Now here is Latin for All!

At a Bronx School, Latin Is the Root of All Learning

By JOSEPH BERGER
Published: November 29, 2006 New York Times

At the Bronx Latin School, one of New York’s multiplying number of small themed public middle and high schools, Latin is what Alfred Hitchcock used to call the MacGuffin: a plot device that grabs our attention while the story has a larger purpose.

The school’s larger purpose is simple: to get students, most of them “struggling with literacy,” as the founding principal, Leticia Pineiro, said, to read and also do math at grade level or better.

The three-year-old school is gambling that teaching Latin will initiate poor and working-class students into the mysteries of how any language — especially English — works by illuminating the long-neglected art of grammar and enriching their English vocabulary with Latin roots.

In Peter Dodington’s seventh-grade class the other day, the talk was about Latin verbs. With “portat” — he, she or it carries — Mr. Dodington, 61, elicited from his students English derivatives like portable and teleport. That led to a discussion of the Greek root, tele, for far off, which yielded a new understanding of how words like telephone (sound that travels far) and telegraph (writing that travels far) are shaped.

The class then switched to translating the fable about a shepherd saved from having to fight a lion because he had pulled a thorn from its paw. The story was right out of the textbook “Cambridge Latin Course,” used by elite private schools, and the students seemed to enjoy translating phrases like “cur lacrimas, leo?” and “cur me non consumis?” “Why are you crying lion? Why don’t you eat me?” In the era of Harry Potter and recondite medieval mysteries, the students seemed enchanted by Latin’s esoteric, exclusive aura.

“Nobody knows what you’re talking about,” said a proudly grinning Christian Graham, 14.

A visit to Bronx Latin suggests that its approach may be working. Moreover, on this year’s state English test, 50.9 percent of seventh graders read at grade level or better while only 31.8 percent of seventh graders in the surrounding South Bronx region performed that well.

But the visit also did not allay some of the doubts experts raise about small schools, almost 200 of which have been created by the Bloomberg administration in the last three years, often with foundation money. For example, there remains the distinct possibility that higher reading scores at Bronx Latin might be the result of self-selection: families or guidance counselors urging Bronx Latin on children may have higher ambitions for them.

Though she never studied Latin, Ms. Pineiro, 40, a graduate of the private Dalton School in Manhattan and Wesleyan University, deeply believes in her school’s focus. She is an intensely dedicated leader on whom little is lost, the kind who will stoop to pick up a student’s dropped tissue and correct a novice teacher who lets students watch a film without requiring note-taking. She is delighted to be returning to the Bronx community where she grew up.

“This is my passion, this is my baby,” she said of the school.

But people who have studied such schools wonder if idiosyncratic — carpers might say gimmicky — missions like teaching Latin can sustain themselves once their founders move on.

“What happens when that initial spark is gone, when you have second-generation leadership?” asked David C. Bloomfield, the head of the Citywide Council on High Schools, an advisory parent group. Mr. Bloomfield said he supported the concept of small schools, but he has filed a discrimination complaint with the federal Education Department saying that the city has denied spots in small schools to special education students and those who are not proficient in English.

Ms. Pineiro, though, believes that the school can thrive without her. The key to Bronx Latin’s success, she said, is the after-school hours that teachers spend learning its methods, like structured collaboration among colleagues who share students, and the insistence on informing parents when children stumble. She promises that, when the time comes, she will train a successor in the school’s methods. But will another leader be as demanding?

And there are other questions. In a school the size of Bronx Latin, which offers grades from 6th to 8th and will add one grade a year through 12th, students may not have access to advanced classes preferred for college entrance or to extracurricular activities. What happens when students move — as so many children from poor or troubled families do — and attend schools that do not offer Latin? What happens when teachers like Andrew Goldin, who joined Teach for America on two-year contract, move on to other careers? Latin teachers willing to chance public schools are a precious commodity.

WITH just 156 students in the school, classes are almost like seminars; Mr. Dodington’s class had 15 students. But there is already jostling over space with three programs that share the building. Studies have shown that mainstream schools are being squeezed for space because of the small schools placed in their buildings.

