Mar 152010

I cannot even begin to identify anyone whom I loathe more than I loathe Ed Balls, but at least I could console myself that it was nothing personal – until today.

Ed Balls, in his infinite fucking wisdom, has decided that Latin is a useless subject in schools. Like Boris Johnson, I am outraged, not least because this is my livelihood at stake. When the Secretary of State for Schools declares a subject useless, you can be sure that it will be sliced from the curriculum with great precision, Hannibal Lecter-style.

To quote BoJo quoting Balls:

Speaking on the radio, Spheroids dismissed the idea that Latin could inspire or motivate pupils. Head teachers often took him to see the benefits of dance, or technology, or sport, said this intergalactic ass, and continued: “No one has ever taken me to a Latin lesson to make the same point. Very few parents are pushing for it, very few pupils want to study it.”

Balls, my friend, I will tell you why head teachers have never taken you to a Latin lesson. First, it’s because Latin is offered in so few schools these days that I doubt any of the ones you’ve visited on your infrequent and disruptive photo-ops even teaches the subject.

Second, it would be a pointless waste of time to allow you to observe the teaching of such an elegant and complex subject. Not only would you be incapable of understanding the material, much less appreciating it, the superior knowledge of the students would show you up in a Tennessee heartbeat. Could you even begin to grasp the idea of an ablative absolute, or listen with any light of comprehension in your eyes to a discussion of the sexual puns in a poem by Ovid? Students can. Could you find in your shrivelled soul an inclination to laugh at the comedy of Aristophanes or experience a pang of sympathetic horror at the tribulations of Oedipus? Students can.

Could you learn the lessons of Sulla and Pompey, that it is not okay to destroy a country in pursuit of one’s own personal ambition? Of course not. As BoJo points out, you studied the classics at school. If you could have absorbed the moral of such cautionary tales from ancient history, you would not be what you are today.

Which is an ignorant, judgmental, pompous fool with no appreciation of culture or history and no interest in or understanding of what it takes to make a child a human being, rather than a mindless automaton whose only skill is the ability to wibble on pointlessly about social justice and carbon footprints.

As long as Ed Balls remains a force within the Labour Party, nobody will ever convince me that that party intends any good for anybody whatsoever, try they mightily, and I will do everything in my power to persuade every British voter I encounter that a vote for Labour is a vote for the total destruction of civilisation.

  36 Responses to “I love BoJo; I hate the Balls”

  1. My latin’s a little [a lot] rusty, but my message to Ed Balls, in any language, would be a solid ‘velim te futuas’.

  2. I was considering doing something on this but you’ve said it all. Not a pleasant thought, but if Brown wins the two dominant figures in the government will be Balls and Harman.

    “A vote for Labour is a vote for the total destruction of civilisation.” How horribly true. And a much better slogan than “Vote for change”.

  3. As it is the Ides of March, perhaps somebody will take the hint and do us all a favour…..

  4. […] The joy and value of Latin being taught in schools and the defence of it being of course entirely separate from this Libertarian’s sustenance being drawn from teaching Latin in schools. […]

  5. Charles Clark made a similar pronouncement about medieval history. Why is it that education ministers are so demonstrably ill-educated?

    On a different, but related matter, Bella, do you have any recommendations for an adult who would like to lean a smattering of latin?

  6. My latin teacher was from Wales. I only studied it for two years but ever since I’ve always had this idea that Caesar and his chums spoke in a welsh accent.

    Go school vouchers! Then Balls can say whatever he wants.

  7. I just remembered that they used to get us to translate all the latin in Asterix comics. We were allowed to borrow any of them as long as we came back with a translation.

    Jonathan – Perhaps you could start with a copy of Ecce Romani (*snigger – In my head that’s said in a welsh accent).

    The teacher was also a devout Catholic and I remember her telling us once that “Jesus wants you to learn Latin”. Does Balls know this?

  8. That Ecce Romani image on the Amazon link brings back memories of school.
    I must confess that I found Latin at school to be rather dull and useless, and stopped studying it after two years. Evidently I was mistaken.

