This is literally a curriculum above the regular, exam-orientated curriculum. Hannah Young, one of my connections on LinkedIn, posted an excellent article she had written on the importance of a supra-curriculum, which focuses on achieving academic enrichment and exploration beyond the tunnel-vision of a syllabus (https://www.linkedin.com/posts/hannah-young-fcct_supra-curriculums-what-they-are-and-why-activity-6865262668714967040-o5gh). This is absolutely essential and something I have been very keen to promote in schools I have worked at and fought for it to be recognised as a teacher commitment alongside the typical sporting components. So, with this little article, I wish to share some of my own experiences and ideas, and, of course, how Classics can provide some wonderful material to assist. I should just clarify that I do not believe this should be an exclusive group, but one that invites all curious students to explore, let their curiosity fly, and enjoy learning.
Debating, supra-curricular critical thinking sessions, talks (as Ms Young mentioned in her article), quizzes organised by students for their fellows, presentation evenings, poster evenings, have all been events that I have run or hosted as part of academic enrichment and development.
Now we come to my beloved Classics. Isn’t that old, you object? Yes, but some of the concerns we find in ancient authors are universal and rather pertinent, but also it can promote some great critical thinking and creative activities. Let me start with Junior Classics Club that I used to run at my last school. Ancient world-themed playing cards, creation of board games inspired by the ancient world are just two examples. I going to expand a little on ‘Hit and Myth’. Apart from the dreadful pun, this was actually a lovely activity with much laughter and lots of creativity. Everyone had to write down two or three scenes that were typical to myth (of any culture) on separate paper slips. The slips were then put into a pot (well, my mug actually), shaken, and then each attendee drew a scene (oh yes, teachers had to participate), and the pupils had to direct how we put them together. The result was hilarious. Equally, it was a great creative task. Another good critical thinking exercise was Greek myth and tragedy charades. This may sound like a bit of fun, but it really made them think. How on earth do you convey the essentials of Medea? Or the Bacchae? Or Troy? All without saying a word. Tricky, but a good exercise and fun. A great highlight came from my second school. I had super year 11 class and we finished the syllabus ridiculously early. So, for the final lesson of term, I put them into groups and gave them different genres or styles, in which they had to perform a scene from the set text – Aeneid II. I will never forget the ‘Monty Python styled’ group, as they piled together a track from my desks and one of my students, playing Hector, pulled himself along behind Achilles’ ‘chariot’ singing, ‘Always look on the bright side of life’. We all dissolved.
What else does Classics have to offer? So much. Ms Young described her ‘Politics and International Relations Society’, which sounds fantastic. Diverse in its subject matter, hugely various in the issues students have to grapple with. She speaks of the importance of an ‘interdisciplinary approach’ to inspiring students curiosity and interconnected thinking. I agree with her. Classics can do the same. The subject that gave us philosophy, set the ball rolling for the sciences and maths, gave us thought-provoking historical accounts, some of the most sublime, moving, and witty literature ever written, exquisite architecture, and rich cultural diversity, can, I can confidently say, furnish interdisciplinary food for thought like no other.
What is goodness? (Plato)
Where did atomic theory come from, who first posited a theory of heliocentricity (Epicurus, Lucretius, Aristarchus)?
Why do we build monuments (The Parthenon, The Pantheon, Ara Pacis)?
What are the flaws of democracy (Thucydides, Aristophanes, Isocrates, Plato, Polybius, Cicero)?
How do you chat up a girl/boy? (good ol’ Ovid1)
How do human beings shape history and why is history important (Thucydides, Polybius, Sallust, Tacitus)?
Why and how should we acknowledge our intellectual debt to past civilisations?
How do emotions, tragedy, and laughter unite us as human beings across centuries and millennia (Euripides, Trojan Women and the misery of war for example)?
All these are questions that we still ask. All are questions that the Greeks and Romans explored, mused on, and handed down to us. There is nothing irrelevant about investigating what they made of the same questions two thousand years ago. Their perceptions are startlingly pertinent. I am not saying that Classics become a purely supra-curricular subject (far from it), but in a programme that encourages pupils to engage with wider issues and questions without syllabus constraints, I would urge anyone to make the Classics at least part of their resources.