Richard Ingrams's Week: No one knows how to educate our children

Would Boris claim that his knowledge of Latin helps him in any way when it comes to dealing with the congestion charge?
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In a moving appeal to his fellow Tory Michael Gove, the London Mayor Boris Johnson has pleaded for the preservation of the teaching of Latin in state schools.

"We must not starve the minds of students eager to embrace the disciplines of Latin," he told a conference of head teachers in London on Wednesday.

But if there are such students, starved of the Latin which they crave, they ought to be forewarned. And having myself been fed on a diet of Latin from the age of seven, I feel well qualified to do the forewarning.

Latin is a ridiculously complicated language which it takes years to master. And what use is it to you when you've mastered it? Would Boris claim that his knowledge of Latin helps him in any way when it comes to dealing with the congestion charge? Whether Gove will be receptive remains to be seen. The last we heard of him he was trumpeting the benefits of learning algebra – another form of torture which many of my readers might remember.

As for the present Government, the Schools Minister Ed Balls was asked about the Latin question the other day on the radio. His reply was revealing: "Very few businesses are asking for it."

We have heard that sort of thing before – Balls' predecessor Charles Clarke once said that "education for education's sake is a bit dodgy" – but I can't remember an education minister stating quite openly that the school curriculum must nowadays conform to the demands of big business.

Keep those newspaper sales going with so-called national fury

It was not so long ago that Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn announced that the nation was "recoiling in disgust" at the release from prison of the so-called Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al Megrahi. A few days later, Times journalist Tom Baldwin claimed that much of the world was "shuddering" as Megrahi was given a hero's welcome on his return to Libya.

We have become used to being told that we are recoiling or shuddering over some particular horror. Right now the nation is reported to be reeling with anger or possibly even fury over the news that child murderer Jon Venables, pictured above at the age of 10, may or may not have committed an unnamed offence following his release from prison.

If there is anger, or even fury, you may not have been aware of it as you went about your daily tasks any more than you noticed anyone recoiling in disgust over the Lockerbie bomber.

It would be nice to say that these instances of mass fury exist only in the imagination of journalists. But even that isn't true. No one has imagined fury or anything of the kind. It is a purely cynical exercise designed to drum up sales. The murder of James Bulger would have been forgotten long ago if it had not been for the tabloid press. The same was true of other bugbears like Myra Hindley who was regularly featured on the front pages with reports of nationwide anger about her favourable treatment in prison.

If the nation is going to be angry about anything it would be nice if it could get angry about such cheap sensationalism. Even nicer if it felt like recoiling in disgust. The sad thing is that nobody will be all that bothered.

Enough of the Bloomsbury group

It is hard not to experience feelings of depression at the news revealed in this paper yesterday that thousands of intimate letters written to one another by members of the Bloomsbury Set are to be made available to the public for the first time.

In recent years, this same public has been bombarded with letters, diaries, biographies and autobiographies devoted to this group of self-obsessed intellectuals. There must be enough material relating to Virginia Woolf alone to fill a small airport terminal.

Despite the blanket coverage it demands quite an effort to try to untangle all the different Bloomsbury characters and their complex relationships with one another. Many of them are called Strachey, some Partridge and others called Garnett come into it somehow.

Which one of them was it who lived at Charleston in Sussex where there are those rather wishy-washy paintings on the walls? Can you tell the difference between Clive Bell, Julian Bell and Quentin Bell? Who exactly was Ralph Partridge? Does anybody really care?

The sad answer is that there are any number of people employed in the Bloomsbury industry who care very much and who will have been more than excited by the news of a huge cache of yet more letters to be pored over, annotated and published possibly over many years.

If you thought that the last word had been said about the Bloomsbury Set, think again.

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