Mr. Bloomfield, who also directs training for principals at Brooklyn College, and other critics, like the education historian Diane Ravitch, said too many small schools have been formed with inexperienced, even if enthusiastic, staffs. Although attendance is higher and violence down, there is little reliable information on whether they are actually improving learning.

Bronx Latin is something of a daring adventure. Latin is usually the province of private academies like Horace Mann, where students from middle-class homes are already champion readers,

“When I think about Latin,” said Mr. Goldin, 23, “I certainly think of an environment where kids are reading at grade level and have a grade-level vocabulary, have study habits, get their homework done. That’s not the experience the majority of our students have had by sixth grade.”

Mr. Goldin and Mr. Dodington, however, are eager to prove the conventional wisdom wrong.

“I always thought it would be an interesting goal to teach Latin to everybody,” said Mr. Dodington, whose classics career includes a stop at the elite Collegiate School. “Take a subway car of people — that’s what we do.”

Latin works well with children who are not strong academically, he said. “It’s very organized, very transparent,” he said. “There’s a rule for everything.”

Mr. Goldin, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania who in contrast to the button-down Mr. Dodington dresses casually and has shoulder-length hair, is brilliant at running Socratic discussions, where he asks leading questions to guide students to their own well-grounded conclusions. He had a class analyze the meaning of justice through an Indian fable about two kings, one who meets the good with goodness and the wicked with wickedness, another who conquers evil by his goodness. Practically every student had something to say.

“If you give him attitude, he’s going to give you more attitude than you give him,” is how one boy described one king’s philosophy.

Mr. Goldin repeatedly reminded the students that they could not just state random thoughts. “Is that your opinion or is that based on the text?” he asked. He also trained the students to listen, gently pulling a pen away from a boy fiddling with it distractedly.

Whatever the questions about Bronx Latin, membership in a rarefied group that can decode a dead language is a source of pride that is a powerful motivator.

“The idea we’re offering Latin helps by itself,” Mr. Dodington said. “It’s kind of a vote of confidence in the kids.”

Isn't it strange how exclusivist the Guardian is about Latin

The Guardian has jumped on the Amo amas amat bandwagon – and let's welcome publicity for Latin – with a piece by one Charlotte Higgins. Read the article.

Unfortunately she has entered into the elitist world of Harry Mount, and chooses to talk, not just to the author, but also to a teacher from St Francis College, Letchworth, one of the top achieving schools in The Times list, who turns up her nose at Latin as it is taught to the majority of Latin students in the country. We don't learn what textbook this school does favour, but:

She reserves special disdain for the Cambridge Latin Course, the series of books now most widely used in schools and widely blamed for Latin's “dumbing down” and indeed decline. “It's a complete nightmare. I refuse to use it,” says Leek.

So, keep Latin as a class divider – is that it? The book, as reported by The Guardian, seems to hold that view:

In other words, Amo, Amas, Amat is, broadly, part of the Eats, Shoots and Leaves phenomenon and thus falls into the category of books that are ostensibly cris de coeur for the correct use of the apostrophe, say, while really, deep down, betraying a sort of posh anxiety about standards in society generally.

This depresses me. I'd rather trumpet the Comprehensives in Inner London who are taking on Latin using the despised (and misrepresented) Cambridge Course, and the thousands of Primary School children who are learning to love Latin through Minimus.

By the way, our Civic Society had an inspiring talk yesterday from the Assistant Head of our local Comp, and when I asked him after the talk when the school was going to re-introduce Latin, and pointed out that children from some of his feeder schools have learned with Minimus, he took the matter seriously and promised to raise the question at the management meeting next week.

Something new for Classical Civilisation – with your input

When I taught Classical Civilisation I had to issue a mini-library of books and booklets to cover the syllabus.

I think the situation is much the same still.

Now an initiative comes from the Cambridge Classics Project (do these folk never take a break?) to devise and produce a complete Class Civ course for British schools.

The man in charge of investigating the project is Michael Massey, who wrote:

Dear David,

Will Griffiths has asked me to take on the running of the Feasibility Study, and one of my first actions was to email CA, ARLT, JACT and Friends of the Classics, asking you/them to contribute to the study. I don't know whether the email got as far as you, but we certainly don't want anyone to be excluded from what looks like a possible major development in Classical Civilisation teaching at KS3 & 4.

