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Robert Winner

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Reboot education with the return of Latin.

I often preach that if you can speak the language of the subject you will do well. In math if you can identify and name the parts, their functions, and understand all of the abbreviations then you can most likely solve the problem.

So I am a great believer in vocabulary. Each time I read the papers of the founding fathers I am impressed with their grasp of the language. I believe that the requirement of Latin in their basic education was a great contributor to this. In the US we had Latin offered until the mid 60s in my school and then it went away. Latin was great for deriving the root word and gave you a better picture in defining the term.

So here is the debate: Would the return of Latin have a positave impact on todays students and provide a better understanding of subjects such as math, science, english, and in fact most subjects.

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    Feb 10 2013: I would contradict the majority of the comments here and say that I wouldn't want Latin being taught.
    We're already at a point where we have almost no practical formal earlier education that is relevant to life.

    Maths almost immediately leaves the realm of practical number solving, English class spends little time on gammar and articulation, Nothing about running a business is learnt in business studies and the majority of College and University students are taking studies that have no connection to any possible career path or provide any actual skill.

    What we need is feasible education where, even if the student doesn't move into higher education, then we can atleast be sure that they can function in society. Adding a dead language to the equation isn't reform, its just piling on additional junk to an already junk-filled system.
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      Feb 11 2013: Xavier, I see you are from England. When I was there the schools still had Latin. Did you take it as a student? I understand Linda's comments as she took the class. For many of us the class provided much needed insight and skills that have lasted years after the class.

      Are your comments about general education based on the system used in public or private British schools. You appear to unhappy with math, science, business, and English specifically. Are you a recent graduate?

      Can you think of any situation that Latin would have helped you or spoke to anyone who took the course?

      I may be wrong but I feel you are dismissing the course without foundation. Would you agree that it could be offered as a elective for those who see a benefit?

      Thanks for the reply. Bob.
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        Feb 18 2013: Between high school and college in the US, I took 5 years of Latin. The experience has helped me appreciate language in a different way, but it didn't greatly aid my education, either. In most Latin classrooms, for example, the language is only read or translated, but rarely produced. This was actually a huge detriment to me and fellow students when trying to learn other languages later (for example, French), because I could read them easily but not speak them to others without tremendous effort. I had to break through my Latin approach to language, in essence, and that took awhile.

        I have to agree with Xavier that Latin isn't exactly practical. With limited classroom hours, it's not an essential in our schools. In the US where many public schools are struggling, particularly those in poverty- and crime-stricken neighborhoods, many of which are underfunded, Latin would be a ridiculous solution to a much greater problem. However, I do believe its study can be enriching, and I would advocate offering it as an elective for this purpose. After all, a good education doesn't just teach you the facts and figures, or how to get by. A good education should (in an ideal world) open one's mind and tempt one's curiosity.
    • Feb 12 2013: If you will excuse me for saying so, I think Latin helped me with precisely those things, of grammar and articulation - sentence forming, word order, sense and meaning. Also, with all the juggling of word order required, it felt like maths at some points!
      For example, Latin is so neat - I have just used the phrase 'word order' twice. I believe (it is many many years since I touched my Latin!), but by altering the endings and positions of words, they often don't have to be repeated, just referred to.
      It takes a lot of labour to master all the endings and when to use them, but I found it really improved my grasp of accurate understanding, or true comprehension of someone's meaning...or, indeed, in poetic prose, double possible meaning.
      So it has been useful in life, in understanding how to better communicate.

      I would entirely agree, though, that compulsory Latin is not a good idea.
  • Feb 10 2013: I would vote for this.

    I took two years of Latin in high school. An indirect benefit is an appreciation of history and the characters of history. Reading about Julius Caesar is an entirely different experience compared to reading his own words in his own language. It is one thing to learn that Julius Caesar was arrogant and another to read the arrogance in his words. After this experience, I have wanted to learn ancient Greek, but I have no particular talent for learning other languages; it is very difficult, very time consuming work and I have had little success. When I am fully retired I might give it another try.

    Also, by learning Latin I learned the power and value of language. We can still read Latin volumes that are 2000 years old, but modern English is changing so fast that these very words may be unreadable in only 50 years.
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    Feb 10 2013: I think it is difficult to have a full appreciation of the potential benefit of Latin unless one has taken the subject. I have not, but my daughters did Latin from 9-12 grade plus one continued at university and my son has done Latin since seventh grade.

    What I find striking other than the obvious benefit in terms of understand language better through recognizing roots is the analytical exercise involved in translation. There is a puzzle solving dimension that arises from the great variety of word orders, for example, which have very different meanings even as permutations of the same words.

    That said, there is also benefit in being literate in modern languages other than ones own, and in most secondary curricula, students seldom have the opportunity to pursue more than one language other than their own in the kind of depth that is meaningful.
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    Mar 4 2013: Unrealistic
    Learn mandarin.
    And learn how to turn water to drinkable.
  • Mar 4 2013: Well it would certainly aid in the acquisition of multiple languages. But most students learn at most 1 extra language so it may be useful at specialized schools where students are expected to learn multiple languages. Otherwise I do not see that as a feasible proposition.
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    Feb 12 2013: My son's Latin class yesterday translated the Pope's resignation letter from Latin to English. It is rare that a knowledge of Latin comes into play in understanding a current event!
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      Feb 12 2013: I am impressed. My congratulations to your son and his instructor for use of an event as a practical application.

      I am curious as to what differences or what was infered in Latin that we may have missed in the English version. I doubt if there was much as it was pretty straight forward.

      Thanks for the update. Bob.
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        Feb 12 2013: It sounds very much like the translation given to the world press. Because ecclesiacal Latin differs from classical Latin, the kids would miss any particular nuance in the selection of words.
  • Feb 11 2013: It would seem this depends on the person Could one get more than enough in self-learning? I've often thought that a great deal could be learned in a comic book format. We see them here sometimes, but the Brits seem to have a series of books Introduction or made easy about topics from Jung to The Buddha to Derida Wait we have Schawm's outlines.
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    Feb 10 2013: NO! I took it and hated it! Wasting my time on a dead language. Why not have Gaelic as another option? Gad I would rather have dental work.

    The language is moving forward not backward.
  • Feb 10 2013: I was one of the last students in my high school to study latin. I enjoyed it and I found that it helped in many science and artistic subjects and not just languages (latin was probably the last language class I passed as well).
    However, don't forget that my generation is responsible for
    The internet
    Facebook and other social weirdness that puts everything through a phone
    Economic Ponzi schemes and the general distruction of our wealth systems
    the tech bubble, the real estate bubble, the student loan bubble and all the other bubbles
    starting the peace marches and then abandoning them so we are still no further ahead
    all the weaponary the government wanted my generation designed and built.
    After the generation before me went to the moon, my generation could barely get into orbit
    we created the computer revolution but forgot how to multiply and divide.

    Latin might be positive to the mental powers of the next generation, but it might not be enough
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    Feb 10 2013: Absolutely

    In the mean time how about just using the corollary of what you are saying. Which is when you don't understand something look for the word that you think means something different than what the author intends. E.G. (see what I did there) How many people know the definition of a preposition? I.E. the definition of it, of, to, at, etc. they each have about 30 definitions. Yet these words comprise a large percentage of text. How much smarter would people be if they fully understood what they were reading?
  • Feb 10 2013: Yes!
    I did Latin..it was my hardest subject, but the most rewarding, and has stood me in very good stead..in so many ways. It opened up my understanding, especially of the meaning of complex words.
    I learnt it from 10years old, at which time I loved it.