Latin Surges in Popularity in USA

US News

When high school teacher Sarah Roach takes attendance, she routinely
notices that she has more students in her classroom than the number who
are technically enrolled in Latin courses she teaches. They’re not lost
or sneaking into her classroom to visit friends. The extra half-dozen
students are coming for the Latin.

Roach, 54, has taught Latin at Highland School in Warrenton, Va.,
for 25 years and has seen interest in the ancient language grow
steadily throughout her tenure. When she first began, Roach taught a
few students in a single class. Now she teaches 80 students, in classes
geared toward a range of skill levels.

Though it is often considered a dead language, Latin is alive and
flourishing in high school classrooms across the country. In the past
10 years, the number of students taking the National Latin Exam has
risen by 30,000 to about 135,000, while the number of students taking
the Advanced Placement Latin exams has nearly doubled. Some say the
resurgence is linked to increased interest in SAT preparation and
Latin’s ability to help students succeed on the test’s verbal section,
while others believe young adults’ obsession with Harry Potter and his
Latin spells are driving the trend. But popular Latin teachers like
Roach suggest that dynamic, enthusiastic educators might actually be
the key to the language’s surging popularity.

American Classical League President Sherwin Little says the allure
of understanding the English language better may spark an SAT-conscious
student’s interest in Latin, but it is the teachers who implement
modern, engaging teaching styles that keep students hooked. Little says
the focus of Latin teaching methods is no longer boring, torturous
translations but rather the language in terms of its application to
archeology, mythology, and literature. “The reason we know about the
Greeks and the Romans and the reason we can talk about the significance
of the literary works is because of the language,” he points out.
“Language and culture are inseparable.”

At the Ellis School in Pittsburgh, enrollment in Latin classes is
larger than enrollment in the school’s French or Spanish programs, says
Director of College Counseling Joanna Schultz, who attributes the
ancient language’s popularity to the excellence of the school’s main
Latin teacher, Victoria Jordan. Ellis’s Latin program is not only
popular, but its success is measurable as well. In 2006, all 19 of
Jordan’s AP Latin students took the exam and all 19 got 5’s, the
highest mark, Schultz says, adding that Jordan is as engaging and
dedicated as she is tough.

“One day a year or two ago, I was patrolling the halls during a
power outage and I happened to walk by the Latin room,” Schultz says.
“On a winter day, with no power and very little light, I saw the AP
Latin students sitting on the classroom’s windowsill doing their work.
These students were determined to have class. Power, or no power.”

Though Little applauds the work of Latin teachers around the
country, he says teachers who retire or switch professions can cause a
program with soaring enrollment and high student interest to crumble
due to a national shortage of Latin teachers. Schools that lose their
Latin teacher and cannot find a replacement are sometimes forced to
discontinue the program, he says.

To combat the shortage and raise awareness among Latin students that
they can become teachers of the language, the American Classical League
holds an annual Latin Teacher Recruitment Week. Jordan says four or
five of her former students are majoring in Latin in college, and that
makes her hopeful the teacher shortage can be remedied before it starts
drastically affecting what is now a growing interest in the ancient
language. “One of my former students just graduated from Yale and will
probably go on to medical school—she fulfilled all her pre-med
requirements—but do you know what she’s doing right now? She’s teaching
middle school Latin.”

More about the Roman garden at Caerleon

Oct 18 2008

by Alison Young, South Wales Echo

IT’S not unusual to spot a toga-clad man roaming around the grounds of a leading Welsh museum.

For
a garden fit for a Roman has been created at the National Roman Legion
Museum in Caerleon with staff in period costume adding that final touch
of authenticity.

The garden, which is a recreation of a Roman
garden, was researched and planted up by staff at the museum who are
hoping to create a green team of members of the public to help them
maintain it.

It’s basic symmetrical shape with box hedging,
vines and cypress trees is designed to reflect what a typical Roman
garden would have looked like.

It includes a facade of a Roman
villa and the all important Triclinium – a three sided dining area
where Romans would have both lounged and eaten their meals.

Museum
manager Bethan Lewis said: “We wanted to recreate a Roman garden in the
grounds but also wanted to make sure that there was still lots of room
for our younger visitors to run around and play.

