Saturday, 22 October 2011

There is just one student doing

Latin at year 12 level this year. I do not know how many students there are in lower years but it will not be many. Things have changed.
When I was in secondary school Latin was compulsory for potential law students and potential medical students were advised to do it as their arts subject. Rural schools (which we attended) did not teach languages, modern or classical, so most students were denied the opportunity to enter these professions. (One of Australia's leading paediatric heart surgeons, now in international demand, was a year above me at school. He had to spend an entire summer learning enough Latin to satisfy the entrance requirement into medicine - only his other outstandingly good results got him in.)
One of my nephews is now doing medicine. He has never been to a Latin lesson in his life. Another is doing law. He has never been to a Latin lesson in his life either.
My father, who did Latin and English at university, taught me some Latin outside school. He insisted on me working my way through "Giles and Pfitzner" - the South Australian equivalent of the classic "Kennedy" text. I remember some of it. It has, I have to confess, been useful at times.
The Whirlwind is learning Latin. I gather she rather likes it. I am not sure how much of the language they are actually learning. It is an "extension" class for brighter students. I think there are just seven of them in the class. She can tell me about classical Roman dress and food (they have made both) and she appears to know some vocabulary which is not related to soldiers and spears. She has been shown a little about how Latin changed and grew too
It would make a nice change. For me Latin was all about declensions, warfare and farmers. It did not seem in the least bit real. I could not imagine anyone actually spoke it!
My father was required to do one year of a science subject as part of his arts degree. He did geology. It was the only subject which would fit into his timetable. He did not like it and only managed a pass in a degree otherwise littered with credits and distinctions. Nevertheless he says it was wise to require one science subject.. (I mugged enough geology to pass the subject at Intermediate (sub-O) level - and hated it even more than he did. I can remember absolutely nothing of it.) Science students were not treated in quite the same way. There were special arts subjects set up for their benefit. Those who had not done any Latin could actually do a special Latin subject - just for scientists. Not any more.
Although I grumbled and protested about the extra work at the time I am now glad my father insisted on my learning some Latin. My nephews know it might have made student life a little easier at times. They would have known what "that Latin phrase" meant.
I gave my law student nephew a list of all the Latin phrases I had to know for my own degree -and told him how one of our law school exercises had been to trace a random case back to the beginnings of the case law used to decide it. I traced mine back to something written in 14thC Latin and so did one of the other older students. No, a judge would not have expected us to cite it but the tutor had challenged us to do it.
So I can smirk at my nephew when he grumbles about learning Latin phrases and say, "Illuc ivi illud feci" (or, roughly translated, "been there, done that") but I very much doubt an ancient Roman would understand me. I also doubt they would understand the lone Latin student. But I understand the world a little better because of Latin.


Redleg said...

Nihilo sanc­tum estne?

Jan said...

I'm a former Latin teacher who found a link to your blog on a comment you had left.

I love Latin and am pleased to see a resurgence of numbers. I'm pleased to see discussion of its value raised in the papers and other media.

I distinctly do not want education to be purely vocational. I see this has been raised again.

My take is that education is about learning to research, to think, to organise, to be able to present and defend a viewpoint, to learn about other cultures and much more.

Latin and any other languages help in this process. I do however think that Latin fills many of my ideals here.

I also taught French and German but Latin was my love. I've gone on to do more languages and added koiné Greek as well, almost as well loved as Latin.

Anonymous said...

Indeed Cat! Bob C-S

catdownunder said...

Apparently not Redleg.
Jan, hello and nice to "meet" you. I doubt there is a resurgence in this state but the Whirlwind and her friends appear to be enjoying what they are learning and it may lead to more learning!

jeanfromcornwall said...

Both husband & I did some Latin, and so did our three offspring. We all agree that there would be fewer cases of people in the media making grammatical goofs if it were more widely taught.

I knew my parenting had been going well when I caught the three children unselfconsciously playing Scrabble in Latin - yes they had gone through and taken out the "u" tiles.

JO said...

I learned Latin, but my the time my daughters went to school it wasn't compulsory, and only one chose it. Which meant there were three tugging at my sleeves, needing a drink/cake/the toilet while the one and I wrestled with inscriptions on churches.

She's adult now - we go out without the others now!

catdownunder said...

Scrabble in Latin? I could not - have forgotten too much by now! Although I might be able to struggle through the churchyard!

Mary Lou said...

I remember a saying from my (required Catholic school) Latin class that went something like" Latin's a dead language, that is plain to see. It killed off all the Romans, and now it's killing me." I can also (still, I think) recite a one paragraph biography of Julius Ceasar. You seem to have learned more.

Anonymous said...

Been there, done that, never want to do it again!

The question we ost wanted an answer to was what words did the Romans use when they dropped a brick on their toe, which was protected only by a sandal! The teacher tried hard to tell us they didn't use swear words, but we pointed out that a fair portion of our swear words were not intended for use in that way.

I failed ... three years, before they let me drop it and do ancient history!

Judy B