Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Grit's guide to politics with kids. Rule 3.

No messing.

Rule 3: Follow the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Here's Grit, always first with the news, eh!

But this is the real stuff. OK, you haven't got time to do it before the actual election in the UK, which is like, um, days away. But the classics are an excellent educational route into politics and power.

Don't suggest children cannot follow this fantastic history or get to grips with some of the issues contained in this slice of time. That breaks rule 2.

Because from Rome we get to talk about life. We stop being nice to each other. People bash, stab, poison and thump their way to power. They announce themselves conquerors, jackboot their way into foreign lands, stitch up dodgy deals, and over in Egypt shove snakes down their bras.

I can tell you from first-hand experience that Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, all aged ten, are enjoying themselves hugely with this; with tales of Tarquin the BAD, Tarquin the EVEN WORSE, Octavius the Sneaky GIT, Caligula the BONKERS. They're thinking about the nature of power itself and the grip of the dynasty. They're thinking about checks and balances of talking chambers, advisers, group interests. They're learning how each of these characters ruled with or without consent, with or without fear, as tyrants, dictators, kings, nutcases. Which I think is communicating some pretty valuable and relevant lessons for 21st century global living.

But consider this: why is it in state schools that kids are not taught this stuff? They are taught that Romans mean central heating, sewers, nice baths, and olive oil.

But strangely, if you pay 20K in school fees, the Romans are about monarchy, republic, conspiracy, tyranny, dictatorship, the creation of a patriarchal society, the power of rhetoric, the role of the lawmaker and the merits of military rule. In other words, pay for it, and you get the stuff of politics.

It is not an accident then that the British Empire was furthered and built by men who went to posh schools and had a direct training in the classics. It is not a fluke that rich, privately educated blokes who today tumble out of Oxbridge Philosophy, Politics and Economics courses become heads of Tory parties.

Now Grit may be an old anarchist hippie but I believe this division between the know and knownot - the way that some people are allowed near the juicy stuff of the classics but lesser mortals are kept away - is all part of a long tradition of maintaining privileged knowledge; and some knowledge clearly is to be kept away from the clutches of the gutter classes. Which sort of answers that question, Why isn't politics taught in schools?

I wouldn't exactly call it a conspiracy, but I think we have a society where some kids are kept in ignorance and taught about sewers while other kids are taught about politics, and power.

Well stuff that. Today we have more books than we can count. We have information pouring out of our screens. We have access to all knowledge. We can find out how politics works, think about questions of power, consider approaches to democracy, empower ourselves as citizens.

So that's one of the angles of politics I'm passing on to Shark, Squirrel and Tiger. And I'll leave it to their growing wisdoms over the years to steadily draw out the parallels between 496BC and 2010AD.

7 comments:

Kelly said...

Oh I love the Romans! We do them every few years. May I ask if you have any special recommendations, any books/materials/web sites you might like to share with us fellow Romanovs?

Mud in the City said...

I love the Classics too. Meaty stories and huge impact on the way we live now.

Homer's a bit of a favourite too. And I always did think that Monty Python should have done a version of the Odyssey..... Or maybe that's just me.

Belgravia wife - sort of said...

Oh the Romans rock - all three of my children have Roman names lurking and I like your point about the socio economic division of classical education - no way Boris Johnson came out of a non fee paying school. My son has an abridged version of The Odyssey and he thinks the baddies are the best ! x

Pete Darby said...

Third time in as many days Roman History has randomly come up on t'internet while I've been on a Roman tip myself... I think it's because the most interesting thing about the current political situation is "which crap and insane Emperor do the current politicians resemble"?

Broon = Commodus, inherited title rather than being appointed, p-ing away the advantages of the good times

Cameron = Nero, "Never mind the troubles, free sweeties for everyone!"

Clegg = Octavian, "Honest, I don't want to be King, just restore the good old republic... well, and coincidentally concentrate all the power in my hands, but it's a stopgap measure, honest."

Griffin = Caligula. 'Nuff said.

Funnily enough, I went to a "top" state school, and did latin (badly), and the Romans in history were "Caesar in Britain, then they went, then Saxons, now, Normans, this is where the story really starts..."

Grit said...

i use whatever material comes to hand kelly; i often use passages from books aimed at adults but where the key points are clearly written and expressed in a memorable way. those i'll read aloud and we start there with discussion, and then find supporting material or related issues in other books. big picture books and glossy books sometimes help my kids get interested in issues that otherwise might pass them by. the text to those coffee table style books is usually not much cop, but i use them to get a bit of chat going. everything has an educational use if you're looking for it, right?

python does the odyssey would be fantastic, mud. what a great idea. i shall be dreaming now that they did.

hi belgravia wife! i put the kids in front of jason and the argonauts film 1963 for the harryhausen animations. they loved it. recommended!

hi pete, you are right - they can be mapped on pretty well! but who could play anthony and cleopatra in these lean times though, eh? they all present themselves now as squeaky clean corporate managers and no skeletons or mistresses allowed.

i had to slap myself then. i was almost becoming misty eyed for the odious alan clark.

Kelly said...

For Antony and Cleo:
Hillary and Bill?
Tony and Cherie?
Ron and Nancy?
Carla and Nicolas?
Barack and Michelle?
Jack and Jackie?
Ahnold and Maria?

brownie said...

Hey there. Perhaps the fact that the majority of children here are not exposed to political issues in state controlled schools, is because they have no conscious experience of oppression? or suppression, or injustice, or prejudice. It all happens in Other countries.
Primary school was political for me; we sang freedom songs instead of nursery rhymes. In high school those freedom songs were in German. I matriculated five years before the majority of people in my country voted...for the first time in their lives.

Or maybe it's just because because of the "statu quo"...