I shouldn’t really be writing this blog today. Around me I have copies of Caesar’s Gallic War, Cunliffe’s detail on Pytheas’ journey and Asterix et Obelix apud Britannos, with some Tacitus to boot. For I thought I will be prepared for the time when Gove speaks to OCR and say: “I hate Homer, and Daily Mail doesn’t like Catullus. Besides, it’s not British. Get working OCR Classics…” nil desperanda Gove duce et que sera sera…
Not that this is likely to happen. Whilst Gove did tell OCR that it was depressing 90% of school boys study Of Mice and Men according to an article in the Daily Telegraph, it could just be that he dislike romanticising labourers and their work. Besides, Gove likes Latin and Greek – he put it on the National Curriculum and promised to roll it out across the state sector, as long as it’s not a free school.
I am still unsure why Gove likes the ancient languages; he certainly showed aptitude in Latin in response to the Education Secretary’s equivalent of how-much-is-your-shopping questions when he was asked in parliament what festina lente meant. There are clues to why he sees ancient languages as beneficial – when speaking about rolling Latin out across the state sector he considered that Latin and Greek should not be the preserve of the independent sector, which suggests that perhaps this should be a way of balancing the discrepancy between state and independent school provision. It cannot be to do with the cultural side, otherwise Classical Civilisation will be included in his flagship EBacc measurement, just as the ancient languages (and the more traditional Ancient History course) are. Perhaps it is to do with developing good grammar, or to do with intellectual exercise – after all the right-leaning think tank Politeia did suggest introducing an element of Latin composition into the GCSE exam. But then the think tank is not Gove, and the suggestion has not been adopted (yet).
The known unknown. This is quite often what we are worried about. The only known known is that Gove is here to stay until the general election, perhaps beyond. The known unknown for us Classicists is why he favours Latin or what he will do in any aspect, particularly our part, of education policy. Could the unknown known be that he is not enhancing the reputation or the spread of Latin at all (and that Latin uptake is occuring in spite of him)? And if the unknown unknown is known, please comment below.
There are strands of philosophy of Gove that each of us is inclined to agree or disagree. But beyond the rhetoric, the assenters and dissenters have little idea how these philosophies will manifest itself when a policy is announced. Beyond that, if a political backlash occur, the end product is anyone’s guess. The most salient example is how the EBacc Certificate qualification became the EBacc measurement of performance. We Classicists know that Gove supports the ancient languages. So far this idea has led to the subjects’ inclusion in EBacc and the primary curriculum as well as a campaign to retrain more non-specialist teachers. But the reduction of PGCE places in Classics next year the fact that trainee teacher of Classics were initially set to have no funding next year due to an oversight is perhaps a worry on Gove’s commitment, if not an indictment on the Department for Education. Either the idea is not being seen through in policy, or there is much hot air being pumped out.
What is partcularly worrying is the subject of Classical Civilisation. The fact that Classical Civilisation is not included in EBacc, the fact that PGCE courses in Classics are to become PGCE courses in Latin with Classics, suggest a heavy emphasis on language but not on culture. As mentioned above, Gove never quite laid out why he favours the ancient language but if the reasons for his support is purely a combination of the fact that public schools offer it and so should state schools, and that we should do language gratia language as a means to developing logic, reasoning and the sort of rhetoric production that he produces, I am worried. I am worried because I am a Classicist, and being a Classicist is so much more than learning culture through Livy or Ovid unseens (which I do enjoy), but a more holistic approach to two, perhaps more, of the greatest civilisations whose origin is in the Mediterranean, the middle of lands. The language is the manifestation of a culture and the teaching of one should come with the other.
In this light, Gove’s meddling of the English syllabus, after he laid out the history curriculum like rounds in a history pub quiz, is worrying. The worrying thing is not knowing what to worry about. To me, the announcement today that Gove has actively commented on a detailed aspect of a syllabus is a surprise. The display of disappointment over studying the John Steinbeck classic is likely a result of his belief in exposing more, perhaps solely, books from the English canon. We know Gove favours the ancient languages but we do not know why – will there be a surprise in store for us as he exerts influence on the Classics curriculum? nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.
In amongst all the talk on education policy can I just thank my year 10 Classical Civilisation students, who have given me a rather appropriately decorated poster and signed with lovely messages (and ones abusing my football loyalties). You will be missed – good luck in all your future endeavours!