+ Latin as the Secret Code of Western Civilization

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Daniel DeMaina writes about Latin teacher Dr Lawrence Kepple, who teaches at Melrose High School in Massachusetts. 

Dr Kepple says that the Latin word “duco” means “to lead,” and Latin can lead students to the best possible college.

We use the Latin “duco” every day without being aware of it, in words like “induction” which means “to lead in,” as well as “produce” and “introduction.”

In even the very earliest lessons a student can learn many of the  simple building blocks from which our language is built.  The composition of a word can help you “deduce” its meaning — you don’t have to look it up in a dictionary.

“Just a few Latin roots give you the ability to decode hundreds and hundreds of complicated words, whether on the SATs or in more advanced science and technology courses,” says Kepple. 

“That’s why I call Latin ‘the secret code of western civilization.’  Everything was written in it and the language we use today has tremendous borrowing from Latin.”

Kepple will be joined by a former student who is now at Harvard when he gives a talk  to parents and students on February 24th.  That student, Arthur Kaynor, took Latin for four years in high school and received the highest possible score of 5 on the Advanced Placement Latin exam.

Kaynor uses the word “reduce” to illustrate the language’s code-breaking abilities.

Says Kaynor

On the SATs, you probably won’t be able to remember every single word, but if you understand the root, ‘re’ means ‘begin, or back,’ and ‘duce’ is from ‘lead;’ it means ‘to lead back or make smaller.’  You can figure out what words mean without actually knowing them.

 Even students who don’t take four years of Latin can benefit after only one year, according to Kaynor.  You can also gain grammar skills that apply not only to English but also to other foreign languages.   He adds,

In a world where everybody judges you very quickly based on your verbal and written skills, I think it’s important to have the skills to write strongly and speak persuasively.

One sophomore, in his second year at Melrose High, says he signed up for Latin because he knew it would help him both in other subjects and on the SATs.  He says that  people  who think it’s just a dead language are missing  the larger point.   

Rhetoric and Persuasive Language

Students who continue with Latin and take more advanced courses journey into the art of rhetoric and persuasive language; skills so valued by ancient thinkers.

According to Kaynor, reading and studying some of the great works of literature can instill these valuable skills.  “When you analyze great speeches, how they work and how the writers make their points, you learn to do that on your own,” he says.

Dr Kepple feels that the ancients were really the “nuclear physicists of persuasive writing.”  He uses the example of President Obama to illuminate the importance of persuasive speaking and writing.

[Obama’s] ability to use language was an important factor in his ability to succeed.  How do you use words to get your point accross effectively?  That’s what the ancients were so good at.  The class was able to see what are the most advanced techniques ever developed and they started using those in their own right.  Persuasive writing and persuasive speaking are just dramatically powerful tools for any student to have.  The ancient lore of rhetoric is a very effective way to gain a competitive edge.

 Last year, Kepple’s class studied Virgil’s Aeneid.  The main character, Aeneas, makes speeches that exemplify rhetorical tools for persuasive language.  They are found in many ancient literary works. 

Says Arthur Kaynor’s younger brother Eli, this year’s president of the Latin Club,

You could actually see it in the writing, where he was, say, complimenting someone to get something for himself.  When you get used to seeing [these tools] in other people’s writing, it makes you mentally a smarter person.

This year he is studying the works of the Roman poet Catullus.  He notes how even in poems the author can “hide” rhetorical devices that make a work stronger.  “It’s just a really cool way to look at writing and speech that most kids don’t get to do,” he says.

Memory System Helps Retention

Kepple uses a noteworthy technique called the “memory peg system.”  The method employs a visual system that allows students to recall a numbered list by associating small, easily remembered words called “pegs” with a number on the list.

Arthur Kaynor says the key is to develop a humorous or silly mental image for each word.  For instance, he uses this one: number one on his list of 35 rhetorical techniques is “alliteration.”  His peg is “tie.”

He pictures a light bulb [al-LIT-er-a-tion] with arms, legs, a face and a tie, and the bulb is straightening the tie.  When he thinks of the tie, he sees  that light bulb, and “that gets me to ‘alliteration.’  In that way, I can say the list in any order.”

Middle school principal Tom Brow is intrigued by the memory peg  system, and he is planning to announce that his students will be learning it.

Kepple would like students to understand that Latin might help them get into the college of their choice or to secure more financial aid.  Kaynor says his Harvard interviewer was impressed that he’d not only taken Latin but that he had also done so for four years — and gone so far with it.

Says Kaynor

Boston Latin requires four years and it used to be six years.  They regularly send 25 to 40 kids per year to Harvard.  I think there’s something about studying Latin.  Admission officers realize the difficulty and how much it will benefit the student.  We’re all competing to get into the same colleges.

It’s a great thing our school has this program so we can compete with the kids coming from private schools and international schools.

   Kepple says that private colleges and universities have more leeway to offer financial grants to students based on a number of factors — not simply on “need.”  For that reason, Latin might make a student more attractive.

These institutions have the freedom to offer essentially any grant they want to, adds Kepple.  You might increase the chances of a grant that is not need-based.    

sole source: http://www.wickedlocal.com/melrose/news article by Daniel DeMaina on 2/20/09.

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email   aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

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