“The garden
enhances our interpretation of Roman Caerleon and is a special addition
because it’s museum staff and volunteers who’ve actually researched and
created it.

“We are looking forward to welcoming new visitors wanting gardening tips from the Romans.”

It
was the Romans who were the first to use their gardens as extensions of
their homes and for decorative purposes by using colourful plants,
stone ornaments and decorative pots.

They also brought many plants and vegetables to Britain including, it is believed, the leek – our national emblem.

Andrew
Dixey, estate manager at the National Museum of Wales, explained: “The
Romans invaded Britain in 43 AD and brought their garden designs with
them. However due to the change in climate, the range in plants they
could grow was more restricted than overseas.

“Roman gardens
were ideal locations to relax and a perfect place for entertaining
guests but they also had practical uses and would be sources for
vegetables, fruit and herbs such as rosemary, thyme and mint, which
were used for culinary and medicinal purposes.

“The Romans’
triclinium is today’s gazebo and we continue to use techniques which
they established 2,000 years ago; turning soil in the autumn, mixing
compost, hoeing beds and sowing seeds in spring.”

Many of the
plants in the garden will be recognisable to visitors such as the fig
tree and olive trees but there are others such as the leek which may be
more surprising.

“We set out to show what plants they had, how they used them and how they might have gardened,” said Mr Dixey.

“This
is not a reconstruction of a garden that existed in Caerleon but it
does reflect the sort of plants and gardening that the Romans would
have been involved in at the time.

“It also shows how plants
would have had different uses and meaning over time. The Romans grew
lots of evergreen plants near their homes not just because they looked
nice all year round but because they had a spiritual significance for
them.”

Scottish Education Secretary supports Latin

If anything comes of this, it could be excellent news.

My Google alerts are failing to provide live links this evening, so this is via Fantasy Book Review

Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop last night announced her support
for the “dead” language to be resuscitated in classrooms in a move
which would see children as young as nine studying the language and
culture of ancient Rome. Hyslop, who herself studied classics at
school, believes teaching Latin will give youngsters a better
understanding of their own language as well as making it easier to
learn French and Spanish.

And with JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books
making Latin more popular than ever with children, as the boy wizard
casts his spells in the ancient language, there is an appetite for
learning among pupils. Teachers and politicians last night welcomed the
move but warned Hyslop would have to find extra funds to help colleges
train classics teachers and councils employ them. Although Latin
remains an optional subject on the school curriculum in Scotland, its
popularity has dwindled over the past decade. This summer, the numbers
of pupils sitting Higher Latin fell to just 826, with only a quarter of
candidates coming from state schools. South of the border Latin is
already enjoying a renaissance. The number of schools offering Latin in
England has tripled in the past eight years. A source close to Hyslop
said the minister believed her own study of classics gave her a solid
basis for learning English grammar and modern languages. The source
added that Hyslop’s target of improving literacy could be propped up by
the teaching of Latin.

Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop last night announced her support
for the “dead” language to be resuscitated in classrooms in a move
which would see children as young as nine studying the language and
culture of ancient Rome. Hyslop, who herself studied classics at
school, believes teaching Latin will give youngsters a better
understanding of their own language as well as making it easier to
learn French and Spanish.

And with JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books
making Latin more popular than ever with children, as the boy wizard
casts his spells in the ancient language, there is an appetite for
learning among pupils. Teachers and politicians last night welcomed the
move but warned Hyslop would have to find extra funds to help colleges
train classics teachers and councils employ them. Although Latin
remains an optional subject on the school curriculum in Scotland, its
popularity has dwindled over the past decade. This summer, the numbers
of pupils sitting Higher Latin fell to just 826, with only a quarter of
candidates coming from state schools. South of the border Latin is
already enjoying a renaissance. The number of schools offering Latin in
England has tripled in the past eight years. A source close to Hyslop
said the minister believed her own study of classics gave her a solid
basis for learning English grammar and modern languages. The source
added that Hyslop’s target of improving literacy could be propped up by
the teaching of Latin.

Agamemnon at Oxford

“The best production of a Greek play I’ve ever seen” one gentleman remarked to me as we walked down Cornmarket after Friday’s matinee performance.

