Athens v Sparta
May 17th 2007
From The Economist print edition
O Tempora! O Mores!
DEMONSTRATORS outside Parliament rarely wear togas and brandish placards written in classical Greek. They did this week. The reason was a decision by education bureaucrats to drop a national history exam for 18-year-olds. If the protest naught avails, ancient history will no longer be taught in English schools, for the first time since the original Dark Ages.
The decision to axe the A-level was taken hurriedly and in secret, without consulting the schools that teach ancient history or the universities that like it. And it comes at a time when the decline in classics in schools has reversed. A recent book on Latin grammar, “Amo, Amas, Amat”, became a surprise best-seller. The number of state schools offering basic Latin has risen from 200 in 2003 to 459 today. Though some of the Thucydides-loving demonstrators were from elite private schools, others were from grungy further-education colleges.
As they waited for Boris Johnson, the Tory education spokesman, to address them (in Latin), the pupil-protesters chanted “Long live Athens! Down with Sparta”. Fine sentiments. But remember what happened to Athens.