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A similar picture emerges from secondary schools. Intriguingly, despite the recurrent difficulty of securing new teachers for Latin and Greek, these two subjects are avoiding the steady decline affecting those taught through translation. While the number of students taking “classical subjects” at A Level has been around 6,000 for the last 15 years, and at GCSE around 15,000, this stability disguises some specific trends. In the last three years (2016-18), A-Level take-up for Ancient History has decreased by 23 per cent (to 577), and Classical Civilisation by 18 per cent (to 3,323). Latin, by contrast, has grown slightly (3 per cent, to 1,196); a similar growth exists for the markedly smaller subject of Ancient Greek (4  per cent, to 249). This is impressive, given that A-Level Greek is only offered by one exam board (the Cambridge-based OCR); the only other board to offer A-Level Latin is the Scottish Qualifications Authority, which in 2018 attracted only 18 candidates for Advanced Higher Latin — the same number as sat its Classical Studies exam.

Among GCSE cohorts of the last five years (2014-18), Ancient History has decreased by 28 per cent (to 901), and Classical Civilisation by 37 per cent (to 2,714, the lowest figure in a generation). By contrast, the total number of candidates for Latin (10,546) and/or Greek (1,249) is at its highest for five years, and collectively larger than it was at the turn of the century (11,494). Doubtless the growing popularity of the European Baccalaureate — a mandated menu of GCSEs that requires a foreign language is having a positive effect, now that Latin and Greek qualify as subjects. In 2018, take-up for the two other classical subjects, which do not count for the EBacc., decreased by a quarter.

What is perhaps more surprising than the enduring appeal of studying the Classics through the ancient languages is a developing demographic trend: despite this being a discipline whose civilisation was primarily controlled by men, and almost exclusively created by men, Classics has seen in recent decades a predominance of female undergraduates. The average cohort of Cambridge Classicists, for instance, has comprised 61 per cent women over the last five years. Across the UK sector, UCAS reported in 2017 that the student body for “Linguistics, Classics and related" subjects has 3.3 female undergraduates for every male. It is true that there is a general preponderance of female students in UK universities (58 per cent of the 2016-17 cohort), but it is increasingly marked in the Classics. Among younger (under 35) classical academics in the UK, women are also slightly in the majority. Such a trend seems to be replicated among British secondary schools: the proportion of women taking classical subjects at A Level has risen steadily over the last ten years, from 53 per cent (2009) to over 62 per cent (2018); for Classical Civilisation, two-thirds of candidates are female.
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Daniel Bamford.
January 12th, 2019
3:01 PM
David Butterfield suggests that ‘the unpoliced resources afforded by the Classics offer a thrilling liberation from some of the intractable impasses of 21st-century cultural politics’ (‘How the Ancients can help the Moderns’, December 2018 / January 2019). This immediately reminded me of a footnote to Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (1944): ‘I believe it was the author of Leviathan who first suggested that the teaching of the Classics should be suppressed, because it instilled a dangerous spirit of liberty!’ (ch. 13, p. 141, n. 2). Thomas Hobbes did not actually propose the outright suppression of the Classics, but insisted that the reading of Classical politics and history should be subject to ‘the correctives of discreet Masters’. This was because the Classics provide justifications and precedents for the overthrow of monarchs and their replacement with forms of ‘Popular Government’ (Leviathan (1651), Part II, ch. 29, p. 170.f). Apparently, there is no shortage of contemporary ‘discreet Masters’ committed to applying the necessary ‘correctives’ in order to force the study of the Classics to conform to the ‘supposedly “progressive” ideas’ that now demand our universal and unquestioning endorsement. Dr. Butterfield mentions attempts to reconstruct a more socially diverse ancient world in order to satisfy identity politics and a shift of focus to the reception of Classical culture in modern times in order to satisfy the demand for contemporary relevance. Such politically correct Classics now find their personification in Donna ‘Eidolon’ Zuckerberg, whose big brother Mark is also ‘Big Brother’ to all FaceBook users. While Zuckerberg tinkers with his algorithms, British universities are now expected to assess the quality of ‘teaching excellence’ through the quantifications of ‘core metrics’. As Dr. Butterfield remarks, ‘the humanities […] weren’t built for this’. Indeed, the Classics must be reconstructed, precisely because they ‘provide eloquent evidence that the human condition is less mutable than modern ideologues may suppose’. It will be easy enough to suppress notions of human liberty, since the Classics have also provided ample resources for totalitarian determinists, as Karl Popper demonstrated in The Open Society and its Enemies (1945). Any humane defence of the Classics must therefore call on support from elsewhere. With this in mind, it is important to remember that the Classics were first categorised as ‘humanities’ in order to distinguish them from the study of ‘divinities’ and Dr. Butterfield acknowledges that the Classical tradition ‘has long since become impossibly implicated in the threads of lofty Christian morality’. It is this context of Christian ‘cultural appropriation’ that ensured both the survival of the Classical tradition and the sanctification of individual human liberty. Yet, by the same token, the Classics also influenced Christianity, so that the dehumanising determinism of the neo-Platonists, Manicheans and Gnostics found voice in Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther and Jean Calvin. Having long harboured inherently anti-Christian ideologies, the Christian influence on the study of the Classics is now much weakened, openly despised and deliberately discarded. The fate of the humanities thus depends on the fate of the divinities: if our human existence as sentiment individuals is no longer validated by a sentient personal creator, then the ultimate consequence is what C. S. Lewis called The Abolition of Man (1943). Having cited three books published in the 1940s, I should conclude by recalling the context in which Hayek thought of Hobbes’s attitude towards the Classics: ‘… perhaps no country provides a better illustration of the effects on a nation of a general and thorough shift of the greater part of its education system from the “humanities” to the “realities” than Germany between 1840 and 1940.’ Sincerely, Daniel Bamford, Derbyshire.

ian coville
December 9th, 2018
4:12 AM
yes and "what is a classic book?" at says 'classic' really just means appropriate.

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