Get Latin into your local rag

Regular readers of this blog (if any) will be familiar with my repeated cry “Get Latin into your local paper.” Here’s another example from the USA. It’s not earth-shattering news, but it still got published. British schools please copy.

Phoenixville News

Sixth graders at Kimberton Waldorf School are learning about barbarians, patricians and plebians, soldiers and caesars as part of their in-depth study of Rome and Roman culture. As part of their lessons this semester, students presented projects reflecting many aspects of Roman culture.

“The students built models of ships from balsa wood, re-created aqueducts from sugar cubes, made scale models of Roman houses, and sewed doll-size Roman theatre costumes and traditional Roman garb for themselves to wear,” explained Carmen Maciarello, sixth grade teacher.

Through the study of Latin, and the legends and history of Rome, students can begin to see the ways in which our Greco-Roman roots affect us in the present. Our modern society reflects Roman qualities in civil justice, and in civil engineering — roads, aqueducts, sewage systems, heating, and much of the English language are based on Roman models.

Kimberton Waldorf School provides students with extensive opportunities to learn about various cultures through a block system that integrates all of the subjects in an experiential way. This method of learning helps to pull ideas out rather than stuffing information into the children.

Kimberton Waldorf School was founded in 1941, and is the second oldest Waldorf school in the United States. The campus includes 425 acres of woods, creek, farm, orchard and garden. The program serves children from pre-school through 12th grade.

Seniors teach Latin to juniors

We’ve had a news report like this quite recently, I think.

Eagle Tribune

High-schoolers make Latin possible for younger students High-schoolers teach language to younger students who lost it to budget cuts

By Paul Tennant

Keeping Latin alive

Haverhill High students volunteer as teachers.

Students in grades 7 and 8 learn the ancient language.

They meet once a week.

HAVERHILL — The words look familiar, sort of.

Agricola means farmer. Makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, the business of farmers is agriculture.

Aqua is water. Of course. If we like to swim, we enjoy engaging in an aquatic activity.

Then there’s natura for nature, naturally.

These and several other words are part of the vocabulary the seventh- and eighth-graders in the Latin Club at Whittier Middle School are learning. About a couple of dozen of them get together every Wednesday afternoon to study what some people call a “dead language.”

Their teachers are six Haverhill High students enrolled in their school’s Classical Academy. Many of the high-schoolers have studied Latin for four years and classical Greek for three. Recently, students and teachers were hard at work getting ready for a quiz.

Max Shultz, an eighth-grader, said he likes learning another language.

“I think it’s fascinating,” said Massimo Magliocchetti, another eighth-grader. Both Shultz and Magliocchetti said they hope to enroll in the Classical Academy when they start high school next year.

Colleen Hayes, a senior who is in the Classical Academy, is the one who started this program. She and other members of the National Honor Society are teaching the middle-schoolers as a community service project.

Colleen said while Latin used to be taught in the middle schools along with other languages, that’s no longer the case, due to budget cuts. She thought it was unfortunate that middle school students did not have the opportunity to be exposed to the tongue that is the basis of the Romance languages — Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian and Romanian — and has heavily influenced English.

“A lot of kids just don’t know about it,” she said.

She said she and the other high school students working with her are eager to share their knowledge of Latin with younger students.

Colleen has studied Latin for four years and classical Greek for three. Her ambition, however, is not to teach languages, but to become a lawyer.

Should she pursue a career as a language educator, however, Colleen will undoubtedly achieve success.

“Colleen is a very good instructor,” said Natalie Macdonald, a seventh-grader. “I think it’s important to learn other languages besides the one we speak every day.”

Pat Lawlor, one of the instructors from the high school, said it’s important to expose younger students to the classics — and the languages in which they’re written.

Katie Gibbs, a high school senior, emphasized the value a knowledge of Latin offers when one studies another language.

“It helps me so much in Spanish,” she said.

The other instructors from the high school are Michael Schetrompf, Josh Butterworth and Alex Pigeon.

Deborah Sasso-Flanagan, curriculum supervisor for foreign languages and social studies in grades six through 12, said she would like to see the pilot program at the Whittier Middle School expanded to the other middle schools next year.

