Culture Wars/Current Controversies

The Flight from Degeneracy (2022), by Sean Gabb

By Sean Gabb

Something known to everyone in England connected with independent education is the Oriental takeover of the scholarship system. In all the competitive examinations for bursaries and scholarships, the top marks go increasingly to boys from the Far East. I make part of my income from helping with this takeover. Boys are sent to me when they are twelve. Within six months, they are effortlessly handling Latin subjunctives and Greek aorist participles – handling these for translation into English and for translation out of English. Some of them do this because they must. Many fall in love with the Ancient World and its languages. It is some of the most enjoyable teaching I have ever done, and I plan to do a great deal more of it yet.

There should be nothing unusual about this. For two hundred years, the lines of influence have run from the West to other civilisations – our science, our art, our music, our political and legal institutions. If Homer and Livy are now wanted as well as Bach and Mozart, we should be long past any hint of surprise. But here is something that may raise eyebrows.

I know an English schoolgirl who is now fourteen. For the past year, she has been teaching herself Japanese. She is an intelligent English schoolgirl. You can be sure that she is making good progress with her studies – and would make better progress if she had less box-ticking homework from her school. But Japanese is not something I would have considered at her age. I did consider Sanskrit for a while. But Japanese never made it onto my list of things to learn. It is on her list. And she is not alone. I have discovered that all her friends are themselves either learning Japanese or Korean or Chinese, or planning to learn one or more of these languages.

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