Disco et Doceo–Classical Wisdom in the Australian Classroom

This week I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Classical Languages Teachers Association conference in Sydney.  Its guiding words were ‘Disco et Doceo: Classical Wisdom K012 and Beyond.’  (For non-Australian readers, K-12 means from kindergarten to year 12, or throughout the years of primary and secondary school).

There, I spoke about the Our Mythical Childhood project to a dynamic and dedicated (and very well-dressed) group of classics teachers from around Australia, and beyond.  The CLTA is the leading body of school classics educators, and there were well over 60 teachers in attendance, including representatives from most States of Australia, and visitors from New Zealand and Hong Kong.

Eureka!  An introduction to Classical Greek for young Australians

Dr Emily Matters, who heads the Association, organised the conference, and put together a program of presentations about aspects of classics, and aspects of classics teaching. Emily is the brains behind the Eureka! Greek textbook, which may be unique in the world in uniting the study of Ancient Greek with the mythology and customs of Indigenous Australians.

Eureka! in good company, with the conference booklet, a hard copy of the Legonium lessons, and other goodies from the conference bag
Eureka! in good company, with the conference booklet, a hard copy of the Legonium lessons, and other goodies from the conference bag

ACARA, Pro Archia, and Rhetorical Flair

Dr Tracey McAllister from ACARA, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, shared the story of the development of the Australian Classical Languages Curriculum.  While its initial focus was on Classical Greek and Latin, significantly, it was set as a framework to assist the development of other Classical Languages–perhaps a world first in any educational authority.  Tracey is a convert to the cause of Classical Languages and stated that she believes all students would benefit from the study.

Other speakers included A/Prof Kathryn Welch (University of Sydney), fresh off a plane from Italy,  who talked about the background to Pro Archia, and Dr Alexander Bril (Sydney Grammar School), who took us through our rhetorical paces and shed light on some important Ciceronian dates.  And Dr Anne Rogerson, (University of Sydney) spoke about the Aeneid’s Book I, inspiring me to think more about the ways that classical narrative patterns map onto aspects of children’s literature storytelling. Do stories lead us homewards, or Romewards?  It depends, in children’s and classical literature alike.

Classicum–Contributions Welcome

Anne Rogerson is the incoming editor of Classicum, the journal of the CLTA and the Classical Association of New South Wales. She writes:

We welcome articles of various lengths on Ancient Greek and Latin literature, history, philosophy, archaeology and their reception, as well as essays on the teaching of Classical languages or other topics relating to ancient Greece and Rome, and reflective pieces from practitioners on performances and other artistic productions that present or respond to Classical material. We also publish review essays on books, exhibitions, performances and other art that relate explicitly or implicitly to the ancient world. Our aim is to make the Classical past and our modern engagements with it accessible to a broad audience while also publishing work of use and interest to scholars and teachers of the Classical world.

To read Classicum, or to be in touch with Anne, check out the link, here.

Classical Swag

Jessica from Legonium, a friendly horn-blower, and an example of Dorothy Healey's pottery reconstructions
Jessica from Legonium, a friendly horn-blower, and an example of Dorothy Healey’s pottery reconstructions

Those of us who received conference bags were lucky enough to take home one of Dorothy Healey’s wonderful recreations of Ancient Greek pottery, as well as other less ‘authentic’ goodies, including a gingerbread Roman Legionary duck (made by the Central Coast’s best bakery. ) And Anthony Gibbins of Legonium fame (and Sydney Grammar School) kindly donated a hard copy of his Latin lessons, and ‘Jessica,’ one of the minifigures who stars in the series.

Legionary Duck at Conference Dinner . . .
Disco et Ducky-o: Legionary Gingerbread at Conference Dinner . . .


Classical Inspirations

I went home, clutching my swag, but more importantly inspired, and educated, by the creativity and dedication of the teachers I met and heard from.  It may not yet be compulsory for students to study classics or classical languages in Australian high schools, but judging by the energy in the room, that day may well be on the way.  It was a privilege to be involved in this gathering of the people who introduce such wonderful material to the next generation of classical scholars.