“They never miss a week,” she said of the middle-schoolers in the Latin Club and their young teachers.

Yet another reason for the D and F of the R E

This time it’s drought. There have been so many reasons put forward that if they are all true it’s a wonder the poor Romans survived as long as they did.

Economic Times India Times

WASHINGTON: New clues unearthed by geologists suggest that a drought may have lead to the decline of the Roman civilization more than a millennium ago.

According to a report in Discovery News, the researchers used a new technique to figure out exactly how much rain fell in the Eastern Mediterranean between about 1,000 and 2,000 years ago.

Using a tool called an ion microprobe, the researchers were able to look at single layers of stalactite that were just 1/100th of a millimeter thick – 100 times thinner than what scientists can analyze with standard techniques.

Like a tree’s growth rings, stalactites grow in layers from the top of a cave downward. In each layer, a preserved chemical signature called the oxygen isotope ratio reveals whether a particular period was especially wet or dry.

Orland and University of Wisconsin geologist John Valley used a new generation ion microprobe to analyze a stalactite sample form Israel’s Soreq Cave, one of the best-studied caves in the world.

Compared to standard methods, the new technique revealed four times as much variability in rainfall during the period covered by the sample – from 2,200 to 900 years ago. In some stretches, the scientists were able to pinpoint what the region’s weather was like from one week to the next, by far the most detailed climate history ever produced.

The results showed a gradual drying between about 100 and 700 A.D., with sharp drops in rainfall at 100 AD and 400 AD.

Overall, annual rainfall fell 50 percent during those centuries, dropping from an average of more than 3 feet per year to 1.6 feet.

During the same period, Roman rule declined in the area. This is the first study to link the two events.

“Such a large change in rainfall may have played an important part in the historical events that took place in that region at that time,” said Ian Orland, a Ph.D. candidate in geology at the University of Wisconsin, who co-led the study.

The drastic change in climate would have had a profound effect on the people living in the region, the researchers speculate.

As their crops suffered, the Romans probably began to struggle until finally succumbing to the growing Islamic empire at the Battle of Yarmouk in 636 AD.

Future work will attempt to confirm these results with other samples and look for similar data in other regions.

DNA links Welshman to Roman soldiers.

I wonder how many more of us have DNA links with the Roman invaders? The video doesn’t detail how the DNA of ancient Roman soldiers was obtained for comparison, but I suppose the scientists are sure about it.

Video from the BBC

Dennis Cleeton from Llandrindod Wells, Powys has spent 20 years tracking his ancestors back to the 16th Century – then a chance request to take a DNA test took him back even further to the invading Roman armies.

Hansard: the question of Latin

I used the words ‘if this report is accurate’ in relaying what the Telegraph wrote. I have just looked up Hansard for confirmation:

25 Nov 2008 : Column 1346

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My Lords, Latin is an important subject. It is valuable in supporting pupils’ learning of modern languages and can provide a useful basis for students’ study across a range of disciplines. It is for schools to decide whether it should be included in their curriculum. The number of non-selective state schools offering Latin has more than doubled since the launch in 2000 of the Cambridge Latin resource, for which the Government provided £5 million of funding.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. I am pleased that she shares my view on the importance of Latin as a way of understanding virtually all Romance languages, particularly English. That being so, is she not disappointed that 85 per cent of state schools still offer no Latin at all? Is she not concerned that each year 35 new Latin teachers are trained but more than 60 leave the profession? Is it not time that Latin was reclassified as an official curriculum language and given the same encouragement as other languages?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his question. He is correct that the number of Latin teachers in training is around that number. Indeed, it has been approximately 35 to 40 for the past 10 years and it is obviously worrying if a number of teachers retire or move out of the field. However, the Languages Diploma Development Partnership is considering the place of Latin within the languages diploma. Beginning in January, there will be a consultation about that, in which my noble friend may be interested in being involved.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, will the Minister ensure that the new careers services advise students that Latin has a wide application to future careers, not just in the classics and the modern languages based on Latin but also in the sciences, in particular biology? A biologist cannot manage without a good knowledge of Latin. Will she ensure that, even if an individual school cannot offer Latin to a student, Latin can at least be part of a local authority-wide curriculum offer and thus be made available to that young person?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I am not sure that I can ensure it in the way that the noble Baroness suggests but I will certainly think about her comments and take them back to the department. We recently introduced a new form of qualification for modern languages called the language ladder, which I am advised is used for a range of languages from Welsh and Gaelic through to other modern languages and which emphasises the value of teaching, listening, speaking and writing. So we are thinking carefully how languages are promoted in our schools.

