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CLASSICS-L  February 2006, Week 1

CLASSICS-L February 2006, Week 1

Subject:

Re: "benefits of Latin" article(s) needed

From:

Owen Cramer <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Classical Greek and Latin Discussion Group <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 4 Feb 2006 06:54:07 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (43 lines)

Ginny as usual is engaged with important and pressing issues. Of course
she points to the real magnitude of the problem: if Latin is for reading
then we have not only the problem of Latin but the problem of reading--and
as Dana Gioia of the National Endowment for the Arts has lately (again)
shown in his report on Reading at Risk
http://www.arts.gov/pub/ReadingAtRisk.pdf, reading--"literary reading"--is
something Americans are largely and increasingly avoiding in our time.
 
But back to the language question: when my colleagues organized to study
*our* language situation a few years ago, we got in the (then)head of the
National Foreign Language Center (who is now the rather radical president
of Drake University, where he has disestablished the language departments
in favor of a new immersion model). David Maxwell based his report to us
on a four-fold typology of motivations: students take languages either
because they are useful for careers (or "strategic" for the nation), or
part of a liberal education, or a family heritage, or just a preference or
fashion. Marketing of Latin seems to have tried to address all four in
variously convincing ways: the SAT argument fits the career-language type;
the Vergil course is part of a liberal education, or (again) part of an
interesting but hard to sustain "common heritage of the West" argument;
and our fun JCL conventions and toga parties are part of establishing a
role for Latin as a "boutique" language. Can we make each of these four
arguments more compelling by being clearer as to which argument we're
making and who the audience is?
 
Specifically, the liberal-arts and heritage arguments seem to me to need
greater clarity. Latin texts are interestingly canonical or non-canonical,
and their place in the liberal arts of century 21 is interestingly
contested. How much of that shows up in K-12 education? My guess is that
we're still in the Romantic Hellenist phase there--Greek myth, Greek
philosophy, maybe Greek Democracy, which we awkwardly try to market in
Roman disguise via Ovid, Cicero et al. A shift toward including more
history, rhetoric/oratory, and satire, and more Empire and Late Antiquity,
in the reading might improve our argument for specifically accessing the
Ancient World in Latin. The heritage case is even more complex: students
study languages because they want to understand what their grandmothers
say, and nobody has a Latin-speaking grandmother. But a deep cultural
identity that speaks Latin *might* be established, and there have been
interesting attempts at doing that as a bridge between Latino/a and
Anglo-American cultures in the US. I certainly prefer talking about these
things to just updating the SAT argument.
 
Owen Cramer

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