Apart from any thoughts and ideas you may wish to send to me, Martin or Will, I would be pleased if you and/or your colleagues in ARLT/CA/JACT were able to attend one or more of the consultation sessions – details on the CSCP website. I would be further delighted if you, personally, or others felt able to contribute further, should the study suggest that we ought to pursue the idea more substantially.

We are trying to make it clear to people that CSCP does not have a specific agenda – we are merely seeking to identify needs and wants. Should those needs and wants seem clear, coherent and convincing enough, then we may be able to proceed to a next step, whatever that might be. What you see stated on the website is what you get!

Many thanks for your interest.

Yours,

Michael Massey

It is well worth looking at the web page explaining the project, but I copy the consultation dates here as well.

KS3 & 4 Classical Civilisation Materials ~ Regional Meetings

We intend to hold a series of regional meetings with teachers and other interested parties during the next few months. These meetings will be held on Saturday mornings in convenient venues and details of dates, times and venues will be posted here as they are established:

  • London: Saturday 9th December, 10:00 to 12.30
    The Sackler Rooms in the British Museum.
  • Bristol: Saturday 13th January, 10:00 to 12.30
    Room 2A027, University of the West of England, Frenchay Campus, Coldharbour Lane, Bristol, BS16 1QY.
  • Birmingham: Saturday 27 January, 10:00 to 12:30
    Conference Room 5, Birmingham Central Library, Chamberlain Square, B3 3HQ.
  • Leeds: Saturday 24th February, 10:00 to 12:30
    Leeds Central Library, Calverley Street, Leeds, LS1 3AB.
  • Newcastle: Saturday 17th March,10:00 to 12:30
    Bedson Building, University of Newcastle, Queen Victoria Road, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE1 7RU.
  • Manchester: Saturday 24th March, 10:00 to 12:30
    People’s History Museum, The Pump House, Bridge Street, Manchester, M3 3ER.

We would be grateful to hear from schools in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland willing to host a meeting.

The meetings

Two members representing CSCP will attend the meetings, which will probably last for about two hours, with refreshments. Some preparatory materials, including various proposed ideas, will be available for discussion. The aim of these sessions is to seek a cross-section of opinion on the possible content, scope, delivery and assessment styles of this initiative. We would like to emphasise that CSCP has no fixed ideas about the nature of KS3/4 Classical Civilisation, and welcomes all suggestions at this stage.

If you would like to attend …

If you would like to attend one of these meetings, please email Consultation@CambridgeSCP.com so that we have an idea of numbers. Please state your name, and which meeting you wish to attend. A meeting will not run if fewer than 5 teachers express an interest. Should a meeting be cancelled, we will inform those who have registered their interest in it.

Why we are a new nation of Latin lovers

An article in The Herald about growth in interest in Latin in Great Britain mentions the Mount book, which is in the news, but also Minimus, which is good. Strangely, it does not mention the role of the Cambridge Latin Course and its e-learning side in bringing Latin to schools, to many for the first time.

Yet another article comparing the fall of the Roman Empire with USA

There are so many articles these days coming out of America comparing the present state of the American project with the later years of the Roman Empire that I normally don't trouble this blog's readers with them. This one, however, begins the comparison with a lament over an alleged fall in educational standards, so you might find it of interest. The omitted opening paragraphs betray the writer as right-wing (“another shrilly socialist female Democrat (who also offered up evidence on a regular basis that she might be shrilly socialist and psychotic to boot)” – you get the tone!), and lament the popularity of sport and celeb gossip. Now read on.

All of the worries over the quality — or lack thereof — in public education makes me wonder if students learn anything about the Roman Empire. American kids ought to be learning something about that, especially since the country that they live in is often called the greatest empire since the days of Rome's glory. I'd hope they're also learning about the fall of the Roman Empire too, particularly since that seems to have an even greater bearing on the country they live in.