The BBC has good coverage:

A decline in the number of Latin teachers poses a serious threat to the teaching of the language in schools, peers have been told.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester said he was concerned the number of Latin teachers leaving the profession each year was far outnumbering those being trained.

He urged the government to give Latin the same priority in the curriculum as modern languages to reverse this trend.

Ministers said modern languages were their priority at primary school level.

Important subject

For every 35-40 new Latin teachers entering the profession every year, more than 60 were either retiring or opting to do something else, Labour peer Lord Faulkner said in the House of Lords.

He also expressed dismay about the 85% of state schools he said did not currently teach Latin at all.

“Isn’t it time that Latin was reclassified as an official curriculum language and given the same encouragement as other languages?” he told peers.

Where individual schools could not offer Latin, ministers should urge local education authorities to include the subject somewhere on their curriculum.

For the government, Baroness Morgan of Drefelin said Latin was an “important subject” and a valuable tool in helping people learn a broad range of other languages.

She said it was “worrying” if a growing number of teachers were exiting the profession, for whatever reason, every year.

The number of non-selective state schools offering Latin had doubled since 2000, she said, while there would be a consultation on Latin’s inclusion in the languages diploma next year

But she stressed: “It is for schools to decide whether it should be included in the curriculum.”

Figures published earlier this year showed the number of non-selective state secondary schools in England teaching Latin rose from 200 in 2000 to 471 last year.

But education specialists have expressed concerns that the rise in pupils learning the language is limited to Key Stage 3 pupils aged 12-14 and is not mirrored at GCSE and A-level.

There are also concerns about a continuing shortage in the number of postgraduate teaching colleges offering Latin courses.

“Latin is set to be returned to the school curriculum”

If this report is accurate it is really good news for Latin teaching. The worrying figures are of the extremely low numbers of Latin teachers being trained. This seems to be because of deliberate government policy in the past. If hoi en telei are beginning to see the light, then perhaps more centres than just Cambridge and London may be allowed to train Classics specialists. Have I not heard, for example, that Oxford used to have a Classics Faculty? As a Cambridge man I can’t be sure …

But to be serious, unless something drastic is done very quickly we shall not have enough teachers for a renewed demand in state schools – indeed, we don’t have enough as it is.

Perhaps as a temporary measure we can mobilise the equivalent of the Chinese barefoot doctors, people who have enough training to do the job, though lacking full qualifications.

Daily Telegraph

Latin is set to be returned to the school curriculum following an official review.

By Robert Winnett, Deputy Political Editor
Last Updated: 9:05AM GMT 27 Dec 2008

Ministers believe it is an “important subject” and may help school pupils to learn modern languages.

Less than 15 per cent of state schools teach Latin and the number of qualified teachers is falling.

However, the Department for Education is understood to be considering adding Latin to the new Languages diploma, which will run alongside GCSEs and A-levels from next year. Baroness Morgan, the schools minister, has indicated that the Government wishes to see Latin regain its status as an important language.

She said it was “an important subject and valuable for supporting pupils’ learning of modern languages”. She added that the Language Diploma Development Partnership was “considering the place of Latin”.

Well-placed sources said that the language was expected to be reinstated as an official curriculum language next year.

Baroness Morgan made the comments in response to calls from another Labour peer, Lord Faulkner of Worcester who said it helped students to learn other languages.

“Each year, 35 new Latin teachers are trained but over 60 are leaving the profession,” he said. “Isn’t it time that Latin was reclassified as an official curriculum language and was given the same encouragement as other languages?” Over the past 20 years, the teaching of Latin has rapidly declined in state schools and classicists have predicted that it could disappear altogether in the next decade.

