Making a ballista

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Harry Mount in The Spectator in April 2004

I didn't catch this lament for sliding standards when it was first published. Harry Mount lifted this article wholesale to provide a closing chapter to his book on Latin which received a lot of media attention.

It is plain, of course, that Mr Mount had not bothered to open a copy of the Cambridge Latin Course – perhaps still has not.

Hello, Cambridge Latin Course — the evil Latin-for-idiots school textbooks which say that learning things like cases, genders and vocabulary puts people off; much better to give you the translations at the bottom of the page and let you work out how the words fit together by feel. The course just plain doesn’t work: it’s like dumping a carburettor, a spark plug and a windscreen-washer-fluid holder in front of you, and expecting you to build an engine out of them.

Just an excerpt from his rant which you can read here.

One more short excerpt, which rings all too true:

When I did my Greek A level to get into Oxford in 1988, we translated chunks of Herodotus out of 1950s O level papers to practise.

What our Harry does not say is that the National Curriculum has squeezed the timetable so that there just is not time to teach Latin in the way he remembers.

Do you know what fellow teachers are thinking? Try this …

The Times Educational Supplement (TES) runs a teachers' forum. In July there was an exchange on how Latin teaching has changed over the decades. You might find it interesting.

Read it here.

Do you know what your pupils are thinking? Try this.

The Student Room is a forum where pupils share experiences, and where you can find interesting opinions and attitudes.

One topic running this summer is headed: Latin – easy?

You can read it here.

Just a couple of excerpts to whet your appetite:

  • hi all, just finnished my third and final latin GCSE this afternoon, and even though i only know approx. 5% of the vocab you need to know, i could answer basaically all the questions confidently.

    all you have to do to pass (C or above) is learn the english translations for the set texts for the prose and literature exams, and learn basic vocab for the unprepared comprehension exam. even though the grade boundaries are high compared to some subjects, it is still possible to get a high mark with little work.

  • what i meant by easy is that for the GCSE at least you could probably get a C or above just by learning the english translations for each piece of text. you dont really need the latin, it would help, but not essential. for example, the questions are like 'where did person X come from?' what was person X doing?' now if you had read the english translation and learn it semi-off by heart and knew a bit of the background to the story you could answer about 90% of the questions.

    anyway, thats how it worked out for me :)

Whether you want to share these gems with potential GCSE Latinists is up to you …