A classic toff

From The Guardian

I share the writer’s doubt whether it would be good for Classics to be represented in the public imagination solely by Boris. She does mention Mary Beard as well, but there is always Peter Jones. Don’t forget the incredible work he has done over the years. Lorna Robinson is getting the knack of making the papers and the BBC. So it’s not all Boris…

Teach Latin to help curb knife crime, ran the headline in the Daily Telegraph. No prizes for guessing which politician was behind this sentiment. “I think there’s a huge amount we can do in London by promoting the learning of languages including Latin,” Boris Johnson was quoted as saying. “I would like to see not only that but I would like to see ancient Greek.”

The irony is that I, as a fellow classicist (and a product of Johnson’s very own alma mater), have no particular argument with the general idea. Yes, it would be great if Latin and Greek were more widely taught in schools. Yes, education has to form part of the struggle against knife crime. But the notion that learning Latin and Greek might be an integral part of preventing this horrific phenomenon – well, has anyone thought of letting them eat cake?

Johnson has, to be fair, put a great deal of energy into promoting the classics. He is president of the Joint Association of Classical Teachers; he speaks for classics; he campaigns; he broadcasts. He deserves great credit for his efforts. My worry is not that Johnson is a champion of classics, but that he is the only prominent, high-profile champion of classics in this country. And he represents something very particular: a posh, white, public-school, rightwing, blokeish version of classics that, when unchallenged by any other popular view of the subject, does it enormous disservice. If the prevailing feeling is that Latin and Greek are for toffs, then Boris, frankly, is not the man to dispel that notion.

The fact, of course, is that classics is not for toffs. As Latin and Greek have drifted away from school timetables, so many universities have adapted, offering teaching in the languages from scratch: these days, no one need be held back by not having been to the “right school”. And, while the Boris version of classics might summon up visions of pipe-smoking dons trading bons mots from Horace in the senior common room, professional classicists these days are more likely to be interested in sexuality and gender; in the implications of ancient colonialism; in ancient notions of humour or national identity or class or a host of other questions that would probably make the traditionalist in Johnson shudder.

Rather than a subject for the posh, classics is a subject for the intellectually ambitious, like Hardy’s Jude; or indeed Virginia Woolf, who taught herself Greek so as to be able to read Sophocles in the original. (She wrote about it movingly in her essay On Not Knowing Greek). It is, in short, classless. Mary Beard, professor of ancient history at Cambridge University and the nearest we have to a non-Boris popular champion of the subject, has written fascinatingly in her blog about the working-class classicists of the past – including a fellow called Alfred Williams, born in 1877, who worked in a railway factory and learned Latin and Greek by chalking up irregular verbs on his forge.
It’s time, then to take the class out of classics. And, while we’re at it, we might remember that the ancient world is not a great place to start if you want to reduce knife crime. Does anyone remember how Julius Caesar was murdered?

Charlotte Higgins is author of Latin Love Lessons: Put a Little Ovid in Your Life (Short Books). It’s All Greek To Me (also Short Books) is published in October.

Oops! This is just satire, right?

“We need to get new home football uniforms this fall, and new “away” jerseys next year, so we’re not going to hire another Latin teacher for awhile,” says Principal Morris Byrum, Norton’s boss.

Quoted in Gerbil News Network

Beloved Latin teacher retires after 18 years

From the Cincinnati Enquirer
(with picture of ‘Magistra’ chair)

MADEIRA – Students at Madeira High School cried when
venerable Latin teacher Kay Fluharty announced she was retiring at the
end of the school year.

And they worried. Who could possibly take her place?

They’re feeling better now that they’ve learned a former student will be
Fluharty’s successor. Jenn (Schneider) Bruening, who graduated in 2002,
has taught Latin the last two years at Wyoming Middle School.

“I knew she was the one I wanted,” said Fluharty, who sat in on
interviews for a new Latin teacher. At one point she said she wouldn’t
retire if her successor wasn’t the right fit.

“I care too much about it than to leave it in the hands of someone who is going to let
it fall,” Fluharty said. “How much better could it be than to leave it
in the hands of a student I have liked since the day I met her in
eighth grade?”

Fluharty built Madeira’s program into what it is
today. The high school’s Latin offerings were sparse when Fluharty
began teaching there in 1990, when about 25 students were taking Latin.

Now, a fourth of the school, or about 100 students, take Latin.

She won the Hildesheim Award in 2000 for the best Latin high school program
in the state. The award is given by the Ohio Classical Conference, an
organization of Latin, Greek and classics college professors and high
school teachers.

She’s taken Madeira students to the state Latin
competition for 17 years. This year, students placed first at the Ohio
Junior Classical League Convention for the first time.

“It is really daunting,” Bruening said. “She’s got a huge legacy here to make
sure I uphold and keep going strong. That’s a lot of pressure.”

Bruening said the program will stay as Fluharty taught it. Fluharty’s program
cultivated her interest in the language in the first place.

Bruening
became enamored with the language while watching the Latin Club put on
plays and went on to take Latin five years at Madeira.

“I just knew that Latin was academic, so I kind of wanted to do something that
was a little bit out of the box and unique, instead of taking Spanish
and French,” she said.

Fluharty’s love of Latin inspired Bruening to study the classics and education at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

“Latin is ubiquitous. It’s everywhere,” Fluharty says when people tell her
Latin is a dead language. “And I can show it in words that have come
straight through 2000 years exactly the same, common words that we use
all of the time that are everywhere.”

Latin has survived in languages, laws, literature, architecture and customs, she said.

“It’s not a spoken language. There’s nobody out there we can go speak Latin
to, but … it is an avenue to ancient literature. It’s a reading
base,” Fluharty said.

Laura Wallace and Ashley Paluta, who just graduated, organized a surprise retirement party for Fluharty on
Friday. Both took five years of Latin.

“She’s (Fluharty) very passionate about the language,” Wallace said. “Her main goal is to get
her students inflamed with a love for Latin. She’s not just a teacher,
but a friend and mentor. She’s such a loving person. She really cares
about her students.

“I think Jenn is going to do a great job, but she (Fluharty) really is irreplaceable.”

Fluharty said her exit from Madeira’s Latin program is bittersweet.

“I ask myself, ‘Why in the world am I retiring?’ I don’t know that there’s anything else that I can achieve,” Fluharty said.

“I leave it sadly, but in good hands.”