Evelien Bracke Classics at Primary School

Evelien Bracke
Classics at Primary School
A Tool for Social Justice

Routledge 9781032135359 h/b 132 pages £31.09

Evelien Bracke Classics at Primary School A Tool for Social Justice Routledge 9781032135359 h/b 132 pages £31.09

There are many received ideas in Classics teaching in Europe in the last few centuries: one of them is that Latin and Greek are subjects reserved for pupils in secondary school.  The reason being that the languages were regarded as difficult and that some degree of maturity was required before tackling them.  This had the effect of limiting their teaching to pupils whose parents could afford to keep them at school for longer, resulting in their reputation for gender imbalance and elitism.  To a certain extent this is still the case in many countries and reformers have to continue to make arguments in a debate that really belongs in the 19th and early 20th centuries. 

            Evelien Bracke’s book is a part of this continuing discussion.  Its subtitle makes its position clear that Classics can be a part of the learning programme of any primary school pupil and that their class and social background are no barrier.  She writes in a personal capacity drawing on her experience in Wales (UK) and in Belgium.  She describes two projects: Literacy through Classics in Swansea from 2011, and Ancient Greeks – Young Heroes in Ghent from 2018.  These both involved university students going into primary schools for a number of sessions and teaching the young pupils at an appropriate level basic elements of Latin and Ancient Greek.  Highly reflective in tone, Bracke analyses the two experiences for both their successes and occasional failures and provides at the end of each chapter a reflection tool where the reader is invited to look back on the topic discussed and decide on whether this should be priority in the future and on how much this is part of their current thinking. 

            For Euroclassica readers who have an interest in Classics teaching in all European countries, Bracke with her experience of teaching in two different countries provides much to think about.  Her concern with social justice and the importance of class in education may prompt thoughts about the importance of class or social disadvantage in the uptake of Classics and the retention of pupils through their school career, and whether the experiences she describes are reflected in the reader’s own practice and local education system.  She begins with a chapter summarising some current concerns about social deprivation and its effect on early education and goes on to think about the part Classics can play in combatting this.  There follow chapters on the two projects of introducing elements of Latin and Classical Greek for this purpose, packed with practical advice on how to go about it and all backed up with sound and careful arguments and references to current pedagogical thinking from the USA and Europe.  She makes it clear that such a project is not easy and may meet resistance, and that there are many possible pitfalls on the way.  With disarming openness about mistakes and wrong turnings, she takes us inside the classroom and shows what it is really like. 

This may be a new area for many Classics teachers, but it will certainly be a new way of thinking about primary schools for many educators who may well never have thought of Classics in this context at all.  This is a book which should be read not only by those of us already committed to promoting Classics but also by practitioners, senior leaders and administrators who are not specialists but who may find here a radical way of revising their school programmes and curriculum to develop the cultural capital of their more disadvantaged children.


John Bulwer