Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The importance of teaching Ancient Greek in British Schools

Years ago I was reading a British newspaper. I opened the section with the letters that were sent to the editor. There, I was surprised to read a small, but important letter. The topic was whether we ought to teach our children Ancient Greek and not Latin. Being a western country, the obvious chose, when referring to the ancient world and an ancient language, most people's minds go to the Roman Empire and Latin. However, through Ancient Greek the students will have the opportunity to learn moral values, philosophy, the marvellous plays, drama, comedy, myths and legends (which are still portrayed in films, theatres, bed time stories), giving us thus the background of Western civilization. The Greek language is poetic, expressing terms which are difficult to understand and translate. Through its words one can understand the ontology of words, their origin and thus their true meaning. Its important to know where we came from in order to understand where we are going. Ancient Greek is the medium of achieving this objective. In comparison to Latin, Ancient Greek has more to offer through its teachings, philosophy, sports (Olympics) etc. 

According to new plans, all primary schools will be expected to teach foreign languages to pupils from 2014 as part of a major drive to boost education standards. At least one subject from a 7 strong list (Latin, Ancient  Greek, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Mandarin) will be offered to primary school pupils, aged 7-11. The move could potentially result in a major rise in the number of pupils studying the classical languages at a young age. According to officials, Latin and Ancient Greek were included in order to give pupils further options, claiming that they could be provided by schools a good grounding in grammar, syntax and vocabulary. This last point is crucial, since it will assist the pupils in understanding other modern languages.  

This, nevertheless, is not a sudden interest in the ancient languages and culture. Britain, through its Universities and numerous private schools, has promoted Ancient Greek. Also there exist countless translations into Ancient Greek of books containing modern stories, such as Harry Potter. Many, especially in Greece, oppose these books; however, let us not forget that the Greek language will easily fascinate the pupils if firstly taught via a story they know and prefer. After an introduction like that, then the pupils will have the opportunity to learn about morality, history, plays, drama, comedy, the Olympics, which will all lead to political science, philosophy and theology.
This could be a great opportunity for future generations to understand the theology of Eastern Christianity, i.e. the Orthodox World, promoting consequently relations between the Churches within the Ecumenical Movement. Also it could promote further understanding of the Liturgy and ecclesiastical texts by Orthodox and non-Orthodox who live in Britain. This is a massive issue even in Greece and Cyprus. The Liturgical language is the Hellenistic Greek, whilst Greeks today speak Modern Greek. There are numerous solutions to this problem, some being the translation of the Liturgical language within the Greek Orthodox world to the modern form of the language or the education of Ancient Greek to its faithful. 

According to the new plans, Ancient Greek will be introduced in the primary schools in Britain, allowing thus the pupils to understand and live according to a certain way of life, a life of virtue, of knowledge, of philosophy. This is a practice which could be followed by Greece, since currently it teaches the ancient language only in high school. However, when teaching this language it is crucial to promote its morality and importance, not only on a linguistic level, but also on other levels of life.  This move by Britain shows how it wishes to promote commerce, its economy, classical studies in order to promote better citizens for the future. 

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