After I heard the news about the Classical Civilisations A Level being scrapped, I honestly can’t remember ever being so shocked and angered on a personal level about the terrible educational changes over the past few years. I was, of course, angered by the announcement about the changing of the grading system of GCSEs and more recently the scrapping of Art History A Level, but neither of these struck as much as a personal chord with me as this did.
I did Classical Civilisations at GCSE and A level and it was honestly my favourite subject at school, more so even than English Literature which I am currently studying at degree level. I place that largely due to the incredible teaching I received in the subject, as well as and perhaps more than my existing interest in classical literature and culture, a fact which I think shows why this is such a poor decision. Classciv. is one of those subjects in which the teaching you receive in it is absolutely key to your enjoyment and interest, as some of the texts you study and the culture and art you learn about are so alien to our modern sensibilities, that I believe you need a teacher or some guiding influence to bring out the full level of enjoyment and value from it. When I first read epic poetry such as the Iliad and the Aeneid I thought they were incredibly boring and struggled to get through them, whereas after studying them at various points over the past few years under an enthusiastic teacher and participating in discussion I was able to greater appreciate and enjoy them, some bits more than others admittedly.
The alien nature and codes of the classical world is actually a large part of its fascination for me, as well as the fact that elements of classical works are still relatable, such as the play Trojan Women by Euripides and its recent reworking by Syrian refugees. The prized qualities of the warrior-king in the epics, Odysseus’ constant deceptions in the Odyssey being praised rather than condemned, the capricious yet feared gods, all of this is highly interesting. Of course, there are many elements which are offensive to modern views, such as ideas about the place of women and treatment of race, but these must be recognised and put in context, as in English Literature. Speaking of literature, so much classical and modern literature references these classical texts that it is a huge advantage to the study of the former if you possess knowledge of the latter.
The enthusiastic teacher is also an important point, as my Classciv. and Latin teachers have honestly been some of the most passionate about their subject, and capable of imparting that passion, that I have ever encountered. Several classically inspired books recommended by my Classciv. teacher at GCSE became some of my favourite books ever, and through my A Level class I not only gained a greater appreciation of Homer but also of classical Greek vase painting, to the extent that I now actively seek out classical art and architecture every time I go on holiday.
It is an issue that only a very small minority of students are ever offered the choice in school of taking subjects such as Latin and Classciv., but I do not believe that scrapping the subject will help anyone. To those who view it as a ‘soft subject’, I honestly struggled more to obtain a good grade in this subject than in others such as English Literature. But, how can the value of a subject be determined by exam results, or the number of people who take the exam, if it has such potential to produce greater effects that continue beyond the classroom?
Image: Seeta Parmar