Latin for the judging: In the age of Johnson and Jennifer Arcuri, children *should* learn about how corruption toppled an empire…
… but newspapers swallowing Gavin Williamson's schemes for education are more ludicrous than making a horse consul.
Gavin Williamson — Frank Spencer mistakenly convinced that he’s Francis Urquhart — has unveiled his latest scheme. I was going to say it’s “half-arsed”, but that gives Williamson, a fourth-rate fireplace salesman turned fifth-rate minister, far too much credit.
The quarter-arsed plan is to teach Latin to more state school pupils as if pushing primers on deprived areas is a magic bullet (vir magicae… uh… bullet?1). The new policy has inevitably been briefed in to The Daily Telegraph, Britain’s premier fanzine for tweedy racists and tomato-faced conspiracy theorists.
It trumpets the plan with the headline Latin will be taught in state schools to end its ‘elitist’ status and a ludicrous lede that claims, “Officials believe subject will help pupils learn modern foreign languages and could bring improvements in English and maths.” Proof? We don’t need proof, we have the Latin.
Camilla Turner, one of a surfeit of Camillas at the Telegraph, writes:
Latin teaching is to be rolled out in state schools as the Department for Education launches a drive to ensure the subject is not "reserved for the privileged few".
A new £4 million Latin Excellence Programme will see thousands of state school pupils in deprived parts of the country offered lessons in the ancient language.
Latin is taught in just 2.7 per cent of state secondary schools, compared to 49 per cent of private schools, according to the British Council's latest report on language trends.
The statistic quoted there has got historians and classicists with a vested interest in seeing Latin lope into more schools jumping. Professor Dame Mary Beard wrote that it was “good news” and the author Tom Holland — the one without the webslingers — quote tweeted her delight, saying:
It cannot be right that Latin is taught in just 2.7% of state schools when it is taught in 49% of private schools. As Mary Beard says, “Studying classics opens up history to us, but it’s not just about the past. Studying the ancient world helps us look at ourselves.
In The Daily Telegraph story, Williamson says:
We know Latin has a reputation as an elitist subject which is only reserved for the privileged few. But the subject can bring so many benefits to young people, so I want to put an end to that divide.
There should be no difference in what pupils learn at state schools and independent schools, which is why we have a relentless focus on raising school standards and ensuring all pupils study a broad, ambitious curriculum.
Ignoring the fact that there are not enough Latin teachers to deliver Gaius Williamson’s ‘strategy’, students at private schools do not get their advantages simply from “having the Latin”. They work in smaller classes, with access to music and drama as well as better facilities and luxuries like lavish after school clubs and trips.
Just last week it was a major story across several newspapers when Barnaby Lenon, who sounds like a minor character escaped from a Dickens novel but is, in fact, the former headmaster of Harrow and chairman of the Independent Schools Council, talked about independent schools sending pleading letters to universities on behalf of pupils who had dropped a grade. I very much doubt any of those letters were written in Latin.
Similarly, it’s not learning Latin that disproportionately gets pupils at private schools extra time in exams (20% of pupils versus less than 12% in state schools). Nor does their familiarity with The Satyricon account for Russell Group universities treating GCSEs and IGCSEs — which the government admits are not of the same high standard — as exact equivalents for admissions purposes. It’s a ‘curious’ decision that just happens to advantage pupils from fee-paying schools.
Just two weeks ago, the same Department for Education that purports to believe that pupils in deprived areas must have the Latin announced plans to slash funding for higher education courses in music, dance, performing arts, design and media studies by 50% because they are “no longer strategic priorities”.
In a post for ConservativeHome — an online clubhouse for the most ghoulish Tory headbangers — Gavin Williamson said increases in the number of people studying science and engineering at university suggested students were “starting to pivot away from dead-end courses that leave young people with nothing but debt”.
The arts and culture industry in the UK is worth £21.2 billion and employs more than 140,000 people. But sure, courses in those areas leave young people with “nothing but debt…”
Having spent years destroying music and drama provision in secondary schools — in 2018, 90% of schools reported they were making cuts to arts provision — Williamson has moved to kill those subjects in higher education and to marginally increase the teaching of Latin to what will still be a small proportion of state school pupils. Private school pupils are given the time and attention to really benefit from learning Latin. They also do so as part of literally rich curriculums.
Well below the fold, The Daily Telegraph’s story effectively admits that Williamson’s Latin ‘crusade’ is just another stunt pumped out by his random policy generator:
From next September, 40 state schools in England will be selected to take part in a four-year pilot of the programme, aimed at boosting uptake of Latin at GCSE. Staff at each school will be trained and given classroom resources to assist them in teaching Latin to children aged 11 to 16.
There are 3,456 state secondary schools in the UK.
Camilla Turner — who is The Daily Telegraph’s Education Editor but tends to repeat DfE talking points with all the imagination of a Speak & Spell — continues:
Officials at the DfE believe Latin can help pupils learn modern foreign languages such as French, which has been in steep decline at state schools over the past decade. They also think it will benefit students more generally by broadening their horizons and could lead to improvements in subjects such as English and maths.
There are some powerful weasel words in there — “believe”, “think” and “could” — which take the place of evidence. A simpler and less nakedly Torygraph-pleasing way to lead to improvements in English and Maths would be to invest more in those subjects and stop cutting funding for Drama and Music.
There is one aspect of the plan to increase Latin learning in state schools I do like though: It increases the chances of students learning about how corruption can eat empires from within.
