The Classics community is a small world. This statement might seem unsubstantiated and I will do little to substantiate it over this blog post, but this is where I shall start my post, because you must have heard these words vel sim before. Everyone knows everyone in the Classical world, or something like that.
Recently, we hear news that the Joint Association of Classical Teachers (JACT) is consulting about a merger with the Classical Association (CA). You can read about it here, and by now the representatives of both organisations would have met. One wonders what the conversations would have been: a shared goal of spreading Classics? You keep your annual CA and I keep my Bryanston? A joint Twitter feed? A joint campaign to bring Latin onto the National Curriculum? Collective outreach effort? A seamless transfer from A-Level Classics to degree-level Classics? It may even be sharing the Senate House office? Have a single secretariat? Ensure one pool of money is used effectively across the board?
I hope you will forgive me in that the suggested topic above is meant as a light-hearted enactment of the meeting of the organisations. It seems to me that JACT is serious in its consideration of merging with the Classical Association. Such a merger would represent the union of a professional organisation representing schoolteachers with a broad-based association serving those with any degree of interest in the classical world.
JACT was founded in 1963, at a time was not in crisis, but crises. The abolishment of Latin as a requirement to enter the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge (realised slightly differently in each of the universities) coupled with the rise of comprehensive school are sparks in a world where classrooms were still obsessed in the grammar-translation-or-bust model. This is a world before Cambridge Latin Course, and that has been around for a while. The crises, the sparks, the triggers for schools to drop classical subjects. JACT was meant to reinvigorate that, and it achieved a varying degree of success over the years – yes Latin did not make it into the National Curriculum when it was established, but it did not fall off the cliff either.
William Thompson, a Lecturer in Classical Method at the University of Leeds (a department recently under threat of closure), was one of they key figure in establishing JACT, as was John Sharwood Smith of the Institute of Education (an organisation that no longer offers Classics):
Thompson had tried to persuade the CA to increase its subseciption which had remained unchanged from five shillings since the Association’s foundation and to transform itself into an organisation that would support teacher of schools Classics. Sharwood Smith had been involved in moves to expand the functions and to change the name of the ARLT [Association for the Reform of Latin Teaching].
Martin Forrest, Modernising the Classics (Exeter, 1996), p.16.
Given the proposed merger now, perhaps one could reach two conclusions – that the CA has taken up the mantel of promoting teaching of Classics in school and so this function, which JACT has performed valiantly recently, can be done collaboratively, and; there is no threat to Classical teaching and indeed it is very healthy.
Classics, on feeling, is not doing too badly in secondary education but can it still do better? Can the jobs of Classics teachers be made easier still? The inset days that JACT organises have been beneficial but does it seek other way of allowing idea sharing or crowdsourcing between teachers? It must be noted that in a world with organisations such as the Classics Library for sharing ideas, Classics for All for promoting Classics in general and in schools, The Iris Project for introducing Classics to schools that do not offer any Classical subjects beforehand, Oxford’s outreach effort for outreach effort (seemingly across the whole of United Kingdom) to existing school Classics department and the Classics in Communities project for advice and encouragement in increasing uptake of Classics at primary level, the Joint Association of Classical Teachers is slightly hidden in their midst.
Yet there must be a role for an organisation to Classical Teachers. It should be noted that last year Classics PGCE was almost left off the list of subjects for which bursary will be given to trainee teachers; now trainee teachers is set to gain the top tier of support as supposed to the second tier current trainees enjoy. In times where curriculum is frequently altered, a professional organisation such as this should be there to ensure that it is changed for the better. It could be argued that Gove was inherently interested in having Latin, Greek and Ancient History in the list of subjects measured by EBACC, but what about Classical Civilisation? What of the consultation to introduce an element of Englist-to-Latin composition at GCSE?
Which brings me back to the small world of Classics. I have recently attended some inset days for teachers and conferences for the academia. It is easy to recognised that there are different circles that Classicists move in, circles that are dictated by shared interests or aims. Classics teachers are often busy, but call an inset day with advice on teaching and they come together. The outlook of Classics teachers is different to that of the academics and the questions at inset days are more pragmatic than those of Classical conferences, reflecting their teaching needs.
In the recent eGreek and iLatin conference organised by the Open University (see Storify of the conference here) there were a lot of academics teaching ancient languages keen to share their eIdeas (or iIdeas?). Interestingly, there were a few attendees from the world of secondary education too. James Robson from the Open University was able to present on OU’s e-learning platform and it was useful to know, but there are also a lot of other projects based on existing websites and e-learning environment that was useful to share. In amongst the conversations, there have been some talk for collaboration – why don’t all the university collaborate their efforts and experience? There would be obstacle, of course – unique selling-point for the university which developed it, hard to get funding – but it is for the benefit of those who work within the Classics circle.
Indeed, should there not be collaboration at a school level too? The event, which was aimed at higher education, attracted professionals from the secondary education. This shows there are demands for such events aimed at secondary education too. It is also inherently the case that secondary education, with its set exam curriculum, generally different course books and time demand, has different realities to the pedagogy in higher education. The question is who will take up the mantel for organising such events? Not only on e-learning, but on informing formal curriculum, bringing alive Greek Art and Architecture through museums and web sources, teaching using TPRS or the inductive method, maximising school trips.
To do that, we need a facilitator, a facilitator to make the world of Classicists and specifically of Classics teachers even smaller. At the moment, the Classics Library seems to perform that role best. Perhaps it is in this guise that JACT must decide whether it wishes to boldly take up a mantel to make the work of Classics Teachers lighter, or to quietly lie hidden in the big tent of the Classical Association. But let’s be clear – even if the latter path is chosen, the needs of Classical teachers will not vanish.