–Liz Hale





How children teach us about classics

Saturnalia is now officially over, but not on Antipodean Odyssey, where we plan to stretch our sense of Saturnalian surprise over the long Australasian summer.  Saturnalia was a festival where the ordinary rules of life were turned upside down; in that spirit, here we have a thoughtful piece from Susan Deacy (Classics, Roehampton), on what children can teach us about classics.  Susan is a classicist especially interested in issues of gender, sex, violence, disability and social justice.  In the Our Mythical Childhood project, she’s exploring how classical myth can work in the autistic classroom.  Her work shows us the practical and activist aspects of a classical education, bringing it out of elitist enclaves, and into the world.  — Elizabeth Hale

How children teach us about classics

I was mulling over which of several rediscoveries to write about as my Saturnalian Surprise. It has been hard to choose as there have been so many but one has won out, encouraged by something I read yesterday in Joanna Paul’s chapter in the newly published Wiley Blackwell Handbook to the Reception of Classical Mythology.

Here Jo quotes a comment made by Sheila Murnaghan that points to one of the challenges posed by our quest to chart the role of classics in children’s culture. We are all engaging as Our Mythical Childhood researchers in just how transformative and how empowering and how hope-inducing classical myth can be for children. But, how these myths are being received is via the adults who write themselves and how these authors construct children and the child reader.

Sheila Murnaghan says:

‘children’s literature is written by adults, whose work inevitably answers to adult agendas and addresses not so much real children as adults’ constructions of children.’[1]

Reading this got me thinking about something that has surfaced several times over the past year. This is that it is not always (ever?) possible to predict or, invariably, control how children will receive the literature written for them by adults. This has come across from experiences that Sonya Nevin has mentioned coming out of her experiences using picture books for young children in her pre-school class.

And I had an experience that chimes with this earlier this year when I was taking part in an event at my institution, the University of Roehampton, for young women at secondary schools whose pupils might not invariably consider Higher Education. My role was to welcome groups of girls into the Adam Room, in Grove House, an eighteenth-century villa that is part of the university campus. And in particular I was there to introduce them to a chimneypiece panel depicting – well, this is where my Saturnalian Surprise begins.

The Hercules panel in Roehampton University's Adam Room
The Hercules panel in Roehampton University’s Adam Room

To me, as a classicist with Herculean interests, it is an artefact depicting a myth with classical precedents that was much received, including for children, in the eighteenth century. Hercules encounters two women who offer him two alternate paths in life. One offers hard work and danger. The other one offers a life of abundance and ease. My eye has always been drawn to the man in the middle, Hercules, caught in his choice between the women and their paths – his face turned to one (‘Hard Work’/’Virtue’) and his body turned the other way, to ‘Indolence’ or ‘Vice’. But what the girls, unburdened with classical knowledge, saw tended to be something different. Their gazes were drawn to the two women and to how each of these was making a play for the man. They were not uninterested when I introduced the identity of the man in the middle, especially as they could relate this to what they know of Hercules from the Disney film. But it was the women – and their gestures and their uses of their bodies and their gifts to enhance the man – that interested them.

My Saturnalian Surprise contribution then is this: for all that we as classical receptionist and children’s literature specialists might think that we know a mythological work or artefact, and for all that we might devise excellent ways to use the piece in question to help inform, educate or empower children, we should be open to the possibility that the users will receive the material in ways that speak to their own experiences and in ways that might take us by surprise. Children learn when they encounter myth. We can learn too – from children.

For more on me and my activities in relation to Our Mythical Childhood, the best place to go is my blog on autism and mythology. Here I refer regularly to the Adam Room chimneypiece.  —  Susan Deacy

[1] Murnaghan, Sheila. “Classics for Cool Kids: Popular and Unpopular Versions of Antiquity for Children.” Classical World 104, no. 3 (2011): 339-353. Cited in Paul, Joanna. “The Half‐Blood Hero.” A Handbook to the Reception of Classical Mythology, eds. Vanda Zajko and Helena Hoyle, Wiley Blackwell 229-242.