January 22, 2013 // Local

Strengthening Catholic schools:

The Holy Father’s decree on teaching and learning Latin 

In a development that will require thought and planning by school leaders, late last fall, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a decree to create a pontifical academy to reintroduce and enhance Latin studies in Catholic schools, seminaries and universities. According to Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press, the pope wrote the decree and founding statutes in Latin as one of the premises for the New Evangelization.

The decree specifically calls for the reintroduction of Latin in Catholic middle schools. After the announcement was public, educators, researchers, curriculum experts and scholars worldwide shared concrete and convincing research and data to show Latin not only contributes greatly to the formation of the child’s faith, but is critical for development in all phases of teaching and learning, particularly in the k-12 Catholic school environment.

Researchers have found a litany of residual benefits for learners of Latin. Winfield reports the pope has reintroduced the use of Latin himself in numerous Vatican celebrations and events; the faithful of Vatican City have heard the Gospel in Latin frequently since 2005. Catholic scholars and lay educators have recalled Latin is a universal language and represents the universal Church, thus contributing to strengthen and solidify a strong and present Catholic identity. Regrettably, some Catholic schools in America have reduced the number of Latin classes and course offerings over the last 10 years.

As Indiana lawmakers evaluate strategies and methods to help children improve academic skills, Catholics educated in parish schools 50 years ago understand Latin helps immensely with English grammar as well as all disciplines and subjects. Jessica Calefati reports during the last decade the number of students completing the national Latin exam has increased from 30,000 students to 135,000 students.

Renowned educator and author Dorothy Sayers speaks directly about the effects of teaching and learning Latin:

“I will say at once, quite firmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar. I say this not because Latin is traditional and medieval, but simply because even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labor and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least 50 percent.”

N.S. Gill, a Latinist and freelance writer reports our English grammar rules are rooted in Latin; the “Latin grammar” system guides the learner’s thinking about his own vernacular language as well as any new language acquired, such as Spanish or Italian. Students of Latin have the foundation to become prolific writers — a critical skill that seems to have been greatly compromised today. Technological limitations of texting and e-mail frequently restrict proper English word usage among children.

Marsha Jordan, former high school biology teacher and associate superintendent reminds us that many science words have their basis in Latin as well; for example, biology. “Bio” means “life,” and “ology” means the “study of.” Zoology is the study of animals; ecology, the study of eco systems; nephrology, the study of the kidneys. Gill shares practical benefits of Latin proficiency as well.

It is widely known and accepted that Latin greatly strengthens the test-taker’s ability to discern correct responses on national college admissions exams such as the SAT and ACT. Knowledge of Latin greatly improves the probability of a high score on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), the Graduate Records Examination (GRE), and the Medical College Admissions Test (MCATS).

The statewide, Indiana, norm-referenced ISTEP tests scores may improve dramatically by virtue of a strong Latin curriculum. Children with Latin instruction tend to be more accurate in their general thinking according to Professor Emeritus William Harris of Columbia.

“From another point of view, the study of Latin does foster precision in the use of words. Since one reads Latin closely and carefully, often word-by-word, this focuses the student’s mind on individual words and their usage. It has been noticed that people who have studied Latin in school usually write quite good English prose. There may be a certain amount of stylistic imitation involved, but more important is the habit of reading closely and following important texts with accuracy.”

Concurring with Pope Benedict’s decree, Sayers encourages 11-year-old children to begin Latin studies formally. While reading specialists define reading achievement in terms of vocabulary and comprehension, Sayers notes 50 percent of English is comprised of Latin root words.


What can schools do?

Parents and Catholic educators could begin discussions about the pope’s decree and how to strengthen our present Latin programs. Typical school fund drives and events could be redirected to commit additional resources to support Latin instructors and teachers.

Schools may have active, registered parish members who could volunteer to tutor children or teach Latin.

The Catholic School’s personnel office is ready to help identify, recruit and refer capable teachers of Latin. The reintroduction of Latin Clubs offering theater or presentations would contribute toward making the study of Latin more widespread. Father Romano Nicolini, an Italian priest who is encouraging more Latin courses in Catholic middle schools notes, “Latin teaches us to show respect for beautiful things and it also teaches us to value our roots.”

We can encourage our children to attend a Latin Mass and have discussions related to content introduced in the daily Latin school curriculum. Parents can reinforce the applications of learning the language of our faith.

This much is clear: Changing the curriculum requires effort by many stakeholders working within the school; however, engaging traditional Catholic teaching methods known to be effective pedagogy while implementing Pope Benedict’s decree, offers fresh and exciting opportunities for our children, parents and grandchildren to show respect for beautiful things and value our Catholic roots at the family dinner table.

* * *

The best news. Delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to our mailing list today.