BREAKING THE ELITISM BARRIER: OPENING A NEW WORLD TO ILLUMINATE OUR OWN
How is one to make Classics seem inclusive, accessible, and relevant?
How to define useful and relevant in education are topics I have covered elsewhere. (https://www.campusclassicus.com/post/why-useful-is-not-always-useful ) Suffice to say here that ‘relevant’ as in ‘immediately and obviously applicable’ risks ignoring bigger issues that we should be reflecting on in education. And to those, as I will show below, Classics could not be more relevant.
I would like to thank Dr. Rob Power (one of my LinkedIn pals) for his query in response to a short video I posted about bringing Classics into the classroom. Hiw question forced my to clarify my thoughts about not only how to break down barriers to studying Classics, but how Classics itself can help break down barriers.
Classics is not a remote, segregated, separated, and out of touch subject, although how it was once taught may well have fuelled this image. In essence, it is one of the richest subjects which illuminates what it means to be human. What it means to feel emotions. What it means to be curious, discover, learn, invent, advance. What it means wrongly to view one group of people as superior due to race or practices. If this is all looking hauntingly familiar, it should do. To study Classics is to study ourselves back then.
What it means to learn Classics needs recasting. To realise that studying Classics means studying human beings at an earlier time, who were not so very different to us, is essential for getting beyond the ‘Classics = elitist’ mindset.
WAYS INTO CLASSICS
One way is to Integrate Classics into existing subjects. This would encourage it to be seen as furnishing relevant material that can contribute to cross-curriculum learning, rather than being perceived solely as a separate, remote, disconnected subject. This could happen alongside Classics being studied on timetable, or can be a very fruitful way of incorporating Classical material into an existing timetable and framework. Literature and mythology can be incorporated into English, history of science and mathematics can be dropped into lessons as relevant topics arise such as trigonometry and atomism, not to mention the wealth of exciting topics that can adorn the History syllabus.
I have always encouraged pupils to see parallels between modern dramas and news stories and the plots of Greek tragedies. I take a one-line summary of a plot without telling pupils what it summarises. I show them a similar news story, usually about a crime, and then ask them if they have heard of Clytaemnestra, Medea, Hecabe, or Antigone (whichever parallel you pick). They may be surprised by the connection, but they are always certainly intrigued by it and it certainly helps pupils see the connection between themselves and the ancients as human beings: feeling anger, loyalty, grief, and emotional dilemmas.
Moreover, human society in its traits and trends has not changed much either. Pupils are often shocked by how many aspects of their own culture that are similar to us nowadays: sporting heroes, celebrity culture, aspects of political life, comparisons between graffiti and Twitter in the venting of feelings or expression of opinions. Yep, they had their own forms of social media (they just weren’t electronic). General studies, lessons on ethics, what it is to be a citizen could all be enriched with a little Classical coating. Such issues also encourage critical thinking and reflection. Why have we changed so little? Just maybe, Classical reflections can help us recognise and demolish a few barriers in our own times.