Why do the Classical subjects remain a criterion of a school’s academic quality? Thoughtful parents seem to regard their presence as proof of intent; and they want their children, of whatever ability, at least to have access to Latin in the basics, with the option of advanced study. Is this expectation justified?
Yes. At its lowest level, Latin is a tool for literacy and an intellectual lifeline to the child who has not yet been made aware of language. It is more valuable now than before, because it makes children mindful of the processes of language, at the same time promoting a critical approach to words and raising issues of semantics.
It is a subject that can introduce children to the routines of academic study, the roots of European literature and the refinements of self-expression.
At a higher level, the study of Latin informs and reinforces every academic subject that involves linguistic or historical study. It also provides the training of memory and the habit of analysis that make it, in the view of the Cambridge colleges (for example), such a desirable accompaniment to the sciences.
Latin and Greek, if well taught, provide a template for academic pursuit – for the process of learning in which observation, recording and analysis are followed by retention in the memory for the making of future connections—and it is the making of connections that these languages especially invite.
The Classical subjects are transformative, because their content, and the way it is studied, begins a process of lifelong learning. This is true also of Classical Civilisation, which is vivifying as a study for children who cannot access the foundations of European society via a language. With this subject they can do so, and in the process can learn the skills of enquiry, lateral thinking and self-expression. It can create the mindset for reading and academic study in those who otherwise would be deprived of those things, and put them on track for higher education.
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