I could have been a Geography teacher

I went to the British Museum lecture/debate on the future of Latin on Friday 14th June 2013. Expertly chaired by Mary Beard and starring Donald Clark (in favour of mainly useful vocational courses, not subjects used to bore people at dinner parties) David Aaronovitch (usefully and eloquently pointing out the divisive and elitist place Latin has occupied in the school system, but not arguing that it is in itself a bad thing) Natalie Haynes (very funny, and a great advert for Classics in general and being taught by Mary in particular) and Peter Jones (quite brilliant, and the greatest proponent we could have for the subject in itself – he was very careful not to fall into the traps many fall into and I think all Latin teachers should hear him talk so that they think more carefully when answering the perennial ‘why?’ question in the classroom) it was not self-congratulatory or easy, but I’m pretty sure Latin won! But a comment Mary made about the attraction of Latin specifically because it’s not useful made me think about my days at school. Much was made of the pernicious influence of bad Latin teachers in opponents’ prejudices. I had bad Geography teachers when I was at school. I loved geography when I was 8 or 9, but then when I went to secondary school, it was poisoned for me by bad pedagogy and woeful projects, one of which, I remember, involved me having to stand outside the local Tesco asking passers-by how they had travelled there. I assume the teachers thought this would be good for me and enjoyable because of its relevance. I hated it partly because it was so relevant and mundane. I wanted something exciting, strange and intriguing. My Latin and Greek teachers were certainly all of those things, and Latin is to this day I think. That’s why many students love it. At the school where I currently teach, Geography is much more interesting. And we don’t have boring dinner parties – and if we do, we won’t invite Donald Clark…

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One thought on “I could have been a Geography teacher

  1. So true that our relationship with our teacher is almost as important as the subject itself. I imagine that any ‘academic’ subject is ‘good’ for you in the way we say Latin is, but poor teaching can kill off an interest. I think that Classics benefits from the fact that it seems particularly to attract dynamic, passionate and eccentric characters (and the sex and violence helps…). I don’t think there is any denying, however, that other subjects do benefit from some pupils’ short term perception of what they consider useful: they can order an ice cream in French, they can add up their shopping bill…

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