People sometimes wonder about the ”relevance” of Sanskrit and Shakespeare in primary education. The argument is, I suppose, that a career as a quantity surveyor, IT consultant of Local Government Health and Safety Officer is not assisted by an understanding of Sanskrit grammar, or the commitment to memory of Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” speech.
There are a few responses to this. First, the mental and emotional training which these subjects bring with them is very relevant to our work life – the patience, perserverance, and sense of achievement can be of great value in performing our professional duties effectively.
Second, very little of the primary curriculum is in fact ”relevant” on this level. Except for reading, writing and basic maths, most of us don’t use much of what we learnt in 2nd or 4th or 6th class in our jobs or in our lives.
Third, no one has any real idea of the shape of the world in ten or twenty years’ time when the children will be entering the workforce. So, as far as specific job skills are concerned, no one can say with any degree of certainty what we should teach, in place of Sanskrit and Shakespeare, which would be more relevant.
And the final response (my favourite) is “Sure it’s irrelevant, so what?” Let’s come out with our hands up and say, OK, Shakespeare isn’t relevant to being a plumber, or a ballerina, or a professional rugby player. But the delight, the enjoyment, the nourishment of the child’s soul that these and other similar subjects deliver, is a gift way beyond any consideration of vocational training.
If schools just trained children to get a job, we would be justly accused of being mere instruments of rich corporations who want compliant factory and office fodder. A school worthy of the name is much more than that. A key part of our mission is to expand the children’s horizons, to inspire them, to enhance their creativity, to hone their reasoning skills, to sharpen their minds.
This is what Sanskrit and Shakespeare do. And, as a useful by-product, they make the children more employable as well.