BY the end of 2024, a homeschooling movement which embeds classical texts in the curriculum aims to have at least five communities in Scotland.

The US-based Classical Conversations homeschooling model describes itself as delivering a “Christ-centred” education “rooted in the classical model”.

It’s a style of teaching which is, by its very nature, somewhat old-fashioned.

Children as young as four are taught to conjugate Latin verbs and memorise names and events from ancient history.

As they get older, they’re told not to view subjects individually but to apply concepts such as logic, reasoning and debate to everything they learn.

A reading list for a 12-year-old is more likely to contain The Iliad than it is a contemporary work written specifically for young adults.

READ MORE: Is the Stone of Destiny in Perth the original? New book asks question

While parents teach the majority of the curriculum from home, children are brought together at least once a week to learn collaboratively.

At present, around 45,000 families educate their children through Classical Conversations globally, with the first Scottish community set up in Glasgow in 2020.

Communities in Livingston and Dundee followed in 2023, with the creation of at least two more communities promised by the end of the year.

The conservative politics of classical schooling

IN America, classical education is growing exponentially.

Dozens of classical schools have opened up across the country, often backed by the political and financial support of Republicans.

For many conservatives, it is viewed as an antidote to the inclusion of topics such as LGBT+ history and anti-racism into the public school curriculum.

Indeed, a blog post on the Classical Conversations website rails against the “insidious, slippery departure from biblical principle” in education.

The author, a father who homeschooled his two children via the programme, wrote that attempts to convince Christians of the validity of homosexual relationships amounted to the discarding of “God’s mandate against sexual immorality”.

“The growth of a movement which puts an overtly political spin on education before it’s even delivered is, frankly, dangerous,” said Dr Alex Imrie, a classics tutor at the University of Edinburgh and secretary of the Classical Association of Scotland.

The National: Dr Alex Imrie is a classics tutor at the University of EdinburghDr Alex Imrie is a classics tutor at the University of Edinburgh (Image: Alex Imrie)

“It should be an alarm call to those in power that classics needs to be introduced broadly across the spectrum of Scottish education, with oversight from bodies such as Education Scotland and the SQA.

“Because our response to this overtly conservative trend of teaching classics must be that if you’re going to teach it, teach it all and teach it properly.

“The truth is that the classical world is not gleaming white marble and socially conservative American politics.

“It’s grimy, dirty, technicolour, violent and often unsavoury. What they’re teaching – from the point of view of a professional classicist – is not classics.

“Works of classical literature must be understood within their context. If you’re reading Plato and Aristotle to inform your modern philosophies on race you are, quite frankly, out of your tree.”

The state of play for classics education in Scotland

DR Imrie never had the chance to study classics at school.

“We got a couple of weeks on the Egyptians if we were lucky,” he said.

“Portobello High School had a Latin motto, but nobody could tell me what it meant!”

It wasn’t until he was able to take an elective in ancient history at the University of Edinburgh that Dr Imrie’s devotion to the subject truly began.

Now, he dedicates much of his time to advocating for classics.

Currently, only around 600 pupils sit exams in classics or Latin every year in Scotland – mainly within fee-paying schools.

“Since the 1980s classics has gradually disappeared from the state education system,” said Dr Imrie.

The National: A statue of Hygeia the Greek goddess of health in EdinburghA statue of Hygeia the Greek goddess of health in Edinburgh (Image: Wikipedia Creative Commons/Rosser1954)

“Latin in particular developed this reputation as an impenetrable subject and schools stopped replacing teachers when they retired.

“That then created a smaller job market, leading teacher training courses to drop classical studies and Latin as options, which has only exacerbated the problem.”

It’s currently impossible to pursue training as a classics teacher in Scotland.

Furthermore, graduates of ancient history aren’t eligible for entry onto post-graduate courses allowing them to qualify as history teachers.

The Classical Association for Scotland has spent years lobbying the General Teaching Council of Scotland to change the requirements for entry, with a consultation on the change closing earlier this month.

It’s a move that would likely help with the provision of classics teachers in Scotland, as qualified teachers with backgrounds in ancient history would be able to accredit themselves in classical studies soon after graduation.

READ MORE: Perth: Stone of Destiny exhibit tickets 'sell out in 13 minutes'

“We did a survey back in 2017 which found there were fewer than 20 state schools offering any form of classical studies,” said Dr Imrie, who also works with Classics For All, a charity which seeks to improve the provision of classics, Latin and ancient Greek in state schools.

“We’ve managed to more than double that number since then, which, in a context where curriculum narrowing is constantly criticised, seems really positive. “Latin, due to the linguistic barrier, is a bit of a harder nut to crack. But we’re collaborating with the existing Latin teachers in Scotland to try and defend its place in the curriculum.

“We’re trying to break down the divide which currently makes an education in Latin the preserve of the fee-paying minority.”

The past and future of Scotland’s love for the classical world

THE classical world is visible almost everywhere in Scotland.

Whether it’s the ode to Greek architecture on Calton Hill in Edinburgh or the continuing rediscovery of Roman artefacts in Stirling, its relationship to Scotland is enduring and valuable, having inspired some of the country’s greatest minds and discoveries.

“People like Boris Johnson have been regarded as the kind of popular classicists of our time,” said Dr Imrie.

“All because he can rattle off a few lines of Greek. But it’s a poor advert for the subject because it’s not reflective of anyone I know who actually teaches it.

“I don’t want to see classics politicised in Scotland. I want to see it thrive.”

Classical Conversations was contacted for comment.