Every try to analyze all the elements that contribute to a student’s intellectual development? There’s plenty of research, but don’t plan on doing a meta-study without lots of help. The field is big, and the experts all have much to say.
My meager contributions to this conversation have been dissed more often than not, but I get a warm feeling when I read about others who share my respect for the power of learning Latin.
I was lucky to have gone to high school in a day when nobody questioned to utility of studying Latin (1958-1962). As you will learn, if you read the article linked to above, Latin fell on some hard times in our goofball American education culture, but Latin is making a comeback in some more enlightened sections of the country.
You’re thinking, why Latin? What’s so special?
I studied French (two years) in high school, and two years of Spanish as an undergrad in college. Yes, I enjoyed the experience, it’s certainly valuable, especially in the absence of Latin, but nothing affected me like the four years I studied Latin.
Vocabulary study (by second year, 100 words per week learned) provided the gift of root word recognition in English; intense grammar study in Latin II gave me a better understanding of my own language than the previous nine years of school ever had; and the study of the history and culture of an ancient civilization that, although quite foreign, was very familiar and exciting. (I even built a gladiator’s short sword in wood shop class to use as a prop in the annual Festum Romanum Saturnalia.)
But mostly, it was the vocabulary study in Latin II, which, by coincidence, was taught by my Dad, Hugh J. O’Donnell, at Levittown Memorial High School, Long Island, New York. Dad’s the one that required the 100 words per week and quizzed us faithfully to make sure we were on top of it. (He also sponsored the Saturnalia, and took all the qualifying Levittown Latin students to the annual Baird Memorial Latin Translation Contest in NYC.)
We can’t think, or learn to think better, or critically, if we haven’t the words to represent our thoughts. Certainly, we’re at a disadvantage communicating our thoughts without appropriate vocabulary. In fact, thoughts, without words, are mere feelings . The more words we know and can detect differences of meaning between, the more refined our thinking and ability to communicate those thoughts.
I’m not doing the study of Latin justice with the recital above, but I’ve been inspired to refine my thinking about the myriad aspects of Latin study that contribute to heightened intellectual development, and I’ll add to and revise this post as I move along with it.
Meanwhile, open up your mind to the advantages of the study of Latin.
I will admit, I was pretty lost when I had to deal with Virgil’s Aeneid (fourth year), because the three of us (two girls and me) that stuck it out for four years had to share a class with about 27 third year students! The teacher, Kevin Aylward (by this time, I’d moved on to Farmingdale High School), was brilliant, but the third year kids’ needs outweighed ours! We just didn’t get much teacher time, and fourth year Latin poetry is h-a-r-d.
First year Latin was fun and easy. The course I took from my Dad, Latin II, was intense, with all the vocabulary, grammar, and Caesar’s Gallic Wars to translate. But he made it great fun, and was totally fair to me, his kid. And then Latin III exposed us to the orations of Sallust and Cicero, and the relatively easy poetry of Ovid, which was kinda sexy.
One more point I overlooked on my first pass here: French and Spanish are much easier after having studied Latin. After all, they are Romance languages, derivatives of Latin!
Here’s a photo of my Dad about a decade and a half (or more) after I had him in class. This is from the mid-seventies at Hillsboro High School (Oregon) when he was teaching Language Arts (English for you old-timers).