Rogueclassicism put me on to a review of a book advocating a particularly American way of viewing the Classics, Lee T. Pearcy, The Grammar of Our Civility: Classical Education in America. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2005. Pp. xii, 184. ISBN 1-932792-16-3. $24.95.
In the course of his review, David M. Pollio summarises the third chapter, and provides Classics teachers with some pretty tough criticisms to answer. How would you reply?
In Chapter 3, “Finis: Four Arguments Against Classics,” P. relates four arguments that demonstrate why Latin is in danger of being taught as frequently as Akkadian or ancient Sumerian or even of disappearing from formal higher education, “as ancient Greek nearly has already” (86).
The first, simply put, asserts that, “because the study of Greek and Latin no longer serves any social function, Latin should no longer be studied” (86). This argument takes two forms. The first (weaker version) suggests that Latin has no practical value, but is refutable on the grounds that “the value of many subjects. . .lies in what they do to students' minds, not in their content” (87). The second (stronger version) suggests that Latin and Classics, in general, have become alienated from their socio-economic base: “the self-conscious governing class whose tastes, values, and attitudes classical education was intended to form has vanished, and with it the social function of that education” (87).
The second argument regards the study of Latin and Greek as an elitist activity that acts as a barrier to understanding antiquity for all but the best students. In addition, the argument continues, “Latin. . .presents an especially clear and enduring case of the unbreakable link between language and the oppression of elitist patriarchy” (99).
The third argument against (the curricular subject called) Latin holds that because grammar cannot describe the world studying grammar is actually harmful to the intellect: “grammar and metaphysics, in fact, are equally suspect. Both represent doomed totalizing attempts to master and understand a world whose diversity forever resists all mastery and all understanding. If grammar is to be taught at all, it must be taught as one among many fictions” (103).
Finally, the fourth argument asserts that classical education is a cultural practice that began in the Renaissance and “developed in response to historical, social, and cultural needs and pressures,” but now that it is possible to be considered “educated” without much of a knowledge of antiquity, Classics “may be on the verge of becoming extinct” (105).