Sunday, March 17, 2013
THE "PERTINENCE" OF LATIN
A fellow teacher shared this amusing cartoon with me. Isn't it funny how the subjects that have the most relevance are the ones that must justify themselves most frequently to the students who, uneducated and inexperienced, do not see their importance? Math and Latin. All the other academic subjects fan out like spokes on a wheel from the skills and habits of thought developed in these two classes.
How many times has a math teacher had to explain the relevance of calculus to a class of dumbfounded high-school juniors? And yet, calculus got us to the moon and created 3-D gaming and computer animation. How many times has a Latin teacher had to explain the central importance of a "dead" language to a class of cynical sophomores? And yet, Latin gave us 90% of our academic vocabulary and the science of meaning (the grammar) of our language. What could be more "pertinent" to our students?
How many times has an English teacher had to justify his subject to a classroom of freshmen who "already know English"! What specific "current event" can that English teacher find in the news that would be "pertinent" to the roots ("pertinent," from the Latin pertinēre "to relate to, to concern"), the words, the grammar, the rhetoric of the native language of his classroom? In reality, aren't all current events really pertinent to English? to Math? to Latin? Aren't they all predicated on the abilities developed by those subjects?
When speaking of relative value, what is more important: Knowing the words (the Latin verba) of our language, mathematical and linguistic, the very building blocks of our thoughts, or knowing that Boeing needs to replace the batteries on the new 787? Of course, news is important, but news/current events are constantly changing, while the ability to think, to reason, to solve the battery problem on the 787, is eternal.
The Latin teacher is ever hopeful that students, and fellow teachers, will see that Latin, and Math, and English, are evident in each and every current event that happens to catch the public's eye today, but is forgotten tomorrow. Like a comic in the newspaper.