Monday, May 28, 2012

"But when am I ever going to use this?"

"Having a strong background in Classics has, in my opinion, proved beneficial in my studies of medicine. Doctors don't have to major in Biology to learn how to think and become good physicians. I believe Classical Studies provides that ability as well as any major offered in the college curriculum." -- Thomas Turner, MD 

Our modern high-school curriculum has fallen victim to a mindless form of pragmatism wherein all classes are seen as preparing students for a future "job" of some sort.  The traditional belief that schooling should train the whole person, body, mind, and spirit, to live a full and meaningful life publicly, domestically, and occupationally is constantly challenged by those who shout (ever more loudly): But what is ___ good for?  You may insert any number of things into the blank: History, Poetry, Calculus, Latin, Art, you name it.  Anything that concerns the good, the true, and the beautiful, but which does not concern a specific technical skill, is under assault from students, parents, and even teachers.

Huge sums of money are spent on "vocational" training, meaning training in classes that are directly related to specific career skills, but far worse than this, the classes that focus on developing a rounded person, a complete and "educated" person, feel pressured to become more "relevant."  "Relevant" generally means "able to help the student in a future job."  It is as if our society were willingly descending into a new "Dark Age" as we jettison the knowledge and culture of the last 6000 years and train our children to become amoral information processors or living tools doing their share to increase the GDP.

The problem with those who want more "career education" is that they do not see how quickly the career market is shifting.  It is nearly impossible to predict exactly what new career fields may be developing in the next 20 years.  However, we do know this: A student who is able to learn, to communicate clearly, and to solve problems, linguistic, cultural, and occupational, will always be employable, and most likely will be doing the "employing."

Studying Latin accomplishes all three of these "career" goals: It teaches the student how to learn, how to communicate clearly, and how to solve new problems.  It is the ultimate vocational training, without specifically teaching a student how to turn a wrench or clean someone's teeth.  The careful student of Latin can tackle any career.  As Dr. Turner said in the quotation above, studying any particular subject, like Biology, does not necessarily teach someone how to think.  However, Latin does, and so it trains our students for future careers without sacrificing our culture in the process.

Monday, May 14, 2012

But more important is the fact that traditional study of Latin starts out with a grammatical framework.... As American students begin Latin, they become acquainted with the "Latin grammar" system, which they can indirectly transfer to their work in English. What it gives them is a standardized set of terms in which to describe words in relation to other words in sentences, and it is this grammatical awareness which makes their English writing good. -- Professor William V. Harris, NYU

The grammar program built into Microsoft Word has chosen to underline the final word in the above quotation. Incorrectly, I should add. Obviously, MS Word has not studied Latin! If it had, it would certainly know the difference between facit bene and facit bonum.

 As a teacher of both English and Latin, I have seen the futility of attempting to teach English grammar to students in their native language. For some reason, we resist systematizing that which comes so naturally to us. So we must approach our own language by a different road, and the best road for that is Latin.

Careful attention to Latin grammar drastically reduces, I will not say eliminates, the need to study English grammar as a separate subject, and if English grammar is studied in conjunction with Latin grammar, say in the 1st-4th grades using a program like First Language Lessons by Jessie Wise Bauer, then there is a synergistic effect benefiting both languages. In short, learning Latin grammar improves writing skills in English.