This just in: Latin's dead, well, except where it isn't (a.k.a., a story that has been written and rewritten for the past 30 years).
By KIM VELSEY
The Hartford Courant
September 23, 2011
After Suffield High School's Latin teacher retired in June, the district struggled in vain to find a full-time replacement for the nine students — out of the high school's nearly 900 — still enrolled in Latin.
A few weeks after school started, the district discovered that one of its third-grade teachers was certified in Latin and could hold office hours and a Saturday class. But the independent study will only be offered to students already in the program.
"Fortunately, we found a solution for students who were invested in the program, but it's definitely being phased out," said Principal Donna Hayward. "If I found a teacher, I would consider [keeping] it. But for a caseload of five or six students, I just don't see it as a sustainable program. The students aren't as interested as they once were and we're not finding Latin teachers anyway."
Board of education Chairwoman Mary Roy said she took four years of Latin in high school and "found it very useful," but "whether I personally feel it's important is not really important, it's if the administration feels that they can support a program."
If Suffield High eliminates Latin, it will follow in the footsteps of many other schools in north central Connecticut — both Enfield high schools and Suffield Academy, a private school, are phasing out their programs; Windsor Locks doesn't have a program.
Enfield Superintendent John Gallacher said that Enfield decided to end its Latin program because enrollment declined significantly. This year, the district is offering only upper-level Latin to about 40 students between the two high schools, which share one part-time teacher.
But nil desperandum, never despair, say Latin enthusiasts. The language, though officially dead, has managed to survive for millennia. While it fades in some pockets of the state, it continues to thrive in others, like Glastonbury and West Hartford High schools, the Norwich Free Academy and Edwin O. Smith High in Storrs, said Roger Travis, an associate professor of Classics at UConn.
"Latin is doing very, very well," Travis said. "Since its nadir in the 1970s, it has rebounded tremendously, with bastions throughout the Northeast and Midwest."
Latin's resurgence in the 1970s was largely the work of a generation of Latin teachers who banded together to create a tremendously popular curriculum called the Cambridge Latin course, according to Travis. The course integrated Roman culture and history, making memorizing declensions feel relevant to ancient, and also modern, life.
But difficulty finding teachers is a frequent complaint among districts, Travis said — at UConn, only about one student every two years applies for the Latin teaching certification.
Travis, who is one of several Connecticut Latin teachers developing a game-based computer Latin instruction course called Operation LAPIS, said that he believes online resources will soon offer districts and home-schoolers the chance to incorporate Latin into their curriculum, even if they do not have the means to hire a full-time teacher.
"It's always been a problem; there are more jobs than teachers" said Sherwin Little, director of teacher placement services for the American Classical League. Little said that although difficulty finding teachers and funding have challenged many language programs, not just Latin, Latin enrollment is up tremendously at elementary schools, particularly charter schools in urban areas.
Nationally, Latin was the fifth-most-popular K-12 language in the 2007-08 school year, behind Spanish, French, other (a group that included American Sign Language, Arabic and Hebrew), and German, according to a survey done by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.
Mark Pearsall, who teaches Latin at Glastonbury High School and is president of the Classical Association of New England, said that while Glastonbury seems to realize how much Latin and other foreign languages help its largely college-bound students, No Child Left Behind has not been friendly to foreign languages, and they are often among the first to go during budget cuts.
"It's a question of whether language programs can survive those cuts," said Pearsall. "If a language maintains some foothold in a school, it's easier to bring back."
Pearsall added that most of today's Latin teachers fell in love with the language as high school students.
"It's a trickle-up situation," he said. "High school Latin students feed into college programs."
But the language's champions say that Latin is nothing if not resilient, which, for the record, is from the Latin resilire: to leap or spring back.
"It's lasted for 2,000 years for a reason," said Pearsall, "because it touches on the human element."