(This blog post will appear in 3 parts over the next three days)
I have found over the years in doing Comprehensible Input work, creating classrooms and a whole program based on CI, that there is a motivational feature that I simply cannot assume everyone understands or shares with me. That motivating factor is this: to ensure that ALL KINDS OF LEARNERS are able to make progress in Latin.
In 2011, I made an address to a gathering at SALVI’s summer Rusticatio. The title of my address was Latin is Not Different. For several years it was featured on the SALVI website (you can read it here if you wish). I tried to articulate publicly what had been a growing realization for me at the time. The Grammar-Translation approach which has dominated Latin teaching for decades if not centuries by now and which has been each of our experiences who teach has worked along some other realities to make sure that Latin belongs only to the realm of elite learners. Consider these points which are incredibly short summaries of much longer discussions and research:
1. There is no evidence to support that human beings actually acquire languages through studying the grammar, memorizing vocabulary and translating the second language into the first language. By “acquire” I mean the ability to read and hear the language with direct understanding without the interference of or mediation of the native language. There is plenty of research that shows just the opposite.
2. Latin teachers and classicists are those elite learners who have “learned Latin” this way. I include several features in the categorization of “elite learners.” They (we–I am one of them) are those students who demonstrate over time that they are good at academics. They receive high marks in general, are acclaimed by their teachers and schools with awards for learning, high GPA’s and scholarships. They often come from affluent or at least very stable homes where winning at the education game was a reinforced message. They are often white. I include this issue because white people have simply had more and uninterrupted access to those who teach, to books and libraries, and they (we–I am white) have over centuries created a culture that serves them first above others. Look at any gathering of Latin teachers or classicists at the number of People of Color. In my life time, I have been at many where there were NO People of Color. Finally, I cannot prove it with data, but I guess that elite learners are also often people with higher than average IQ’s. They routinely report loving to read, loving grammar, and loving languages–all linguistic and language practices that accompany higher than average IQ’s.
3. Latin teachers, then, go to work and put together lessons and build programs that look like what they have experienced. In other words, without even having to think about it, Latin teachers create Latin programs for more elite learners. Even in inner city “charter schools” where the targeted audience are children of Color who do not fit the description above of elite learners, I feel sometimes like they are attempting to create a new wave of elite learners. Those who are admitted (whether by screening or by lottery) will go to school longer, all take Latin from day one, receive extra tutoring at lunch and after school, take the National Latin Exam, join the Certamen team, etc. These are all features of elite learning circles. If the Latin teacher is energetic and creative along with a dash of charisma, the Latin program will sustain itself with a flow of elite learners. If not, or if the Latin teacher moves, or becomes burned out, or retires–often the difficulty of finding someone to maintain the elite learning circle is too much, and schools shut down Latin programs.
Systematically, over time this drive to recreate elite learning programs with Latin will result in the loss of Latin from our academic and cultural landscape.
See Part 2 tomorrow.