Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Latin Letters

Latin's been on the letter pages of the paper over the last few days. Here they are if you missed them:

Liberal education at risk

Les MacDonald is quite right in suggesting that we all need a good liberal education as well as vocational training (Letters, May 25). It is very sad to see such school subjects as geography losing numbers to semi-mindless subjects such as business studies. It is also sad to see arts faculties in universities having to fight to keep subjects and courses alive. Subjects at risk include Latin and classical Greek, which should be alive and kicking at any good institution of liberal education. It is true, of course, that some arts academics have tried to dig their graves by having courses with a blatant Marxist or feminist bias, but that is no excuse for governments and universities to act like money-oriented Philistines.

David Morrison, Springwood

On your Marx

David Morrison (Letters, May 26-27) suggests that Latin and classical Greek are vital university subjects while berating "arts academics … with a blatant Marxist or feminist bias". With all respect, I would much prefer to receive the critical tools provided by means of engaging with Marxist or feminist theory. In an age of hegemonic acceptance of all things rational it would seem a critical mind is of more use than an ability to use a language used by a very few these days.

Stephen Owen, Carrington

Quid pro quo

Salve, Stephen Owen (Letters, May 28), allow me to point out it takes "a critical mind" in the first place to study Latin and ancient Greek. Furthermore, students of these languages develop broader capacities such as advanced logical, analytical and research faculty (to name but a few), and enhance their grasp of more modern tongues such as the Romance languages and even our own. Please don't fail to remember, either, that classicists are the custodians of one of the longest-standing disciplines in the university tradition.

Milton J. Micallef, Maroubra Junction


Mike Salter said...

Okay. Big rant from me on this one:

When I first started teaching Latin and Greek (in the late nineties), I still had my doubts about their place in the secondary school curriculum, given that - for all the fringe benefits associated with learning the classical languages - when stripped of all the rhetoric, one is teaching a language that no-one speaks anymore. On the face of it, that seems absurd.

I've gradually come to the realisation that beyond the mundane basics needed to survive in the world, the vast majority of what one studies in school is "optional extras". And if such optional extras encourage a love of knowledge (and the search for knowledge) for its own sake, exercise the mental faculties in a constructive manner, broaden one's knowledge of the world, and provide pleasure and entertainment, then they are worthwhile. Latin and Greek fall into these categories easily.

And the same applies for tertiary study. The first letter writer, incidentally, was dead right about courses with a blatant Marxist bias. Every single one of the "theory" courses in my Dip.Ed. was guilty of this.

Not trying to be too flippant about it, but when I hear hackneyed rubbish like...

...the critical tools provided by means of engaging with Marxist or feminist theory. In an age of hegemonic acceptance...

...I reach for the remote to change the channel. Facts over theory and half-baked analysis every time, for me.


Anonymous said...

Mike, thanks for your thoughts- i'm glad someone's still reading.

i feel exactly the same way- at times i'm troubled by 'all the rhetoric' (as you put it) that surrounds Latin- it can often come across as a bit hollow, elitist and self-interested. But at the same time I think a 'love of knowledge.. for its own sake' is a great thing for kids to catch, and it worries me that one of my brightest students from last year's year 8 class chose not to continue Latin, but to do commerce and computers because she thought they would be important for her career- and that this is an attitude encouraged by some parents. If i had a dollar for every time i'd been asked at parent-teacher night 'What use is Latin?'...

Anonymous said...

Gosh, I hope my parents have never said such a thing to you!! I love Latin and I think it is the best thing ever, even though I am failing it. Ms Knott told me to drop extension because I am so bad at Latin, but even though she is In Charge of pretty much everything, I still said no because it is just too good.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, parents can be very influential in their daughter's career paths. Well I'm very glad I chose latin. It seems that latin is the only subject I look forward to!