In 1988, 16,023 students were entered for GCSE, with 53 per cent from state schools. However, since 2000 only about 10,000 pupils annually have entered for GCSE Latin, with only 37 per cent from the state sector.

Lady Morgan said that the number of younger children studying Latin had already risen sharply over the past decade following Government investment in computer software and other teaching tools.

There are only two teacher-training courses in Latin, at Cambridge University and King’s College London. Therefore, the number of Latin teachers is falling rapidly as staff retire.

Bob Lister, a lecturer in classics education at the University of Cambridge, told the BBC: “Unless someone at a senior level comes up with serious ways of supporting Latin I fear that within the next generation it will pretty much disappear.”

He added: “We don’t want to be seen to be dumbing down the classics but for an average school student who doesn’t start to learn Latin until they are 13, GCSE Latin is extremely hard work.”

Meanwhile, peers have also asked to be given access to Latin lessons in the House of Lords. Baroness O’Cathain, a Conservative peer, asked for Latin courses to be added a list of 10 modern languages on offer to peers.

More than 100 Roman coins found in a Petworth field.

Chichester Observer

An important discovery of more than 100 Roman coins has left archaeologists wondering whether Petworth has more to do with the Romans than first thought.
The 103 coins, which equate to a third of a year’s wages for a Roman soldier, were found on farmland in the area on November 24.

Experts have previously believed Petworth to have been little affected by the Romans, but the discovery of the silver coins could mean there were wealthy people living there.

The coins date from the third and second century BC to the Hadrian period of 132 to 148AD.

Sussex Archaeological Society finds liaison officer Laura Burnett said: “There is a reasonable amount of money – it is not what your average person had.

“It definitely shows there were people with some money in that area, it was not just a charcoal burner.

“It is always very exciting finding things. What is really interesting is thinking that this area we thought was quiet, is suddenly becoming more important.

“We will need to do more investigating to see whether there are any signs of habitation, to see if there is any evidence of roads, or farm remains.

“If each of the coins weighs three to four grams, we are looking at more than 300 grams worth of silver.”

Kirdford resident Malcolm Douglas made the find just a after a year after he first began searching the fields of Keyfox farm.

The 43-year-old said: “It is nice to find a hoard, but it makes you wonder – the last person to see those coins was the person who buried them. That’s nearly 2,000 years ago.

“It would have been nice to meet him, to find out why he buried them and to find out if he buried any more.

“It felt like I had just found a pot of gold – it was overwhelming. If you look at a rough statistic, 99 per cent of detectors never find a hoard of anything.”

The coins were found buried several inches beneath the soil with a piece of Roman pottery. Miss Burnett has several theories about why they could have been left there.

“They buried them to keep them safe because there were no banks,” she said.

“People may have buried them if there was a farm nearby. Rather than leave the horde in the house where people would look for it, they would bury it outside.

“If you were travelling through the woods carrying it on you, rather than take it with you to an inn you would bury it outside.

“Sometimes it is long-term and sometimes short-term.”

Chichester museum archaeology officer Jayne Stewart said: “We have shown interest in acquiring this treasure case as it is a very significant find for the area and for our Roman collection.

“The hoard from Petworth will make a great addition to our collections.”

A valuation of the collection will be made within the next couple of months.

* Miss Burnett will be doing a valuation of archaeological artefacts on January 24 at Chichester museum, Little London from 10am until 1pm.

On language learning and the Loeb editions

Here’s a thought-provoking article, really on the use of cribs when studying literature. I freely admit that I turn to a crib when stuck, and I guess most classicists do the same. (I leave to one side the brilliant ones who know it all.)

Didn’t know that Clive James (wonderful broadcaster!) had written about learning Latin. Must get hold of that book …

Btw our founder was one of the original editors of the Loeb texts.

Once hugely popular, an approach to language instruction that made use of a technique called interlineal translation is now dead. The method, championed by a crusading English businessman named James Hamilton in the early 19th century — and exported to America, where it remained popular into the 20th century — was supposed to open the gates of a classical education to the masses.

