promise and a plea. The promise is that I will try, if my incumbent next year lets me, to start a Latin or Greek class for children in my church. The plea is that my fellow curates and any other able clergy think about doing the same. Or if you can't do this, then at least consider giving some money to Classics for All. The vastly deeper appreciation of our native culture, history, language and religion that a classical education bestows, along with the kudos and hence social mobility it could give working class children, are gifts that once given can never be taken away.

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