Some scholars blame the fall of the Roman Empire on lead poisoning. The Romans used lead in their pipes and in their pottery. They used lead in their cooking pots and their utensils. As a result, their water, food, and drink was contaminated with lead causing most to have some level of lead poisoning. Lead poisoning has any number of symptoms, but in simplistic terms what it does is this: It makes you stupid.

With few exceptions, Americans don't typically have lead poisoning at any level. And yet there's a comparison to be drawn here, and I'm far from the first to have drawn it. Whether you blame lead or fluoride, or irresponsibility or bad schools, the fact remains that American students have (in general) dumbed down over the decades. And even if lead poisoning wasn't the only reason the Roman Empire fell, it's hard to argue that stupidity didn't contribute.

Some who have studied the Roman Empire also blame the fall on an overextension of the military and the accompanying drain on the public treasury. When the Empire could no longer afford to have troops stationed everywhere, it had no choice but to begin to pull them out. And when it did that, yet another contributor to the fall of the empire reared its ugly head: illegal immigration. Oh, they didn't call it illegal immigration then. They called it being overrun by barbarian hordes. But it was effectively illegal immigration.

When these barbarian hordes — or illegal immigrants, if you insist — came into the areas formerly held by the empire, the first thing that happened was the undermining of Roman society including such niceties as philosophy, art, education, the economy, and the common language necessary to ensure that all of those things flourished. Shortly thereafter, the infrastructure decayed when the upkeep of roads and the like was stopped. Not very long after that, the Republican form of government and the relative freedom Romans enjoyed was a distant memory.

I can't imagine that many can argue whether or not the American military is overextended. There's little question that that's the case. Certainly the reductions of the Clinton era didn't help with that, but wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined with an ongoing American presence in other places around the world are compounding the problem. We should likely be in some of these places and not in others, but that's not the point. The overextension is.

In part because of the military overextension and in even larger part thanks to entitlement programs, the federal budget is entirely out of control. The tax-and-spend Democrats just elected to control of Congress are likely to escalate the programs of the tax-and-spend Republicans we just kicked out of office, and little will change except the names of the people we're blaming. And still I'd be willing to bet that more people will watch the Super Bowl than will vote (in 2004, a presidential election year which enjoyed what was considered a high voter turn-out, only 55% of eligible voters bothered).

But those 55% — and the lesser numbers who voted in a Democratic majority this year — are representative of the most significant (at least in my mind) factor in the fall of the Roman Empire: sloth and greed.

John Locke, who is much revered as a libertarian philosopher, said, “The people cannot delegate to government the power to do anything which would be unlawful for them to do themselves.” Yet they do just that each and every time they tell the government to steal from the rest of us for their benefit — and that's precisely what entitlement programs and Congressional pork projects do.

The people keep voting for those politicians who get the most for them via those entitlement programs and pork projects, and then they wonder how it is that the politicians they elect do a poor job of representing, or why some are unethical in their lives and in their jobs. They apparently don't realize that, as Alexis de Tocqueville put it, “The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money.” When such jobs can be bought — and when those who get those jobs can be bought in turn — you can bet that corruption will follow.

Call it the result of immorality (also a common accusation of American society from some corners today as well as another reason some suggest the Roman Empire declined), or point to the “bread and circuses” mentality of ancient Romans (most of us have little room to talk in the wake of obsessions with football games or entertainment personalities). But the real and most direct comparison remains those cited above: sloth and greed.

“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves money from the Public Treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits from the Public Treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy always followed by dictatorship.” Alexander Fraser Tyler in The Decline and Fall of the Athenian Republic.

We've been a democratic republic now for 230 years. We've been effectively voting ourselves money from the public treasury for the last 100 or so years. We can compound that with loose borders, overextended military forces, porous borders and the accompanying invasion, a lack of education, and a determination to pay more attention to our modern versions of bread and circuses than to the writing on the wall telling of our own pending downfall. We can add to all that our readily apparent inability to learn from history. In fact, at this point, the only question we can possibly have left to ask is this: How imminent is the collapse, and how benevolent (or not) will be the dictator?

A Spectator article and a reply

Here is the start of an article published on 11th November in The Spectator:

And another thing

Remember your Latin? Don't all speak at once!