One of the major factors in the fall of the Roman Empire was corruption. There were 20 emperors in the course of just 75 years and the Praetorian Guard got into the habit of assassinating and installing new leaders whenever they felt like it. In the case of Didius Julianus, the Praetorians sold him the throne in an auction after the murder of Pertinax, who’d only been emperor for three months.
Leaders who are only able to briefly hold the top job, a snake-like ruling party whose most extreme members are happy to stab people in the back on a whim and are driven entirely by money?
Sounds a lot like the Conservative Party, doesn’t it?
And while we may laugh at the idea of Caligula appointing his horse Incitatus2 as a senator can anyone really argue that Gavin Williamson, Grant Shapps or Liz Truss have a better handle on things than a creature that spends half its time chewing on hay? I’d be willing to bet Incitatus was less likely to shit himself in public than Williamson.
Comparing Boris Johnson to Caligula isn’t just a cheap jibe though. When Caligula became Emperor in 37 AD, he did so riding a wave of popular adulation.
A blonde-haired blusterer brought up in privilege, Caligula loved building things — though his projects were far less ludicrous than Boris Johnson’s plans for a new royal yacht and tunnel beneath the Irish sea — introduced populist policies and pandered to the Praetorian Guard to keep them sweet.
Like Boris Johnson, Caligula also very much enjoyed sleeping with other people’s wives, was self-absorbed, and revelled in over-spending. There’s absolutely no doubt that Caligula would have plumped for the priciest possible wallpaper for 10 Downing Street too.
Johnson’s Caligulan tendencies sprung to mind as I sat down to write this newsletter edition and noticed that Jennifer Arcuri was trending. She gave an interview to GB News last night, discussing the Prime Minister, who enjoyed very hands-on computer lessons with her and is alleged to have ensured piles of public money ended up in her possession.
Last year the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) decided not to launch a criminal investigation into the allegations but said he “would have been wise” to have reported his relationship with Arcuri as a conflict of interest. Its report was stymied by the curious discovery that a lot of evidence just happened to have been deleted. The Greater London Authority’s oversight committee is now conducting its own investigation with its findings due to emerge “sometime after the summer holidays”.
Arcuri spoke last night to big brave mask destroyer Mark Dolan, recently poached by GB News from the similarly shallow cesspool of TalkRADIO, who was wearing a white suit that made him look less like the man from Del Monte and more like the man dressed by Del Trotter. He introduced Arcuri as “an entrepreneur, fintech and crypto-currency specialist and broadcaster” who had been “fastidiously discrete about their time together”.
Arcuri has done multiple interviews about her ‘relationship’ with Johnson and told The Sunday Mirror that they “read Macbeth as a kind of foreplay routine” before having sex on the sofa in his family home. Fastidiously. Discrete.
Arcuri has rebranded herself as a lockdown conspiracist which was key in getting the GB News booking. Dolan rolled out the old cliche about Boris Johnson being “a libertarian”, prompting Arcuri to deliver a long rant about the Prime Minister no longer being the man she knew:
So many of us have echoed the same sentiment: Something is going on. Something’s not right in that government. The man doesn’t look happy. The man we knew, I would argue, is not there. So this imposter parading around Number 10 is not a man that I can say I know at all…
Counterpoint: There is no ‘real’ Boris Johnson to know. Arcuri just met one layer of the Russian doll and at the centre of Boris Johnson’s character, there is a void.
Arcuri claimed Johnson was once “the greatest showman” because she was fooled by him like so many others and now can’t believe she was had. That’s one reason she’s now a conspiracy theorist; there has to be a reason why the Prime Minister lies all the time and she can’t bear to admit that he’s a charlatan, nor that she was tied up in his corrupted world.
The key line in the interview — aside from Arcuri’s Infowars-esque language (crying “We are living in a nation that has been infested with parasites!” and talking about secret meetings with the Bank of England and “what’s really going on…”) — was when she said that Johnson was:
“… [a] man that I knew that stuck his head out so you could fly, give you a little wings, because he saw the potential in you, as he did with me…”
The “little wings” that Boris Johnson ‘gave’ Jennifer Arcuri was a £126,000 grant; public money given for private loyalties. That she’s on GB News raging about an administration that is “backdooring for their mates” and operating a “one rule for us and one rule for you” policy. She isn’t wrong, but she’s literally the horse that bolted pointing at the open stable door.
Apropos of nothing, The Financial Times reports today that Johnson and Rishi Sunak conduct secret meetings with an ‘advisory board’ made up of Tory donors who pay £250,000 a year for the privilege.
Meanwhile, The Sun has turned its attention to Keir Starmer. Taking a quote from Tory party chair Amanda Milling (“He points different ways depending on which day it is, changing position more often than the Karma Sutra to chase headlines and play politics.”) as the excuse to proclaim an Exclusive and mock-up a version of the sex guide that it inevitably dubs “The Starma Sutra”.
Why is The Sun more obsessed with the poor performance of the opposition than the obvious corruption of the government? It’s because Boris Johnson has the Latin and sticks by one classical maxim in particular:
Adversus solem ne loquitor
Don’t speak against The Sun.
I definitely do not have the Latin.
Yes, I know there’s a very good chance that Caligula was, in fact, just the historical forerunner of 4Chan trolls and actually ‘appointed’ Inciatus a consul as a way of pissing off senators he didn’t like.