I could understand why he felt that. It was a production that took the text on its own terms, a masterpiece of ceremonial drama as performed during a religious festival, not a fumbling early attempt at realistic theatre.

The set was a blood-red door set against a black background. The acting level came down from this royal entrance by steps to the front of the stage. The chorus, six male singers and six female dancers, used the lower two levels, giving as good a suggestion of being in an orkhestra as is possible with a proscenium arch. The Watchman (Barney Norris) who opened the play perched on scaffolding discreetly positioned to one side of the stage. A small band of musicians performed throughout, almost out of view on the same side.

The chorus wore black robes, and the actors (not quite authentically called ‘protagonists’ in the programme – surely there was only one protagonist in an Athenian play) were ‘suitably attired’. I am sorry if A.E. Housman’s phrase from his ‘Fragment of a Greek Tragedy’ evokes a hint of satire – none is here intended. The costumes were really just right, Clytemnestra’s (Kassandra Jackson) bright and golden, Agamemnon’s (Tom Mackenzie) traditionally heroic, and so on. The carpet, that other essential piece of fabric, was generously large – apparently endless – and generously decorated, so that the ‘esti thalassa..’ speech, claiming that no economies need be made in the palace, was completely justified. As it was being unrolled it made an unexpected loud swishing sound like the sound of surf on pebbles.

What Classicists will probably be most keen to hear about is the quality of the spoken and sung Greek.

My impression is that in almost every way it was superb. I could not fault the vowels; if I had to quibble I might say that the distinction between aspirated and unaspirated consonants was not always preserved. But the standard was very high. Cassandra (Emma Pearce) even delivered some of her most poignant lines with a tonic accent, a difficult feat and a rare treat.

The pace was stately, and the surtitles, a translation by Oliver Thomas, were impeccably synchronised, so that even those (like me) whose Greek is rusty could follow most of it. Incidentally, those surtitles must demand of the actors an extra degree of accuracy. No one can get away with missing out a couple of lines.

Which reminds me that the text was indeed cut, so that the play ran for just two hours. I missed the geographical tour as Clytemnestra tells of the chain of beacons from Troy to Mycenae. I didn’t spot the chorus’ account of the eagles and the hare – I don’t think I dropped off at that point! 

What took time, apart from the deliberate pace of the spoken Greek, were the sung, and danced, choruses. The singers, from counter-tenor to bass, were all choral scholars or music students, most with operatic experience, and it showed. The music that they sang, written by Tim Benjamin, a former winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year composer’s award, was mostly monodic, but as the drama progressed there were open fifths and fourths, and finally real minor chords. The economy of style, together with the small number of instruments, reminded me strongly of Britten’s Curlew River. I was not surprised to read that the Choral Director, Oliver Hamilton, had worked on that Church Parable.

Every word that the chorus uttered, singly or together, was sung, even the individual contributions on hearing the death-cries of the King. This underlined how far Aeschylus is from realistic drama. When studying the text we puzzle over these seemingly pointless contributions – why don’t these 12 men rush into the palace and do something? When they sing, we understand why not. By the way, the matinee was attended largely by school parties – three cheers for their teachers for bringing them – and the students were on the whole very well-behaved. One of the only two or three titters of the afternoon came when a counter-tenor or alto sang alone, and that was a momentary one.

Another Curlew River influence – or rather Noh Play influence – was on movement and gesture. Actors were completely still except when a significant gesture was needed. The Herald (Raymond Blankenhorn) had rather large gestures, which reminded me rather unfortunately of a marionette, but I do like the minimal style.
 
I shall not mention everyone involved. The play website gives the full details. Incidentally, when I was speaking to the designer of the site, he told me that he is involved in setting up a website for the Oxford Latin Course, which should be on line in December.
 
The one other person whose name caught my eye is our good friend Lizzie, Elizabeth Sandis of Oxford Classical Outreach. (Note to Lizzie – you are still called Belcher on that page!) She had the grand title of Executive Producer, so to her, and to all who put the show on, hearty congratulations.

When I said to Clytemnestra’s mum, who was sitting next to me, after the show that she must be very proud, I wasn’t just being polite.