East End Classics Centre to launch

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The East End Classics Centre in Hackney was opened on the 27th June. The Centre will offer A-Level courses in Classical Civilisation beginning in Autumn 2012, and intends to offer Latin and Greek A-Levels from Autumn 2014. The project was launched by the BSix Academy (a sixth-form college) in collaboration with Oxford University and Birkbeck.

A ‘Garden of the Ancient World’ has also been built, complete with busts of ancient politicians, thinkers and gods, A ‘Library of the Ancient World’ will enable Classics students and members of the community to borrow Classics books at every level.

The project is part of the BSix’s collaborative effort with Oxford academics to prepare state school students for higher education. The Centre’s brochure states that “above all, the Centre would like to nurture lifelong emotional connections to the ancient world; with students, parents and guardians taking an interest by attending a play, a lecture or visiting an exhibition”. The courses offered will be available to students at all schools and colleges in the East End.

Dr Peter Claus, Senior Research Fellow in History at Pembroke College, has been facilitating the collaboration between BSix and Oxford University. He said that the Centre aimed to challenge the “perception that Classics is irrelevant or even somehow ‘off limits’ to all but a very small group of people”.

Claus emphasised the wide range of options made available by the Centre. “With educational sessions to be held in the British Museum, trips organized to Greece and Italy, plays organized by the Iris Project and with a commitment to building a dedicated Library of the Ancient World, we hope that Classics will become a viable choice for all potential undergraduates”.

Dr Armand D’Angour, Classics Fellow at Jesus College, featured as a guest speaker at the opening gala of the Centre. Dr D’Angour spoke enthusiastically about the “marvelous project with which I shall be involved for years”.

“The Principal Ken Warman is a very inspirational educator”, D’Angour commented. “He gave a speech at the opening in which he laid out his vision for education as something that broadens the mind, imparts life skills, and inspires the imagination, not simply that equips students for jobs (that may not exist in the future).’

“The Classics Garden at BSix has history boards about ancient Greece and Rome, but also about ancient India and other civilisations, emphasising the multicultural nature of world history and achievement to a student body that comprises dozens of different ethnic backgrounds with different linguistic expressions.”

Dr Jonathan Katz of St Anne’s College, who is involved in the ‘Classics Academy’ scheme which teaches Latin and Greek up to A Level standard, and is a governor at Toby Young’s West London Free School, stressed the importance of teaching the ancient languages, rather than just Classical Civilisation.

“What we’ve found is that there are benefits also beyond the subjects themselves, as the pupils have had to do quite a lot of homework, including rigorous written exercises and plenty of learning by heart”.

“The most exciting thing for me [at the West London Free School] is to see that children in a pretty full ability range are getting something good and exciting and worth-while out of their Latin and Classics lessons. It’s not only the super-‘bright’ children who stand to gain”.

Although Dr Katz especially emphasised his hope that the language classes would prove to be successful, he was still positive about the initial teaching of Classical Civilisation.

“My reaction to the East End Classics Centre announcement is that it could easily do a lot to inspire school pupils with a new interest that will challenge them and give them a sense of achievement. The Classical Civilisation syllabus covers ground that they won’t see in Latin alone, and that can be valuable for them whether or not they go on to study the languages and literatures”.

Reaction from students has also been positive. First year Classicist Leah Lazar said, “I think that the new East End Classics Centre is a great example by which to encourage the teaching of Classics in the wider school system. The study of Classics should not be the reserve of the privileged; this new centre will hopefully help to bring Classics back into the mainstream.”

Mischa Frankl-Duval, an English Literature student at New College, expressed a similar sentiment. “It’s pretty ridiculous that one of the largest faculties in Oxford is more or less inaccessible to the vast majority of students; the East End Classics Centre seems like a great initiative.”

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