Latin Students & Scholars

When looking at other not-Latin course curricula in schools, it occurred to me that Latin classes are typically taught as if all students will become Latin scholars. That’s kind of crazy. What’s even crazier? Most teachers don’t have the expectation that all, or even some of their students will become Latin scholars. However, it’s definitely how Latin has been taught, historically (re: goals not aligned with practices). Sure, some schools have the “honors” distinction, making other courses “college prep,” and a common goal of the K-12 system is to prepare students for college. However, does every subject prepare its students to be scholars of that subject before they get to college?

No way.

Let’s look at some examples. I asked my colleagues if a student could a) go on to study their content area’s major in college without taking additional electives beyond basic high school graduation requirements, or b) would they need that kind of boost to get into a program and become a scholar in the field? These were the responses:

Math
“That’s a great question. For the most part, the specialization or focus on math would occur in college. While it would definitely be beneficial for a student to have already taken Calculus or Statistics, AP or otherwise if they’re entering a math field, it’s not necessary. They would still be able to take those courses offered at the college level and pass, assuming they had gained the necessary prerequisite knowledge from their high school courses.”

Science
“In terms of jumping into a science major with little to no background, I think this is the case with the majority of students. They will certainly pick it up in college. YES – high school students could hypothetically have had no science and still become scientists.

ELA
“No typically they would just jump in with 100 level intro courses.”

So, high school courses provide the same level of understanding to both humanities-bound students and STEM-bound students, regardless what students are goin on to study, and it’s only in college that study begins to get specialized. Just as you wouldn’t expect every high school graduate to be a math scholar, every student shouldn’t be expected to be a Latin scholar, right? Yet the literature Latin students are asked to read—typically—is waaaaaaaaay too high. If high school graduates of every subject start their college major at a 100 level course, why are Latin students—in high school—expected to read literature you’d expect in a 200, 300, or even 400 level college course?! There’s just no solid rationale for this scholar-level of study to begin in high school.

To boot, the real story is a bit more grim when you consider how many Latin students bound for Classics programs *do not* continue at that supposed level anyway, instead repeating basic 100 level Latin courses once in college anyway. So, if every high school program prepares students to be independent learners, pursuing whatever major they want in college, why on Earth have Latin teachers been fussing around with texts waaaaaaay beyond the reach of what’s level-appropriate, even to become a scholar in that field?!?!?!

It’s inexplicable.

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