Boris Johnson · Ed Balls · Latin

Boris blasts Balls, or et tu Boris

I don’t know what you think about Boris Johnson. Whether you like his politics or not though, you have to admit that he’s a fine journalist and that he’s very, very funny at times. He’s also been for I don’t know how long a tireless campaigner for encouraging the teaching of Latin and Greek in schools across the country.
So, it was no surprise to see in the Telegraph that Boris had taken exception to the latest fatuity by Ed Balls, who apparently ‘dismissed the idea that Latin could inspire or motivate pupils’.
As Boris quite rightly points out, there has been a resurgence in the teaching of Latin and, according to the Cambridge Classics Project in a 2008 study, ‘no fewer than 500 secondary schools had started teaching Latin in the past eight years’. And did you know that there are now more state schools teaching the subject than private schools?
As Boris insists, reasons for teaching Latin are many. If you’ve been taught the subject at school you can probably ‘surprise your family and delight your friends by deciphering inscriptions’, as my wife and I did for our daughter when visiting the Bayeux tapestry in France last summer.
He goes on to argue that ‘the reason we should boost the study of Latin and Greek is that they are the key to a phenomenal and unsurpassed treasury of literature and history and philosophy, and we cannot possibly understand our modern world unless we understand the ancient world that made us all’.
Furthermore, how right he is to castigate the anti-elitism of ‘spheroids’, as Boris dubs Balls. For someone who went to private school and was taught Latin, it is disgraceful and ‘viciously elitist’ that a Labour minister should deny that right to less privileged children.
If you are interested in learning more about the ancient world or want to learn Latin or ancient Greek, by the way, the Open University run some excellent courses in both and no prior knowledge is necessary.