Monday, July 2, 2012

Authentic Latin Revisted, wherein I eat my feet

I did two posts recently about a desire to move my students as soon as possible to real, authentic Latin. By authentic Latin I had in mind the likes of Ovid, Catullus, Cicero, etc, that is, the stuff on the IB and AP exams and the stuff I grew to love in my study of classics in college.

So, yeah, I was wrong. That's not what's best for kids.

Somewhat in an effort to save face, I'm sure, I'll stand by my opinion that "golden age" Latin literature is more "authentic" than Latin literature from other times, primarily because, for lack of a better explanation, the stuff before "looks forward" and the stuff after "looks backward" to the works of those great masters of the late Republic and early Empire. (Bloom has argued that the same relationship exists between Shakespeare and every other English writer.)

But I can no longer sleep well at night if I am to get up and teach kids at a break-neck pace just to get to the authentic, exam material within some arbitrary timeline. And not just arbitrary, but impossible for all except one student in thirty. It seems Latin teachers like to brag about how soon their kids are reading Caesar or Cicero or Catullus. "Before the end of the second year!? You must be a great teacher!" Little would that commenter know (or care?) that in a typical class of sophomores only a handful would actually care about doing that kind of reading (that is, translation), and fewer still (if any) would be truly capable enough to do so.

So, I'm saying I had set a goal for my students to begin reading Catullus by the end of their second year of Latin, a goal which, despite my best intentions, turns out to have been absurd.

My new goal is for my students to develop a profound understanding of the Latin language during the first three years, and during the fourth year to delve into the real stuff according to the IB syllabus. Of course it would be easier if my students had more than just three years to prepare. But they don't, which brings me to my next-to-last point. It is tempting for me to take the first three years even slower and have the fourth be part of a natural progression. In this way the students could learn the language in a less threatening manner. We do not have this luxury, however, and I am not convinced I would take it if I could.

Time for my final point, which will be more practical. You have read my vision for the first three years to be a slow, rigorous adventure through language in order to internalize the material. This will involve lots of active Latin and lots of repetition. As far as the actual pace in concerned, here is the outline (we use the Cambridge Latin Course):

Year 1: Stages 1-12
This is quite a bit slower than the 16 and 14 stages I have covered the past two years respectively. And it is A LOT slower than the pace I have seen others follow. Remember: The idea is to have enough time for plenty of active Latin and repetition.

Year 2: Stages 13-27
An increase in pace with fifteen stages instead of twelve, but if we have learned truly to read Latin during the first year it should be doable. Also, Stage 27 marks the end of a few stages about the subjunctive.

Year 3: Stages 28-40, Stage 44
Fourteen stages, ending with Ovid, a major author on the IB syllabus.
I have seen other schedules in which the first year is packed for the sake of more time in the later years. I figure if you have time, the first year is the place to use it. More speed will be possible in the second and third years if there is a solid foundation.

Thank you especially to Robert Patrick, Justin Schwamm, Laura Gibbs, and Kevin Ballestrini for great conversations around these points.

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