Friday, November 21, 2008

Latin in Conversation

By the way, if you believe Latin is on its last legs (as many do, see last post), take a look at this video on language from PopTech!

Sara Canullo, assistant director of Latin studies for CAGSE, added a translation in for about a third of the video. Just to prove a point:

Latin might be ancient, but it can capture even the most contemporary ideas in new ways.

Every language offers interpretation of concepts just by articulating them. If you speak or read more than one, check out the different translations for this talk. Although if you speak more than one language, this is something you know already.

You might not agree with elements of the talk, or the content might not interest you at all. However, DotSub is a useful app -- worth exploring if you need translations of videos for multilingual audiences.

On the Web, that's EVERY audience. Guaranteed.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Not Drowning but Waving: Latin Dead?

Dead or Alive?

I've been talking a lot about the value of Latin lately, and each day, eventually, I wait for the argument that is supposed to stop me in my tracks.

Latin is Dead.

Actually, it's not. It's alive and well and living in English, German, and all the Romance languages. We use it every day in its original form (ad finitum, et al, eg, re:, etc.) It's even branded on Anglina Jolie and David Bekham's skin.

You don't get much more hip and culturally current than that.

What Are People Arguing About?

At root, it seems that schools and anti-Latin pundits are arguing for training over learning. Corporate culture has invaded our schools in more ways than sponsorships.

Corporate training offers a set of limited skills to be used in a narrow set of circumstances (the desk chair) for relatively narrow purposes (getting a particular task done at work). Some examples (in case you haven't worked in an office): how to use computer programs, how to fill out a time sheet, how to better communicate with your staff on particular issues, -- did I forget to say etc.?

Not Training But Learning

Training is limited by the very purpose for which it's offered: skills are intended for targeted use in particular contexts.

Learning, on the other hand, is as much about how you think about a problem as the particular problem itself.

Manderin and Romance languages are taught in schools because we have relatively short-term goals for our kids. Get trained, and you can do particular tasks when you finish. On the other hand, Latin isn't spoken in full sentences (generally, in most circles, anyway). Relegate it to the dustbin.

One caveat: I think all languages are valuable if taught correctly. Just throw Latin in with the rest.

Dangerous Precedent: What if Demanded Skills Change?

If we limit our kids to skills rather than offering them tools for larger thinking processes, we'll never get the innovation we're looking for -- either in the classroom or outside it. More important than any particular thought is an awareness of how that thought connects to others, how it arrived, and where you go from there.

Because language represents thought and doesn't merely describe it, Latin shows historically how we've got where we are as English speakers. If you teach it with learning in mind, you can give kids Latin and they'll see patterns across languages. Moreover, they will see where ideas came from that are contained in their own language in importantly similar and different ways.

Latin offers students a view of the long Western history of philosophy of language, of thought, of culture.

Not a bad return for an hour a week from CAGSE.

By the way, Richard Gilder recently wrote an articulate piece on the known value of Latin in English literacy. Check it out.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Best Practices in Teaching: In Business and in School

As I mentioned in my last post, I just came from PopTech! where (again) extraordinary people meet and speak, both on and off the stage.

Every year, Camden Maine, October. Amazing.

Ben Zander Inspires

One of the highlights of the conference was Ben Zander's presentation. Ben is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic and about the most exuberant person I've ever met.

In this talk, Ben offered two models of thinking: one of "The Downward Spiral" (linear thinking in binaries) and one of multiple possibilities. He then led a 15-year-old cellist called Nicolai through a Bach piece several times. Each time, Ben coached Nicolai so that by the end of the session, the piece sounded as good as it could be. It was a pleasure to watch.

One last point worth noting: Ben told Nicolai that when he makes a mistake, rather than making a face and drawing down his body, he should throw up his hands and say "How Fascinating!" The fear of making mistakes is perhaps the biggest challenge to learning in our culture, both in business and in school. We're trained to guess what our superiors or teachers want us to say.

Everyone rose to their applauding furiously when Ben was done. It was an extraordinary performance.

Later That Evening . . .

In order to continue the conversation about models of possibility, Ben and his ex-wife Roz invited us to a local inn to continue the conversation about how Ben inspired his student.

The meeting presented a frustrating experience -- both Ben and Roz spoke in abstract and extreme terms about their rival models.

The possibility model offered no hierarchy between expert (teacher) and novice (student or employee). It left every option open. Solutions were infinite.

The other model, by contrast, was a false habit we've learned of competing with each other, satisfying ourselves with winning when others lose, and offering only binary solutions.

What Happened Next

A few people got up to ask how to apply Ben and Roz's philosophy to non-artistic fields -- how does a boss inspire employees? How does a physics professor -- when there are right and wrong answers -- offer his students the option of infinite possibilities?

No one in the gathering had taught like Ben. Many were business people with disaffected employees who had never taught formally at all. After several questions from the crowd, it became clear that no one was sure how to articulate what was wanted from the speakers.

And like many great teachers, Ben's teaching gift is instinctive. He couldn't quite connect people's questions to what he could offer.

Frustration is Good

I got up and offered a compromise. I pointed out that there was indeed hierarchy in Ben's relationship onstage with Nicolai. There always is with a teacher and student. I offered that what Ben did was lead Nicolai to see what it was that HE saw.

If a student or employee doesn't see the beauty and value of what the teacher or employer sees, it's the teacher or employer's failing. The challenge is both seeing the beauty or miraculousness oneself AND seeing where the blocks are for the student so that we can break them down. Once a student sees the vision as the teacher does, he or she will move toward it.

It was helpful for me to be frustrated. I now know what I think great teaching is.

How about you?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

And For All You Bad Spellers Out There . . .

. . . some authority at last.

If the last post interested you, see this one about Erin from months ago.