Sunday, January 9, 2011

Q&A re: Latin

From The Daily Telegraph
November 26 2010 and January 8 2011
By Peter Dix

My son, currently in year 5, is due to start Latin at his prep school next year. I should have thought they would have discarded this dead and dusty old subject by now. I would welcome your views.
Mrs V Davies, Surbiton

O tempora, O mores! Now you have really upset me. Here are some of the benefits lining up for your son. Starting with the utilitarian arguments: in the modern English curriculum there is no proper understanding of how language works, no need to acquire a decent grasp of sentence structure, the sequence of tenses, the use of cases and the like. Latin will provide him, with all this. Also, its disciplined inflections and logical structures will do wonders for his mind and his overall approach to learning.

If that weren’t enough, as the parent language of all the Romance (“Roman”) languages – Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Romansh – Latin will give him a strong head-start in learning any of these.

It’s no more dead than early English; in fact, the Normans brought Latin deep into the heart of English, too, so your son will have his vocabulary extended.

Lastly, the Renaissance pumped thousands of new words into the English language to describe new concepts and inventions, almost all of them derived from Greek or Latin, as any scientist will tell you.

If we allow ourselves to look at education for its own sake, we shall spot still more advantages. Latin is now taught in the historical and social context of its time, so your son will learn about the essence of Western civilisation: democracy, republicanism, virtually every literary genre, many of the founding principles of architecture, art, mathematics, philosophy and so on.

Even if the beautiful poetry of Horace, Virgil and Ovid doesn’t strike a spark in your son just yet, he will applaud the searing satire of Juvenal and snigger at the smut of Martial and Catullus. And the odds are that he will love learning about gladiators, chariot races, Vesuvius, massive slave uprisings and much more. He is a very fortunate young man.

January 8 2011 Classic success story
I had an extraordinary response - nearly 100 per cent positive! - to my recent reply to a question about Latin. I was particularly pleased to hear from the Head of a primary school in North Yorkshire, who writes:

"From September 1, Hackforth and Hornby C of E Primary School will be one of the very few primary schools in North Yorkshire to offer Latin as part of its curriculum. Latin is no longer an elitist subject and gone are the stuffy days of chanting 'Amo, amas, amat'. For the past two years Hackforth has run a successful after-school Latin club. Children have learnt Latip but also enjoyed finding out more about the Romans. Passers-by might even have stopped in surprise to see Roman soldiers with shields being drilled in the playground. The sessions now have space in the timetable. Once a fortnight, pupils aged 7 to 11 spend an hour learning Latin with the help of Minimus and friends. For those not in the know, Minimus is the star of an innovative resource designed for teaching Latin to younger children. This is in line with the growing enthusiasm for Latin in state schools and with the White Paper proposal that Latin should join the list of languages from which all children will have to do at least one for GCSE. Optimel"

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