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A healthy mind in a healthy body?

February 20, 2018
orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano

A healthy mind in a healthy body?

The Roman poet, Juvenal, wrote words which were later made famous through the Nineteenth Century public schools’ movement:

‘orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano’

(you should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body).

At a time with mental health very much to the fore in society, Juvenal’s exhortation not to pray for long life but to focus on a life well lived with physical and mental health at its root, seems remarkably modern despite the fact he was writing in the late First Century AD. 

What’s the importance of Latin?

No doubt Juvenal would have been disappointed to see the results of a recent YouGov poll in which only 3% of those surveyed felt Latin was very important. Not surprisingly, English and maths topped the chart on 96% with science and computing just a few points behind. Juvenal would no doubt have applauded the fact that 42% felt PE to be very important (but maybe a little concerned it wasn’t rated even more highly) and this writer is certainly unhappy that history was only on 39%! (Surely if we don’t learn the lessons of history we are doomed to repeat them? But that may be for another blog…) Of a greater concern is that the poll indicated only 12% saw Religious Studies (RS) as very important. 

Are we at risk of producing ignorant children?

I may be a RS teacher currently but that is not the reason for my concern over this survey’s outcome. On the same day that the YouGov result was reported, the Religious Education Council of England and Wales reported that children are at risk of becoming ignorant or bigoted if they are not given comprehensive religious education taught by good teachers. Schools are suffering a shortage of qualified RE (or RS) staff and so a campaign has begun to try and encourage more graduates into the teaching profession and into RE in particular. 

We have recently had a superb trainee teacher at Ballard specialising in humanities and RS especially. (She took a number of my classes and I sensed that my pupils were sorry to see me return after her training period was concluded!) The concern over potentially bigoted – even bizarre views – amongst future generations reminded me of the first RS lesson I taught at Ballard some nine years ago. I made reference to Da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper to illustrate how artists had been inspired by religious topics, only to have one Year 9 boy pipe up: ‘Sir, is that the picture with Jesus’ wife in it?’ Dan Brown has rather a lot to answer for! 

Training the mind, the body and the spirit

And so, as we contemplate the YouGov poll suggestions, let’s not lose sight of the importance of training the mind, the body and the spirit as best we can in our schools (and don’t neglect history in so doing)! Thales, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher writing some seven centuries before Juvenal, asserted:

‘What man is happy? He who has a healthy body, a resourceful mind and a docile nature’.

Perhaps some Latin, and Greek, can still teach us a thing or two as well?

Alastair Reid (Magister) 

We tweet from @BallardSchool

Ballard School is an independent, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire, providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here.

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