STARTING TO TEACH LATIN

By Steven Hunt

Bloomsbury (2016) p/b 193 pp £24.99 (ISBN 9781472537911)

This is a valuable, indeed invaluable book. Replete with the assured wisdom of a creative, insightful and reflective teacher, it is to be treasured not only by those who are starting out on the journey but by everyone at every stage of a teaching career. H.’s illustrations of what works in the classroom and what emphatically doesn’t are highly illuminating. They are usually based on real-life lessons that he has observed, and those who gave the lessons which didn’t work (Case Study 2 is particularly and hilariously blunder-prone) should feel no shame: we have all been there; and H.’s important book will enable all of us to do better. In addition, as a regular visitor to the American Classical League’s annual meetings, H. is splendidly placed to ensure that his counsel will be well worth heeding on the other side of the pond.

The strategies he advocates will result in enjoyable, stimulating and at the same time demanding lessons. He is thoughtful and constructive about ways in which vocabulary and full grammatical understanding (see especially Case Study 1 for the latter) can be mastered, and insistent that this should happen. (Quite why he should be worried about the grammar identification questions in the new GGSE I can’t imagine. Such an activity seems to chime in with his recommended methodology and is very much in line with the Teacher’s Guides to the Cambridge Latin Course.) While he demands high standards, his book is informed throughout by common sense and an awareness of what is realistic. I envy his PGCE students, but we can rejoice that this book will spread his illumination of good practice far beyond the confines of Cambridge.

In only one area does he abandon his tone of amiable advocacy. He is clearly enraged by OCR’s decision—the result of pressure from the book’s villain, one Michael Gove—that 5% of the marks at Latin GCSE should be awarded on four very easy English into Latin sentences, which are in any case optional. At the risk being branded one of those whom he considers crass right-wingers, I do not see any harm in making this option available: we are talking about elementary translation of simple English into Latin (no-one is asking for Gladstone to be rendered into Ciceronian Latin, for heaven’s sake! The most challenging sentence in the specimen paper is the admittedly clunky ‘We greeted the son of the man’); on the contrary it should be a reassuring exercise for pupils, helping them to see whether they have fully mastered a concept. I also think that it would be very straightforward to include such sentences in a non-time-consuming way from the earliest stages. (The Balme/Morwood Oxford Latin Course includes them right from the start.) I feel that H. is being alarmist when he finds it likely that ‘the latest round of examination reform … may close off many of the routes that have recently opened up’. Be that as it may, I also feel that it’s regrettable that Peter Jones, the man who has over the years done as much as anyone for ‘the cause’ should be accused of using his privileged position (meaning what exactly?) ‘to carry the debate away from where it matters’.

That said, I am fully in favour of H.’s earnest wish that teachers of classics should have a meaningful say in the future of their subject. H. is not altogether correct to assert that there was no consultation with teachers about the introduction of the National Curriculum: in fact Pat Easterling, John Murrell and Martin Thorpe (the latter two Executive Secretary and President of JACT respectively) visited Kenneth Baker at York House. Baker ended by saying how happy he was to reassure them—which he had most decidedly not done! But H. is certainly right to feel that at present the voice of the practising professionals is not being heard or listened to nearly enough. It is splendid, however, that he feels able to end his generally excellent book on a note of quiet optimism.

James Morwood—Wadham College, Oxford

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