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Latin and Greek for Soviet elite? Professor urges return to classics to better equip future leaders

What Soviet leaders really need is a firm grounding in Latin and Greek, Dr. Alexander Zaitsev told a small, slightly bemused audience last week. Dr. Zaitsev, a professor from Leningrad, was calling for the revival, in a slightly modified form, of the pre-revolutionary system of classical gymnasia - secondary schools which offered the fortunate a rigorous education in classics, and which in czarist Russia were the stepping stone to higher education.

The modern gymnasia would accept the country's top 1 or 2 percent - those with an IQ of around 130, Zaitsev said. They would learn modern languages, computers, and mathematics, but the core of their education would be Latin and Greek.

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Children would start learning Latin in their first year, taking between four and six classes a week. A similar amount of Greek would be added in their second year. (This would bring them roughly up to par with classical education in czarist gymnasia, which devoted up to 40 percent of their time on Latin and Greek).

The classics teach concision of speech, analytical thinking, and subtlety of mind, Zaitsev told his audience. In fact, the advantages of classical education are so great that future leaders should choose the bulk of their top aides from the graduates of new classical schools, he said.

The big problem would be finding teachers for the new schools, Zaitsev admitted. Moscow, with its 39,000 teachers, might be able to muster enough teachers for two gymnasia; Leningrad, only one.

Aware that his proposal may take time to catch on, Zaitsev suggested an interim measure. Soviet high schools could add Latin to their curricula. But efforts should, he said, be made to ensure that the ``obtuse and the lazy'' pupil be excluded. Zaitsev thought that this, however, could cause some political problems. Moscow might allow it, but the Leningrad Communist Party leadership - reputed to be ideologically more unbending - might be less keen, he conceded.

The creation of a ruling class with a thorough grounding in Aristotle and Tacitus would constitute a true revolution in the Soviet Union. Mikhail Gorbachev's law degree makes him a rarity among Soviet leaders. And he has been known to quote Seneca, the stoic philosopher who had the misfortune to be the Emperor Nero's tutor. His wife Raisa is even better educated. But most Soviet leaders have tended to have vocational education in engineering or related fields.

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