College Professors of Latin, Wake Up!

I got this from John. It reminds of that post from Anne (
Bob Patrick recently mentioned on our Latin Best Practices list that a few of his former students who have decided to  continue with Latin/Classics at college, later decide to drop the major. They have made this decision because their classes are boring and irrelevant–unlike the previous four years they had with Bob. Amazing how after one semester, a student who thrived enough in high school Latin to decide to be a major, would then say “I hate Latin.”This is about the most frustrating thing for a Latin teacher, to cultivate a love for a subject in students for years, just to have some pompous grad student or junior faculty cause that student to HATE the subject. Here is my response, which, from what I’ve read on this list, is also of relevance to modern language teachers:
I think this conversation has zoomed in on the front lines of a conflict that really will determine the future of Latin studies, at all levels. This is the AP. Here is where the interests of what university faculty think incoming students should know collides with the experiences of many middle and high school teachers in regard to what works for their students. The lower level teachers are increasingly taking their lead from what is of interest and relevance to their students – a bottom-up or grassroots approach. At the university level, we see a top-down approach that presumes to know what is best for the lower levels, in terms of both content and methodology.
When students like Bob’s (or Luke’s) enter the university, they will probably be made to feel that they must get with the program. If they don’t like the program because they see no relevance in it, they can either leave, or they can take ownership of their departments, advocate for themselves, and pressure their faculty to adapt to the needs and interests of their dwindling numbers of Latin students. Our students need to know what they will likely be facing when they get to college, if they choose to continue with Latin/Classics.
All of a sudden, preparing our students to be Latin scholars in college takes on a whole new dimension.
The Essential Marcus Aurelius
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6 thoughts on “College Professors of Latin, Wake Up!”

  1. Unfortunately, AP/College Board is often the tail that wags the dog. In my own school they did away with fourth-year Spanish and require all students who want to go beyond third year to take AP. How absurd is that?
    Take a look at the comparison chart I did of the various “rating” schemes of language acquisition (CEFR, ACTFL, ILR) – – and you will see that the College Board places the minimum level for AP above what is expected of students in a four-year program. As a result, if all students have to take AP for their fourth year, one or more of the following will happen:
    1. Students who love the language but are not “academic” will drop out of the language sequence
    2. Teachers will not teach a true AP course, and so
    a. Students will take the course but not sit the exam
    b. Students will take the exam and wonder why they didn’t do well when they got good grades in the AP class
    3. Students will be miserable
    4. Teachers will be miserable
    5. College Board will make money
    Quite frankly, I fit into category 2a. I have never taught to the AP test because I do not think it is relevant to the lives of most of my students. As a result, I have perhaps 1 or 2 students per year take the exam. Up until two years ago, they all passed. (Two years ago I would have told the two students who signed up not to take the exam, but they didn’t ask.) Last year no one sat the exam. This year I have three students who ought to take the exam, but we’ll have to see. I have 12 students enrolled in the AP class, so they will get the weighted grade. I’m fine with that.
    BTW, AP Language is different from all the other AP courses. Yes, all of them are to be taught as a college-level course. But AP Chemistry, Math, Biology, etc. are all “entry-level” courses. That is, the AP course equivalent might be offered in the freshman year of college. In World Language, the requirement is to teach the equivalent of a third year college course. It’s should a wonder to no one that only students who either are native speakers or have been in a K-12 program will be ready for AP – certainly not high school the average high school student who has had three years of a language.
    Yes, we need to teach our students to advocate for themselves. At some point there has to be a “critical mass” of demand for something else; maybe if some of the university professors realize how jeopardized their entire departments – not just their individual positions- are, there will begin to be change.
    Okay, enough for now. Time to get to bed.

  2. Thanks, Robert, for your illuminating analysis of how out of touch the College Board is when it comes to the realities of language learning.
    By the way, the Luke I mentioned is Luke Henderson, an incredibly talented and energetic Latin teacher at Santa Monica High School, whose students produce professional quality dramatic and musical productions entirely in Latin. Seeing is believing:

  3. To John Piazza and/or any other classically educated teachers on this list:
    I love your comments and I checked out your book on Marcus Aurelius. I enjoy reading the Stoics, particularly Epictetus, but Marcus Aurelius is also a favorite of mine–seems close to Plato’s ideal ruler to me.
    I am working on a story/unit using a subjunctive form in Spanish that uses the phrase “para que…” ( In order that…). I was wondering if you were aware of any quotes similar to this one:
    “Todo lo que hacemos está puesto con el ojo en otra cosa”
    —Aristóteles, filósofo griego antiguo (384-322 a.C.)
    “All that we do is done with an eye toward something else.” —Aristotle
    The idea being that we are trying to figure out WHY this kid is doing what he is doing. He is doing ____ in order that he might _______, and he is doing ____ in order that he might ______, in infinite regression until we arrive at he is doing ____ in order that he might be happy.
    I am not sure if this is too much cognitively for my Spanish 3 students to deal with, but I want to give it a try. any thoughts here?

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