Is Max Hastings an old buffer or is he writing good sense?

This Education Guardian opinion piece doesn't mention the Romans in its remarks on History in schools, but you may find its drift helpful. Or not. Do comment!

British education is increasingly perceived as a utilitarian process: all disciplines seeking to rouse the enthusiasm of pupils as if they were fugitive birds, to be tempted out of trees with nuts. The logical outcome of this policy is that children will eventually learn only how to handle computers, change the wheels of cars and submit applications for credit cards.

Even some upmarket schools offer curriculum options that allow pupils to sidestep anything difficult. This is crazy. Real learning cannot be easy, except to a few prodigies. Of course, inner-city schools have little use for Simon de Montfort. But the relentless pruning of aspirations for history teaching even in good secondary schools should dismay us all. Most of the QCA's thinking represents appeasement rather than remedy.

Read the rest.

So I'm not the only one to see a chance for Classics in the new schools

Gargi Bhattacharyya wrote against the government white paper on giving independence to schools on 9th December, but included this:

Next there is the question of subject specialisms and provision for more able children. We have all read the headlines about the imminent death of physics, and other hard sciences and modern languages seem to be endangered too. Minority interests such as classics were abandoned to the private sector long ago. The opportunity for some schools to declare themselves as specialist academies might seem like another chance for the state sector to resurrect almost lost disciplines. Maybe not all schools can be excellent at everything, but at least specialist status can feed resources to the places that count.

It seems strange to me that while the general assumption among parents and many others is that Independent Schools give a higher standard of education than the average Maintained School, the meejah on the whole see the plan to bring Maintained Schools more of the independence, that makes Independent Schools what they are, as leading to chaos and devastation. Why, there might even be, horror of horrors, a Christian influence in schools.

Whatever next? People might begin to claim Christmas as a Christian festival, which would be the end of civilisation as they know it.

'The Classical World' reviewed

You may be interested in this review of Robin Lane Fox's magnum opus, The Classical World.

Tom Holland, the reviewer, is impressed by the erudition, but finds the book dismissive of the latest scholarship and at times showing some boredom. But read the review for yourself. There have been many reviews of this book, which Google will find for you, and which could be useful if you are considering buying the book for the school library.

Also in the Guardian is this review by John Man of The Fall of the Roman Empire by Peter Heather. He called the book 'magisterial.' Sounds good, but yes, I know, it's not on the A level syllabus.

Both Scientist and Classicist

The Guardian printed yesterday the obituary of Rutherford 'Gus' Aris, mathematician, chemical engineer and classical scholar, born September 15 1929; died November 2 2005. It included this interesting paragraph:

He had the unusual honour of simultaneously being a professor in the classics department, where he indulged his passion for palaeographics, the study of ancient inscriptions and manuscripts. His love of ancient languages led him to publish a technical paper in Latin, and to write Explicatio Formarum Litterarum (The Unfolding of Letterforms: From the First Century to the Fifteenth, 1990).

First Latin, then Modern Languages

So, modern languages are going the way of Latin. The Guardian reports today that pupils are giving up modern languages. This follows the government ruling that they are not to be a compulsary part of the national curriculum after the age of 14. It is just what happened when Oxford and Cambridge stopped making Latin compulsary for entry.

In its assessment of modern foreign languages, the QCA reports that the government's decision to allow youngsters to drop languages at the age of 14 has led to “a significant decline in the number of pupils learning MFL at key stage 4 and an associated drop in GCSE entries in the summer of 2005”.

The QCA says it is “very worried” by the fact that “large numbers of average students are possibly reducing their future prospects of job mobility and choice by giving up language learning at 14”.

What to do with Latin GCSE No.683 – be a top footballer


By Patrick Barclay (Filed: 18/12/2005)

What Lampard represents is the fusion of English combativeness with what was once known as Latin technique. Appropriately enough, for at Brentwood, the Essex public school where Lampard obtained no fewer than 12 GCSEs before turning professional at West Ham, he got an 'A' in Latin.

Read the whole Telegraph article.

Women in Roman forts

This is from Australia – Ancient Worlds News. Thanks to Explorator for the link.

Roman forts had a woman's touch

Anna Salleh

ABC Science Online

Tuesday, 13 December 2005

Roman woman

Women played a larger role in Roman military life, analysis of artefacts from military forts suggests.
Women lived and worked in Roman military forts, according to a telltale trail of lost hairpins and beads.

This dispels the notion the forts were male-only domains, says archaeologist Dr Penelope Allison of the Australian National University.

She presents her analysis of the archaeological record at the Australasian Archaeometry Conference in Canberra this week.
“These were not segregated communities,” says Allison, who has been studying evidence from 1st and 2nd century forts on the western frontier of the Roman Empire.

“They would have had a lot of women involved, possibly as wives, possibly running shops, possibly involved in craft, inside the fort.”

Ordinary Roman soldiers were not legally allowed to have wives, says Allison, and it has generally been thought that the only women allowed in the forts were wives of commanding officers.

“Any other women, whether they be wives or concubines or prostitutes or tradespersons, were not thought to live within the fort,” she says.

This belief was reinforced, says Allison, by what she describes as the “elitist attitude” of 19th military historians that Roman forts would be segregated because women disrupted military life.

“That's been projected back onto the Roman world,” she says.

But, says Allison, although Rome decreed ordinary soldiers could not marry, the reality was quite different away from the front.

Telltale hairpins

In a unique study, Allison has been analysing patterns of objects found throughout the forts that support the presence of women.

“The distribution of lost and abandoned objects, tells us quite a lot of about where people go and how they use a space,” she says.

Using computer software, she has mapped the distribution of over 30,000 artefacts.

She found objects used by women, such as hairpins, beads, perfume bottles and spindle wheels scattered in buildings and along the streets of the forts.

“They all tend to group together in different parts of the fort,” she says.

The location of these objects suggest women often played an active life in the fort, says Allison, which might be better described as a functioning town with a market rather than a sterile male-only province.

She says women were well and truly integrated into the forts, playing “helpful” non-combatant roles of wives, mothers, craftspeople and traders.

Buried babies

Allison says her conclusion is also supported by the remains of about 11 babies buried beneath the fort barracks.

Some historians who favour the idea the forts were segregated have attempted to “explain away” this discovery by arguing the babies' remains were accidentally brought into the fort in soil. But Allison rejects this.

She says evidence, such as that from tombstone inscriptions, record the fact that men left property to women they'd formed long-lasting relationships with.