Thursday, February 08, 2007

Latin for the Masses (And More than Even the Catholic Kind)

Continued from the last post . . .

Atra Luce is still in the process of transforming itself. It will offer several sorts of grants -- some of them are in coin and some in kind.

Both are under discussion, but one program has already been clearly articulated: using Latin to explore language in general and English in particular. The target market comprises schools where children struggle with achieving high standards in many subjects.

Why is This Unusual?

The study of Latin is generally considered to be an elitist pursuit. Most students in English-speaking countries choose French or Spanish -- and sometimes German -- if given a choice to study another tongue.

After all, who has time or use for a dead language other than those with no need to be relevant in this century? Even most Catholic schools dropped Latin as a requirement after Vatican II declared that religious services could be offered in the vernacular.

So What's the Problem?

Increasingly, teachers in English-speaking countries are not teaching students the grammar of their native language.

Many teachers to whom I spoke don't feel comfortable teaching it because no one taught it to them. Some told me they were taught to diagram sentences and found later that it (strangely) helped them very little to do anything other than -- well -- make diagrams. Still others had been forced to memorize rules that they couldn't remember because the logic had never been explained.

There is also the school of thought that students should learn to write without regard to structure in order to encourage them to feel comfortable in the medium. The premise is that once engaged and writing regularly, students will pursue the nuts and bolts of precision in future life.

Unfortunately, this doesn't often happen. Grammar doesn't sound like fun to anyone in traditional education. Furthermore (and maybe consequently), most of the teachers I spoke to -- from university through primary school -- blamed their predecessors for their students inability to recognize a sentence.

Why Does This Matter Anyway?

An understanding of how language works involves more than following rules. It makes one aware of the way we think as a culture and as indivduals. This awareness changes the way we perceive ourselves, others, and the rest of the world in which we live. This is big stuff.

More on this in the next post.

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