Hamilton’s innovation was to introduce students immediately to English translations of Greek or Latin works, rather than forcing them to stumble through dictionaries. In his instructional books, lines of English alternated with the classical languages. (Later, as the system took off, he branched into French, Italian, and German: John Stuart Mill learned German this way). In the Hamiltonian System, translations were jerry-rigged so that the English synonym typically stood directly its foreign analogue, for easy comparison.

Hamilton’s ardent view was that the the traditional method of instruction, heavy on vocab drills and syntax memorization, was tiresome, inefficient, and elitist (because it demanded years of schooling, usually private schooling). But in the current American Scholar [article not online], the writer Ernest Blum says Hamilton got both the diagnosis and the solution right, and that the Hamiltonian System should be revived.

Blum cites the dismal performance of students in the United States and elsewhere on foreign-language tests, and pins the blame on reigning pedagogical theories. These hold that students must immerse themselves fully in foreign texts, translating painstakingly on their own, so that they get a straight dose of the new language. But Blum argues that scholarship in linguistics over the past few decades demonstrates that students who follow that course will likely never learn enough words to achieve mastery.

The problem stems from Zipf’s Law, after a Harvard linguist, George Kingsley Zipf, who died in 1950. This law holds, as one summary puts it, that “almost all words are rare.” In the Greek New Testament, for example, a mere 320 words account for about 80 percent of the text. But the remaining 20 percent is made up of a fearsome 5,120 words, many of which appear only once. And that’s only one Greek book. That pattern holds in most languages. Basically, such studies of vocabulary suggest that students need to know many, many more words than they presently do — and more rare words — in order to get through books. They need a massive dose of help on the vocab front. (One scholarly estimate is that a reader must know 95 percent of the words in a book in order to guess the rest by context; few students today come close to that.) Blum says reviving the Hamiltonian system is the answer. “In no other classrooms on campus is basic information systematically withheld as a matter of policy and principle,” he writes. “What is withheld is the information on the meaning of words.”

As it happens, the Loeb Classical Library, those famous red and green books published by Harvard University Press, have the translations on the facing page of the text. For that reason they are usually banned from beginning and intermediate language classes, branded as unhelpful crutches. Blum, to be clear, says the Loebs aren’t the same as Hamiltonian texts — but it would appear that they’re the next best thing, at least for advanced beginners. Might the American Scholar article offer a hook that could get the Loebs into language classes — and, not incidentally, boost sales?

Sadly, Jeffrey Henderson, a professor of Greek at Boston University and the general editor of the Loeb Classical Library, is too scrupulous to seize the opportunity: As it happens, he endorses current language pedagogy. While it’s helpful for students to have vocabulary references on the page they are reading (perhaps in footnotes), he says in an email, exposing them to translations too soon short-circuits language mastery. “[T]ranslations to some extent always misrepresent the way the original language works,” he emails. “It’s best that the learner figure this out directly.” (He does not neglect to add that the books are wonderful choices for more seasoned classicists!)

At least one noted writer and critic dissents from the idea that beginners should steer clear of the Loebs. Clive James, in “Cultural Amnesia” (2007), says adults trying to learn Latin should reject the arguments of “purists”: “[W]hen they warn you off the Loeb Library,” he says, “they are giving you the exact reason you should hold it dear — it’s a painless dictionary.”

Leicester car park preserves Roman house

People are congratulating themselves on their sensitivity to the archaeology
they were about to destroy. Yes, congratulations. When the new building is a 9-storey car park costing thirty million pounds, you ask yourself “Where is our society going?” The answer is “Shopping, in our gas-guzzler.” Eheu!

24 dash

A £30 million, nine-storey, 2,000-space car park for Leicester’s new Highcross shopping centre has demonstrated profound respect of the ancient past.

Pick Everard architects worked closely with construction contractor Norwest Holst Limited (part of VINCI PLC) in Hammerson’s ambitious £350m Highcross development in Leicester.

During a mandatory archaeological survey of the site, University of Leicester archaeologists unearthed the remains of a Roman townhouse more than 2,000 years old and discovered the remains of a 15th century church, St Michael’s.

Because of the historic importance and rarity of these finds, the fundamental design of the car park’s substructure and pilings had to be amended.

The stunning end result is an archaeologically significant site and a uniquely designed contemporary car park in harmonious tandem, open to the public since September.