Paul Johnson

An optimist, listing for me the reasons that the deplorable state of the world is not quite as bad as we think, cited, as one of them, ‘the Latin revival’. Oh, is there one? I haven’t heard anyone saying anything in Latin recently, have you? When Fox was asked for advice about quoting in Parliament, he replied, ‘No modern languages except English. No English poet unless dead. Greek never. Latin as much as you like.’ But when did someone last use a Latin quotation in the Commons? I suspect it was Enoch Powell, or possibly Quintin Hogg. I have heard Latin quoted at lunch in the Beefsteak Club (probably by Harold Macmillan) but not for years. I understand it’s not much used in White’s or Brooks’s or even in the Athenaeum. Children used to hold up objects and say ‘Quis?’ Response: ‘Ego!’ Not any more.

Still, I hope the news is true. I hate having to explain to supposedly educated people what I mean when I say Ultima Thule (Virgil) or Laudator temporis acti (Horace) or even Rus in urbe (Martial). You might just get away with Nil desperandum (Horace again), but if you quote Dulce et decorum est pro..

Brian Bishop has penned this reply, which he was kind enough to copy to me:

For the attention of Mr. Paul Johnson,
'Remember your Latin? …' in 'The Spectator' 11/11/06, p.32.
======================

Dear Mr. Johnson,

“The Latin revival”?

Thank you for continuing, together with two other items in the same issue,
the flow of regular and occasional article in 'The Spectator' that testify
to the Latin revival.

You enquire about Latin in the House of Commons. Unless I am much
mistaken, Boris Johnson, M.P. used the language there fairly recently. At
least he sent a message of support to the Academia Latinitati Fovendae
meeting this year and is a member of the All-Parliamentary Classics Group.

Mediaeval, Renaissance, Modern and Church Latin are all part of the language
that has already lasted two and a half millennia. Your view on a
realignment of Classical authors is gaining ground. Paul McCartney's 'Ecce
cor meum' joins the choral tradition.

Perhaps you are not aware of the recent busily successful exhibition, led by
the Association for Latin Teaching, at the London Language Show early this
month; or of the uptake of the Cambridge School Classics Project electronic
course in Latin supported with government money; or of the two-to-three
hundred membership of the internet list Grex Latine Loquentium; or of the
vigorous Latinteach teachers' list on the web. Perhaps you have not
subscribed to one of the half-dozen all-in-Latin journals, or listened to
daily 'Nuntii Latini' from Helsinki or other Latin broadcasts, or read the
daily on-line newspaper 'Ephemeris'. Perhaps you have not attended one of
the dozen or so Latin-speaking weeks that take place every Summer. Perhaps
would wish to attend the Circulus Latinus Londiniensis or one of its
equivalents in many other cities. Finland has proposed Latin as the common
language for Europe. For details of all these and more, go to
http://www.pagina.de/lvpa/ or

http://www.latinitatis.com/latinitas/menu_gb.htm

Whilst indeed we have largely lost a generation of Latin-speakers,
sufficient remain today, and there is sufficient activity to encourage the
expectation that “The Latin revival”, to which you are kindly contributing,
is under way.

Yours sincerely,

B.R. Bishop.

That TV programme on Latin in Newham primary schools – get the DVD

A friendly email from Will Griffiths this afternoon:

Hi David,

Thanks for your note about the primary Latin that is flourishing in Newham. I'm not sure when the programme is now due to be broadcast (it was scheduled for 4th December, but has been moved). [Late news: see below - DP] However, if anyone would like their
own DVD of the programme, we'd be very happy to pop a copy in the post. An email to Director@CambridgeSCP.com, with a name, address and a note to say what is required will suffice.

Best wishes as ever,

Will

Will has now heard the revised dates for the broadcasts. The programme is going out 6 times, which is good. Here is the email which he forwarded to me:

Dear Will,

Thank you for your enquiry. The broadcast dates for 'Verbatim: Latin in
Primary Schools' have changed. The new broadcast dates and times are:

December: Friday 29th – 11.15am, 14.15, 20.15, and 23.15 January 2007:
Tuesday 30th – 07.30, 09.30.

Yours sincerely,

Teachers' TV Enquiry Desk

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