Bringing Classy Back
America was founded by a group of esteemed men who all had one secret which allowed for them to create a successful, longstanding democracy: an education in the classics.Their knowledge of the classical disciplines, including the languages of Greek and Latin, were arguably more influential in the setup of our government than that of the Enlightenment thinkers and philisophes. The founding fathers set up our government based on the Republic of Rome, a democracy like that of Ancient Greece, and even constructed our government buildings to mimic the style of their temples. This country blossomed from a vast understanding of the lessons learned from Classical Civilizations and is only one of the many examples of how the languages and disciplines of Greece and Rome have shaped our modern world.Despite their being the fortuitous foundation of our modern society and, the Classics are slowly disappearing from the American Education System. Ever since the change in the 1960’s with theCatholic Church’s decision to change from Latin mass to English, classical languages have been disappearing from schools in exchange for modern languages (Howe). Even though the classical languages are regarded as outdated, many schools and institutions continue to keep their grasps on the languages and have found that thanks to linguistics and its disciplines, students have been supplied with not only an academic edge, but a competitive edge in the career world. The teachings of Greece and Rome have already brought us so far, but with the furthering ofthe classics in our education, student are better thinkers and are able to see the links in language and the modern world that Greek and Latin provide.
We teach history in schools so that we can learn from our pasts and improve upon previous decisions. Not only is it important to have a knowledge of our own nation and its trials, but it is imperative to be able to look at civilizations which, were almost identical to ours, and see which decisions and actions led to their demise; to find parallels in our world and make different choices to prolong a prosperous state. Rome was a civilization almost identical to our own; our constitution and democratic state were created to imitate those of the past. The Roman Empire was one of the longest lasting and most prosperous states of all of human history, looking back tothe origins of their success can help us today create a prevalent and affluent state which can even surpass our predecessors (Casson). Giving students the opportunity to make these connections not only improves their critical thinking skills but also helps them to see how something so old can relate to our modern world. An education in the classics provides these links; the languages hold so many cultural and historical allusions which are crucial to a deeper understanding. By simply learning these languages, so much can be gained from their literature and documents, which draws allusions to the many distinct intricacies of their world. Understanding the past, especially of the greatest civilizations that have come before, can point us towards a bigger and brighter future.
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Besides learning about people who lived thousands of years before us, there is more to Latin and Greek than what appears on the surface; English is composed 40% of words derived from Latin and 20% of words from Greek. Our grammatical structures are almost identical– learning these languages can help to create a better understanding of our own lingual origins by looking at the foundations;
“Latin grammar as revealing English grammar to the English-speaking student, partly because it shows in a clear light those fundamental relations which in our mother-tongue are obscured by the loss of inflections, partly because the terms of our formal grammar are borrowed from the Latin, and are understood in their full significance only in connection with the study of the language for the analysis of which they were primarily devised. Whatever contributes to the student’s grasp of the essential elements of vocabulary and structure adds to his power over language as an instrument of thought, and so to his effectiveness as a doer of the day’s work (Kelsey 26).”
Classical languages help create bridges between English and the linguistics of which it is built from. By simply learning Latin or Greek, students are given an opening to see their own language in a different light, and tools for heavier mechanical understanding. A large majority of the more decorated words from English have direct derivatives from the classical languages and give students the upper hand in deciphering the ornate aspects of English. These languages not only provide insight into the classical world, but they directly impact the students knowledge of their own language and deliver the ability to learn many more.
Greek was a precursor to most modern European languages, however Latin is the root language to Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian, Italian, French and English. The classical languages create a common ground between these individual dialects and also creates a linguistic link in terms of grammar and composition. The modern languages all have mechanical structures that reflect back to those of Latin and Greek and therefore make it easier to understand and learn the modern languages by knowing those of which they are derived:
“…students learn not just to pay attention to details but to depend on them; over time, they not only learn that a language has a structure to it, but they also internalize the structure of a language more organized than their own. In this way, they better understand the languages they already speak, and when they go on to learn more “modern” languages they can learn them more efficiently (Connors).”
Although Latin and Greek do not have an immediate utilitarian use in our world, they create a state of understanding which can lead to a quicker and more efficient multilingual learner. Teaching students classical languages may not provide them with an immediate edge in the business world, but it creates a state where students can become better learners with an academic edge.
Immediate results are highly sought after in the American Education system and Latin does its part in giving its students the upper hand. According to the SAT Total Group Profile Report 2013, students who took the SAT Reasoning Test along with the Latin Subject Test had the highest reported scores in both the Critical Reading and Writing portions of the test. The same students had the second highest scores in the Math section,only a short margin behind students who took the Chinese Subject Test (College Board). The correlation between these scores and the rigor of the language show that Latin produces students who are not only well prepared and advantaged in the linguistic sections of the test, but they are also given skills which prepare them for higher level thinking (Holmes, Keffer). Links between the memorization of grammar charts and structures of these languages even correlate to students math abilities by being able to apply learned skills from Latin to mathematics. Instead of schools offering SAT and ACT preparatory courses, they should require, or at least offer classical languages. These courses give students a better conceptual grasp of the material on the test instead of just learning the tricks of taking it. The disciplines of Latin not only apply to the language itself, but are extremely influential in a student’s aptitude in other areas of study.
Knowledge in the classics gives students skills to excel in other areas of study, but Latin and Greek also have many applications in the career world. Medical terms are derived from Latin and Greek– early medicinal philosophy is that of early Greek and Roman thinkers like Galen and Hippocrates. Biological terms are in latin– anyone interested in a higher level science career would be easily advantaged with a knowledge of classical languages. Law terms are in latin, a large majority of studied military strategies originated from Ancient Greek and Roman tactics and battles. Being the foundations of American Government, a knowledge of classical oratory, politics, anddebates are imperative for aspiring politicians (“Careers for Classicists”). The world is filled with the influence of thee classical language they not only provide students with the academic edge, but also prepares them with expertise that applies beyond the academic world.
The Classics are not a facet of an out-dated style of education; they still provide students with multiple advantages that span far beyond being able to speak the language. Replacing Latin and Greek in schools with modern languages reap students of the benefits they would have with these languages and hold them back from achieving the skills that apply far beyond the curriculum. Classics students have a higher respect and understanding of the history and culture,a greater comprehension of English, increased linguistic competence, higher test scores and even additional preparation for higher education along with further areas of study. Bringing the Classical disciplines and languages will improve the capabilities of students while boosting a school’s prestige. Although they may be far from the past, these languages benefit students exponentially more than classes which only teach utilitarian skills and deserve to be brought back into the forefront of education. The classics aren’t outdated, only underappreciated; if the Classical Languages and disciplines were influential enough to resonate with the founding fathers, they should be enough to prepare our students for the world ahead.
“Careers for Classicists.” Classics at Oxford. Oxford University, n.d. Web. 2 Jan. 2014.
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Connors, Molly. “Pro Lingua Latina (In Defense Of The Latin Language).” Journal Of
Education 188.3 (2007): 85-90.Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Jan. 2015.
Holmes, C. Thomas, and Ronald L. Keffer. “A Computerized Method To Teach Latin And
Greek Root Words: Effect On Verbal SAT Scores.” Journal Of Educational Research
89.1 (1995): 47. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Jan. 2015.
Howe, Daniel Walker. “Classical Education In America.” Wilson Quarterly 35.2 (2011):
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Kelsey, Francis W. “The Value of Latin and Greek as Educational Instruments.” Latin and Greek in American Education: With Symposia on the Value of Humanistic Studies. New York: Macmillan, 1911. 26.Hathi Trust Digital Library. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. .