If my observations of the class of 2020 are any indication, Prep students aren’t excited about Latin. Only five percent of them seem to be studying Latin beyond their requirement. The rest decide that the ability to read about people who’ve been dead for millennia, in a language just as dead for almost as long, isn’t quite worth sacrificing free periods and piling on hours of homework. At Prep, there seems to be a set of myths concerning Latin: it’s impractical, inapplicable, and boring.
The label “impractical” isn’t surprising: mastering conjugations, case endings, vocabulary and grammatical constructions is no cakewalk. It takes time. But, for this reason, Latin is the most practical class in my schedule, combining analytical reasoning, critical thinking, and linguistic understanding. The Latin requirement doesn’t distract you from more “important” subjects; it makes learning other subjects easier.1
The statistics are clear: studying Latin makes you a better test-taker.2 And no wonder! It forces you to operate in an inflected language system, heightening your linguistic dexterity within English and across other modern languages, making you a better reader, writer, speaker, and thinker.
Even in quantitative subjects, the analytical capacities that the classics demand come in handy. I’ve heard long-time Prep English teacher Mr. Peters (Prep ‘85), who studied Math and English in college, claim that Latin was the most important class he ever took. Over the years, he has observed that those who exceed their one- or two-year requirement at Prep tend to have an advantage over those who opt out.
Griffin Gudaitis is one of those few who stick with it. Now a freshman at Holy Cross, this 2018 graduate has been studying the language since his freshman year at Prep.
“I could very well argue that [Latin] is far from dead. Over sixty percent of English is derived from it,” he said. “But I will say that it has made me think. Instead of telling me what to think, Latin has taught me how to think.”
Though not a classics major, Gudaitis acknowledges that classical language continues to play a pivotal role in his education.
Some believe that the daring few who re-enter Mr. Burokas’s room after sophomore year do so as a means to an end–that they put up with a tedious subject in the hopes of a shot at the Ivy League or in order to prepare to study the classics. But ask third- or fourth-year student and you’ll get a different answer. The truth is, among the multitude of reasons for studying Latin, first and foremost are a fascination with the language and an appreciation for the ability to connect with the minds that shaped Western Civilization. If you stick with it, you can pretty much count on falling in love with it.
Lowe, Cheryl. “Top 10 Reasons for Studying Latin.” Memoria Press, Memoria Press, 3 May 2018, www.memoriapress.com/articles/top-10-reasons-studying-latin/.
“National Committee for Latin and Greek.” Promotelatin.org, National Committee for Latin and Greek, 2016