Pick Everard also worked with structural engineers to ensure the protection of the historical finds, not least so as to be able to take advantage of improved excavation and analysis techniques in the future.

But in addition to the challenge of working around this unexpected dimension, Pick Everard faced another hurdle – developing detailed designs for the three-dimensional masterpiece concept which mirrored the adjacent John Lewis flagship building in terms of imagination, aesthetic creativity and overall appearance.

Ironically, the car park was always designed with Leicester’s past in mind – a one-off bespoke mesh cladding in a hexagonal weaved pattern, the first of its kind to be used on such a scale – was chosen to echo Leicester’s old textile industry.

Pick Everard architect Chris Gilbert, said: “It was insprational working alongside Norwest Holst on this prestgious and high quality design project which has had such an enormous impact on the city.

“Our brief was taking concept designs and turning these into detailed designs that could be be built, while protecting Leicester’s proud heritage. At Pick Everard, we are committed to preserving the city’s history, as much as we are to its future.”

The Highcross John Lewis car park won ‘Large Scheme of the Year’ Award in the recent 2008 ProCon Leicestershire Property & Construction Awards.

Out-of-work Irishman writes Roman novel in his car

I like the human interest side of this story. Let’s hope the book lives up to it.

A FATHER of three young children who was made redundant nearly two years ago has hit the jackpot with his first novel, written in the front seat of his car.

The book is set in the early days of the Roman Empire, and penned by former IT worker John Stack from Garryduff, near Rochestown in Cork.

It was written last year on a laptop as he sat in his car in parking lots around Cork Harbour every day for months, escaping from the noise of his young family at home.

Although turned down by three agents in Ireland, the book about the Roman navy became the subject of a bidding war between two of the most powerful publishers in Britain, Penguin and HarperCollins.


HarperCollins won the battle and recently signed Stack to a three-book deal worth a substantial six-figure sum.

The series is to be called ‘Masters of the Sea’ and the first book, ‘Ship of Rome’, will be published on January 12. It will be one of the biggest HarperCollins titles next year. The front cover carries a glowing recommendation from Conn Iggulden, author of the bestselling ‘Emperor’ series.

Stack (36) had worked as a manager for Wrightline, an American computer design company in Cork, for 10 years but lost his job early last year when the work was transferred to India. He signed on the dole and started to work seriously on his book.

“Of course, with a young family I was worried and I applied for other jobs all the time,” he said. “But losing my job gave me the chance to really get down to writing my novel, something I had been dreaming of doing for a few years.”

He added: “I had always loved historical fiction, particularly military fiction.”

He studied Italian in college and that led to an intense interest in Roman history, which eventually gave him the spark for his novel.

“I stumbled on the idea that was to become ‘Ship of Rome’ when I was reading an academic book on the Punic Wars. The birth of the Roman navy and its precarious infancy, saved only by the corvus, seemed a fascinating tale to me.”

The corvus was the long boarding ramp that allowed the Romans to pour soldiers onto enemy ships. The spiked ramp enabled the much-smaller Roman navy defeat larger navies and played a vital role in the establishment of the Roman Empire.”For all its importance, the inventor of the corvus is not recorded,” Stack says. “He was probably a common man, an ordinary sailor, hence history’s lapse in not recording his name.

“This missing information is what drove my curiosity when writing ‘Ship of Rome’. It afforded me a blank slate, a piece of unwritten history that I could flesh out and in doing so the character of Atticus, the captain in ‘Ship of Rome’, was born.”


Once Stack got going, there was no stopping him. “Initially I wrote at home, but with three small kids in the house there wasn’t a door thick enough to keep out the noise.

“My search brought me to a spare room in a friend’s house, but again there were distractions. By chance I arrived one day to find the door locked and me without a key.

“I decided to wait so I sat in the passenger seat and started up my laptop.”

The ideas came and the words flowed, but he was worried what the neighbours might think so he drove off to a nearby car park overlooking Cork harbour.

“It’s amazing, a really private space,” he says.

It seems to be working. He has now almost finished the second book in his ‘Masters of the Sea’ series.

– John Spain, Books Editor