    • Probably because most Latin textbooks (including the Cambridge Latin Course) never give you any real Latin; you just end up reading made-up stories about Caecilius visiting the slave-dealer in the forum. How much more students would enjoy Latin if they were reading proper ancient literature, with its blood and guts and puns! But alas. The CLC has a virtual monopoly in the UK by virtue of the fact that all of the public exams are based on it – because, don’t you know, all of the public exams are set by the editors of the CLC.

      • I’m not sure if some proper ancient literature would have helped, as I don’t recall being presented with any. I’m quite prepared to believe you, though. I suspect that a lot of the problem was that the teaching was in a school, and I found that that tended to spoil whatever subject was being presented.

      • So true! All I remember from doing latin for one year is learning non stop about caecilius. Caecilius this, Caecilius that and how he meets syphax the slave dealer. Heck, the only Latin I remember is: ‘Caecilius est in via.’ Which I’m not even sure what it means.

        All our teacher used to do was teach us only from the interactive whiteboard and this is probably why I lost interest in the subject and chose German rather than Latin. We were taught just half of Unit one CLC in one year.

        Now I do Classical Civilisation which I think is a great thing to study.

  9. Latin is rigorous and demanding.
    That in itself is justification for its study, although there is much more justification

    The points about literature, moral values, puns are all valid.

    I didn’t find any use for Latin until I lived in Spain and,if stuck for a word in Spanish would sometimes just make one up. And sometimes be right.
    But whether or not it’s useful or useless is not the argument I want to make.

    It’s rigorous, demanding, requires effort and thought and provides the pleasure of achievement and learning for its own sake.

    Attack Latin, then Physics, or Philosophy, or anything else that doesn’t fit into the ideals of the commissars and sooner or later we are left with an intellectually and culturally impoverished nation.From which we will not recover.

    The Filthy Smoker,writing at the Devil’s Kitchen, and Leg Iron on his own blog have each recently posted about the creeping attack on our liberties, starting from compulsory seat belts and bringing us to absurdities like attacks on salt, via attacks on smoking and alcohol, that would have been unimaginable just a decade ago.

    That’s a very serious problem in the area of liberty; it’s a very serious problem in education too.

    Balls is a dangerous enemy of education.

  10. Well said. Shame you can’t shout it in his face.

  11. Time to tweet to the homunculus @edballsMP in Latin from now on…

    • Mr Balls seems to forget that Marx wrote his doctoral thesis on Lucretius and Epicurus. But then, perhaps Mr Balls has forgotten he is a socialist – after all, he seems hell bent on entrenching elitism. Boris’ article was spot on – a bit of satire, but rem acu tetigit

  12. May 6th – then maybe Vae Victis for Balls and his cohorts!

  13. Go on Bella, stop messing about and tell us what you really think.

    Great post, beautifully written, well done!

  14. […] fidei defensor by Rumbold on 16th March, 2010 at 2:01 PM     Bella Gerens has posted a wonderfully splenetic rant against Ed Balls, the education secretary. Mr. Balls attacked Latin as a […]

  15. I found Latin a total waste of time. Watching ‘I, Claudius’ was as good as it got, and then it was only for the nudity.

    I wish I’d learned Spanish or German instead.

    • There’s no pleasing some people, I suppose.

    • You’re prefectly entitled to your view, and I’m sure it’s valid for you personally. Not everyone will enjoy Latin, and if it’s not for you, then you should study something else.

      But the subtext when people make such comments is often “I didn’t like Latin, therefore it is intrinsically bad, therefore no-one should study it even if they want to.” And that’s an absurd viewpoint.

  16. I studied Latin. And I loved it. It’s rational in ways that English isn’t. For years it was my best subject.

    The end came when a new Latin teacher insisted that ‘v’ should be pronounced a ‘w’. Which meant that when Julius Caesar came to Britain, he didn’t say “Veni! Vidi! Vici!” but instead “Weeny. Weedy, Weaky.”

