30 years ago

6th August 2004 at 01:00
There is rarely anything new under the sun - or the Roman sun anyway. The debate over the future and merits of Latin raged as vigorously 30 years ago as it does today, judging by a letter in The TES Scotland of August 9, 1974, from P G Walsh of the department of humanity at Glasgow University:

Mr Drinnan now concedes the importance of Latin as the key to the understanding not only of the Roman civilisation but also of European culture up to the Renaissance. But he claims that this does not make a case for its retention in schools; a university presence for the subject is all that is required.

But there are cogent arguments against this view: they are closely relevant to his misapprehension that the sole purposes of Latin in the schools is to gain entry to certain non-classical courses and to perpetuate the species of Latin teacher.

If Latin were abolished in the schools, it would be sorely regretted by many other university departments besides classics. For example, archaeology (an understanding of Latin is useful far beyond the bounds of Roman archaeology); medieval history, for obvious reasons; Scottish history, equally obviously; all the Romance languages; English literature, in which an ignorance of the classical background is an obstacle to understanding of almost every major poet and prose-writer up to the 19th century.

Learning Latin is important also because it helps pupils to write English more correctly and more fluently. I teach both classicists and non-classicists, and I have no doubt that the classical students spell, punctuate and order English sentences more correctly than the Latin-less honours English students.

Such English students often show greater imagination and greater critical faculties.

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