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.”

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