In the old days one just had to learn lots of things and repeat them as required. However, rather than anyone now just learning things for their own sake – in an unconnected, abstract way which is really only for the more able learner – I have found it more effective for everybody if pupils understand what the point and connections of a given task or subject are. In short, why do they have to learn Latin?
The American educationalist B.F. Skinner defined education as what remains when what has been learned has been forgotten. Although there is little “use” for any subject per se – and Latin stands close in the firing line for being “dead” – that just does not matter. With the emphasis so much now on transferable skills, there are few faculties in a pupil which this subject does not seek to stimulate; nor can a pupil progress in this subject without applying those faculties, either. There are links to all the other subjects, too, so there must be something for everyone, surely! The obvious linguistic links to the Romance languages, the breadth of the humanities, the observation and interpretation of scientific data, the logical observations and conclusions reached from following any set of rules, and, above all, memory, must combine as a force for educational good. But the challenge is that it is not served up on a plate. But with a modicum of focus, effort and rigour, much can be achieved and enjoyed. And, it is so rewarding to see the children make those links for themselves, too.
With fewer senior schools demanding Latin, however, there is less inherent pressure on the pupil: they are less and less studying it “for” anything. On the one hand that could be a bad thing in terms of motivation; on the other hand, a good thing, if a subject can be studied for its own worth, links and skills. Many parents have said how they wished they had this opportunity! With the impact and necessity of CE on the wane, too, who knows what is in store? That is less important than the vitality, benefit and rock-like relevance of Classics in this rapidly changing and transitory world. What I do know and firmly believe in is the educational challenge, efficacy and value of this incredible subject.