Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mercutio and Gang Crime

Once again, Boris Johnson has brought literature and foreign languages into politics. A few weeks ago, it was ancient Greek and Latin - and how teaching it at schools could help curb the rates of knife crime. Personally, I think that learning Latin and Greek as a tool to combat violent crime is a little far-fetched. And, as Charlotte Higgins pointed out on Comment is Free, he's hardly the guy to rid Classics of its 'posh' image.
And anyway, what about Modern Languages? It's now optional for 14-16 year olds to study a foreign language at all. As a linguist myself, I think this is a more serious consideration than worrying about ancient languages. Through studying Modern Languages, a lot can be learned about how different societies work. Indirectly, this can lead to a better understanding of others, which can only be a good thing in working towards a more tolerant, less violent society.

This time round, London's mayor has brought things closer to home, referring to English literature. Speaking again on knife crime yesterday, Johnson drew a parrellel between the capital's gang culture and Mercutio in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Here's a link to an article in yesterday's Guardian on Johnson's new idea:

Whether or not we agree with Johnson's argument, I think it's great that we're having this debate at all. The idea's out there - it's up to us to decide what to make of it. Does it make sense? Studying Shakespeare may not in itself help combat knife crime. However, making literature and history exciting, accessible - and most of all relevant - to young people is so important. Then perhaps - just perhaps - if kids find school a more inspiring place, then eventually they won't turn to crime at all. Of course, things aren't as simple as that in the real world. But it's great that we're discussing this at all.

On a lighter note, Johnson's literary considerations may quell possible nightmares related to imagining our prime minister descending from Yorkshire's thunderous moors....

(image: Harold Perrineau as Mercutio, alongside Leonardo di Caprio's Romeo in Baz Luhrumann's Romeo and Juliet (1996) )

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