Why the Classics effect is no myth

Pupils with behaviour issues to learn life lessons from Greek gods

Classical myths are full of blood and gore, with characters having their livers pecked at by eagles or plunging to their deaths in the sea.

This tumultuous world may not seem to be the best place to take young people who have been removed from mainstream classes because of behavioural issues. But according to a campaign to get Classics taught in state schools, studying the characters of mythology could be one of the best ways to help troubled teens work through life's big issues.

Starting this week, students in a school behaviour unit in Oxford - suffering from conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiance disorder and autism - will take part in a series of "positive psychology" workshops based around classical myths.

The sessions will be run at the recently established East Oxford Community Classics Centre, which was set up by the Iris Project, a charity working to spread the teaching of Classics. At a pilot session, the pupils - who all attend the Cheney Plus inclusion unit at the Cheney School in Oxford - looked at the concept of superheroes in contemporary culture and mythology.

Lorna Robinson, director of the Iris Project, said she had initially been quite surprised that the pupils were already well-informed about classical stories. Much of their knowledge had come from the best-selling Percy Jackson books, which put a contemporary spin on classical mythology through the adventures of a "demigod" with dyslexia and ADHD. Talking about issues through the prism of classical stories and characters enabled the pupils, aged 11 to 14, to talk more openly, she said.

Vicky Arvaniti, who led the pilot, said that looking at the heroes had helped introduce pupils to the concept of having a goal: "It made them think about what they might be aspiring to do and gave them a chance to define and verbalise it, and to think about what they need to do to achieve it."

Susie Lopez, an instructor at Cheney Plus, said the projects allowed the students to work in a cross-curricular way. "Sometimes the misconception is that the pupils have academic problems, but they have behavioural problems. They are perfectly capable of getting very complex concepts, we just have to teach them in a different way," she said.

"For example, if one of the students takes umbrage with one mythological creature, they can look at another one instead, which isn't always possible in a mainstream classroom."

Christopher Pelling, regius professor of Greek at Oxford University's Christ Church college, said it was a "terrific initiative".

"The sessions build on the experiences that the children share - the television or the films they've seen - and then go on to bring in the classical material as well, so it's an immensely good way of broadening the children's experience and interests as well as getting them to think and communicate," he said.

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