    Going to Spain was a bit like rediscovering Latin.

  17. He’s a clot. Latin is relevant to some things and not to others. I have an ear for languages and loved learning Latin at my first secondary school, a private day school. You had to do French or German in the first year, Latin plus a second modern language (German, French or Spanish) in the second and third years, and then you could select Greek, Russian and/or Mandarin at A-Level.

    Then I moved to my local comprehensive, which was in fairness pretty much at the same level, provided you were in the top sets, and discovered that they didn’t offer Latin (which I had studied for 2 years to around A-level standard by then) at all, at any level; they didn’t offer any modern language other than French, which I hadn’t studied at all, until GCSE, and then you only got to do two modern languages, i.e. French and German. This meant that if I wanted to do two languages at GCSE I would have to cram three years of French into 3 months to catch up to everyone else, and then sit through Deutsch Heute 1, 2 and 3 AGAIN for 2 years waiting for everyone in the German class to catch up with me.

    Incidentally, cramming 3 years of French into 3 months was a breeze. Why? Probably something to do with two years of useless, irrelevant Latin tuition. Oh, and I can usually understand Italian, even if I can’t speak it. But who cares?

    • Two years of study got you to A-level standard in Latin? Either you were a prodigy or your school was incredible. 😉

      Or perhaps you just didn’t use the (shite) Cambridge Latin Course.

  18. To be fair, I may be slightly exaggerating. But they did generally hothouse us like mad. It was GREAT. Apart from the anorexia epidemic that broke out in the sixth form, that is (they weren’t very good at teaching girls to separate academic competitiveness, which I think is very healthy, from general deranged perfectionism, which perhaps is not).

    • In my more unrealistic daydreams, I imagine founding a school with massive endowments from uninterested wealthy people. By interview only, I and my like-minded colleagues will select students for their liveliness, curiosity, and thirst for knowledge. The endowment will allow us to ignore things like fees and enrolment and offer places to such children regardless of their ability to pay. Then we will give them a thoroughly humanist education and satisfy the areas of academic exploration they wish to pursue. We will ignore the national curriculum entirely, set our own exams, and when the students leave my school they will be fascinating people who can do anything they put their minds to.

      Then when I wake from my daydream, I remember that I would never be permitted to start such a school, even if I could find disinterested rich people to endow it, because I haven’t got a teaching qualification. *sigh*

      • Perhaps the first step is to find a disinterested wealthy person to pay for you to qualify as a teacher…

  19. I mean, I was actually a lot happier at the second school. But it cocked up what I really wanted back then. I’d read an awful lot about Elizabeth I (that’s the sort of child I was) and what I really wanted was to be fluent in at least five languages, to do a Classics degree, and then to lecture. I’m perfectly happy with what I did instead, but I am a bit sad that after all that teaching I’ve ended up with conversational French and German. Poo.

  20. […] is unhappy with Ed Balls. Balls has deemed that Latin is useless in schools. In response, the delightful Boris […]

  21. We did a fairly broad-brush set of texts. I remember getting Alcibiades and the mutilation of the Herms as the unseen for my scholarship exam to public school (aced it), but we got the lot: Virgil, Tacitus, Pliny, Cicero, you name it. Of course that was thirty years ago so no doubt the curriculum has changed beyond recognition.

  22. Having just returned from a brief trip to Zimbabwe, I was surprised and delighted that they still teach Latin in some government schools there. So a country whose culture owes nothing to the language, values it more highly than a country whose culture owes it plenty. A sad (from our PoV) truism is that some of our former colonies value a decent education more highly than we do.

    Incidentally – slight tangent – I also very much enjoyed having a smoke and a beer entirely unmolested. The irony.

  23. […] and what these in turn reveal about his approach to education and all the rest of it. Grim.UPDTE: Bella Gerens is also unhappy with Mr Colei. Tags: Ed Balls, Education, Hackery, Labour PreviousAgainst […]

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