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Professor Matthew Fox: The stories of the Classical world are compelling for primary pupils | HeraldScotland

Professor Matthew Fox: The stories of the Classical world are compelling for primary pupils

 

STUDY of the Classics was the bedrock of Western education from the Middle Ages onwards.

Understanding the cultural power of those dead civilisations provided people with the only mechanism there was for developing their intellects until the 18th century.

It has tailed off from that high point and we see a tension developing in the late 18th century with voices complaining people spent too much time learning Latin and Greek.

So this argument about it not being relevant or useful has been going on in pretty unaltered form for quite a long time, but that gained a great deal of speed in the 1960s and 1970s when vocational educational came to be connected with economic productivity and Classics got put on the back foot.

Looking at the Scottish context now, Classics is almost exclusively the preserve of private education and it has taken on these connotations of being elitist and somehow removed from the important mainstream political and social concerns of the economy.

In fact nothing could be further from the truth. The grip of the Ancient World on the popular imagination is as strong as ever with films such as Gladiator, the new BBC series Troy: Fall of a City and countless video games.

At primary schools pupils all love it and there is no doubt about how compelling it is and so the question is how we capitalize on that to promote the real value of the subject.

The view of education now is that we should encourage individuals to be multi-skilled and adaptable and that is the environment in which a Classics education is incredibly valuable.

It trains you in a lot of different areas, but one of the major ones is the development of critical and analytical skills because you are dealing with complicated sources from a distant historical culture and you have to work out how to interpret those.

Cultural awareness is also hugely significant because if you want to understand European culture you need some knowledge about where it comes from.

The architecture of Edinburgh and Glasgow is full of the symbols and signs of the Classical world, for example, and even a rudimentary awareness of the architecture and art of Ancient Greece and Rome will give you a much richer and more informed experience.

A further issue is the awareness that the world we live in is not the only world that has existed and different value systems have existed in the past. That allows pupils to reflect on our own modern morals and values in a very non threatening way because it is a dead society.

There are also clear benefits for the wider development of languages because Latin is a very well structured language which applies a very clear set of grammatical rules and a large number of other languages derive from Latin, including English. A Classical education is also very strong on the issue of self expression and understanding what is necessary for an argument.

Matthew Fox is Professor of Classics at Glasgow University

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