Pedagogical Immunity

Certain learners exist who possess what seems like complete immunity to whatever pedagogy they’re subjected to. College students are a good example. Professors rarely have pedagogical training, which is perhaps the most ironic thing about those in charge of training pre-service primary and secondary teachers, but most college students are able to persist through a lack of solid pedagogy. How? Using their interests, some independent learning skills, and a bit of determination. Polyglots are another good example. They’ll learn many languages under all sorts of conditions that don’t transfer to others, claiming they found “the secret,” yet relatively few who adopt their “methods” report success (except for other…polyglots!). Upon thinking this over, many high school students—and not just those studying a second language—are often pedagogically immune, too. These students manage to pass courses even when teachers have wacky pedagogy with unhelpful practices. Consider the teacher using some pre-fab curriculum with loads of busywork. Students will put up with all that busywork. They might not learn much, but they’ll earn credit, then graduate. In that sense, then, these students made it through. They were immune (though not to learning…which we’ll get to). They just made it past the next level. They…”succeeded.”

This line of thinking started to sound awfully familiar. I wondered about the pedagogical immunity of Latin teachers. Indeed, Latin teachers have persisted through a “method” that lacks what a method needs. Although I joked about it not being a method in a 2020 article, the reality is that grammar-translation (GT) is a procedural plan to teach language that happens to be ungoverned by any principles of language. That’s no good. Here’s one of my favorite quotes on the matter:

“…though it may be true to say that the GT method is still widely practiced, it has no advocates. It is a method for which there is no theory. There is no literature that offers a rationale or justification for it or that attempts to relate it to issues in linguistics, psychology, or educational theory.” (Richards & Rodgers, 2014, p.7)

So, Latin teachers made it past the obstacle of being taught a language in a way that has no rationale for it being taught that way. Congratulations on the…”success?” Hardly. The state of Latin teachers is such that most of us can’t read Latin with much ease at all. In fact, our situation is perhaps the saddest: barreling through bad pedagogy without having much to show for it in the end in terms of language ability. While a host of measures might deem any Latin teacher knowledgeable about a great deal of topics, the idea of “immunity” deserves a closer look. We certainly made it into the field of education, but at what cost? Were we really immune to a pedagogy if that pedagogy leaves most unable to read an ancient text unless it’s one we’ve poured countless hours into studying?! We should arrive at “no,” but it’s even more complicated than that. Latin teachers aren’t expected to actually read ancient texts.

What the…?!

It’s true. Latin teachers aren’t expected to read ancient texts, or at least the measurements that determine teacher qualifications don’t really need them to. Students certainly don’t seem to be asked to show that they can read, either, with AP Latin testing something else entirely, something reading-like, but also not. According to these measurements, students—or at least the “good” ones—learn Latin just fine, and teachers can “read” Latin sufficiently. In that regard, I suppose we do have to be considered pedagogically immune; “learning” and “reading” Latin despite a method without any basis.

Number Of Pedagogically Immune & Using Them
So, how many Latin students are pedagogically immune? It’s pretty close to that 4% figure tossed around for decades. The 4%ers could very well represent the students who continue their second language studies in spite of whatever pedagogy the teacher is employing. These are the pedagogically immune. What I find troubling about this is how these students can be used as evidence of a successful Latin program (or its teachers). If the measurement of success relies on the few students who continue regardless of what a teacher does, then that’s hardly support for effective teaching practices and the program overall. It also tends to be the case that the highest level students with the most Latin under their belt (i.e., Seniors with 4+ years of Latin) are often the ones whose “success” is measured and reported out. We rarely hear about those in Latin 1 or 2. N.B. I’m still waiting for more Latin teachers to drop in their ALIRA scores here before sharing out the spreadsheet with neat charts that update when new data is submitted.

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