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Why Literature but not Latin? Watch

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    Some time ago it was common for children to be taught Latin. This is no longer the case. Most people don't think about why. Of course, Latin is a useless dead language; reading it is not a marketable skill, so teaching it is a waste of time.

    However when pushed many people will admit that much, possibly a majority of what is taught in secondary school is ultimately not marketable. Literature isn't, except for a small number who will become authors or academics; the same is true of Latin. For that matter, the vast majority of people will never become fluent in, let alone work in, a "live" foreign language. Much more time is wasted providing language instruction that will never be used than would be lost by the small minority who need it learning as adults.

    When pushed further, most will nonetheless defend Literature and Spanish instruction, usually with mystical justifications that appeal to higher values and the good life. But why is not a knowledge of Latin something with higher or intrinsic value? Why is knowing it not also a part of the good life?

    Another argument is sometimes made against Latin instruction is that it is associated with the pre-1945 conservative tradition, and teaching it to children may therefore promote the values of that tradition. The person making this argument of course believes that those values are bad. This is the only argument that seems to me at least logically consistent, but it is also morally weak. If we eliminate Latin instruction because its main purpose is to transmit cultural values, which some may not approve of, why not eliminate all subjects whose main purpose is to transmit cultural values, since not everyone approves of any value? And if the cultural values that ultimately shape society are transmitted by what is very close to a state monopoly mechanism, can we truly say that we live in a free democracy?
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    (Original post by Observatory)
    Some time ago it was common for children to be taught Latin. This is no longer the case. Most people don't think about why. Of course, Latin is a useless dead language; reading it is not a marketable skill, so teaching it is a waste of time.

    However when pushed many people will admit that much, possibly a majority of what is taught in secondary school is ultimately not marketable. Literature isn't, except for a small number who will become authors or academics; the same is true of Latin. For that matter, the vast majority of people will never become fluent in, let alone work in, a "live" foreign language. Much more time is wasted providing language instruction that will never be used than would be lost by the small minority who need it learning as adults.

    When pushed further, most will nonetheless defend Literature and Spanish instruction, usually with mystical justifications that appeal to higher values and the good life. But why is not a knowledge of Latin something with higher or intrinsic value? Why is knowing it not also a part of the good life?

    Another argument is sometimes made against Latin instruction is that it is associated with the pre-1945 conservative tradition, and teaching it to children may therefore promote the values of that tradition. The person making this argument of course believes that those values are bad. This is the only argument that seems to me at least logically consistent, but it is also morally weak. If we eliminate Latin instruction because its main purpose is to transmit cultural values, which some may not approve of, why not eliminate all subjects whose main purpose is to transmit cultural values, since not everyone approves of any value? And if the cultural values that ultimately shape society are transmitted by what is very close to a state monopoly mechanism, can we truly say that we live in a free democracy?
    Because I've studied Latin to AS Level, I'm easily able understand other languages - Arabic, French, Italian, Polish, Spanish...
    Latin is FAR from useless - it is the root of all languages! Really I think it is a subject that HAS to be taught!
    It makes my blood boil when people dismiss it as a "dead language," ugh.
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    (Original post by Hopelessly)
    Because I've been taught Latin to AS Level, I'm easily able understand other languages - Arabic, French, Italian, Polish, Spanish...
    Latin is FAR from useless - it is the root of all languages! Really I think it is a subject that HAS to be taught!
    It makes my blood boil when people dismiss it as a "dead language," ugh.
    The purpose of my post was not to criticise the teaching of Latin.
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    Only one year of latin in the "Instituto" (Spain's secondary School) has helped me to a better understanding of my mother tongue and also french and english. Is far from being useless and I think western education should give back this language their place in education.
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    (Original post by Observatory)
    Some time ago it was common for children to be taught Latin. This is no longer the case. Most people don't think about why. Of course, Latin is a useless dead language; reading it is not a marketable skill, so teaching it is a waste of time.

    However when pushed many people will admit that much, possibly a majority of what is taught in secondary school is ultimately not marketable. Literature isn't, except for a small number who will become authors or academics; the same is true of Latin. For that matter, the vast majority of people will never become fluent in, let alone work in, a "live" foreign language. Much more time is wasted providing language instruction that will never be used than would be lost by the small minority who need it learning as adults.

    When pushed further, most will nonetheless defend Literature and Spanish instruction, usually with mystical justifications that appeal to higher values and the good life. But why is not a knowledge of Latin something with higher or intrinsic value? Why is knowing it not also a part of the good life?

    Another argument is sometimes made against Latin instruction is that it is associated with the pre-1945 conservative tradition, and teaching it to children may therefore promote the values of that tradition. The person making this argument of course believes that those values are bad. This is the only argument that seems to me at least logically consistent, but it is also morally weak. If we eliminate Latin instruction because its main purpose is to transmit cultural values, which some may not approve of, why not eliminate all subjects whose main purpose is to transmit cultural values, since not everyone approves of any value? And if the cultural values that ultimately shape society are transmitted by what is very close to a state monopoly mechanism, can we truly say that we live in a free democracy?
    I agree with you. In general, I think that learning a language exercises the brain (in ways different to other subjects) and that this is good enough reason to make it compulsory, even if most pupils will never become fluent. With respect to Latin specifically, I think that learning Latin strengthens many important skills (close reading and logic, among others). It's not all about skills though: Latin literature is also very interesting and varied. Definitely worth teaching in its own right.

    I would combine it with a more theoretical study of rhetoric, perhaps. (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric.)
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    I don't think there's anything wrong with Latin per se, but it was previously held in ridiculously high esteem. Perhaps the pendulum has swung too far the other way but I don't see how it can be rehabilitated in the current era of target obsession and 'learning outcomes'
    Perhaps it'd be nice, but hardly among the most urgent of problems in education tbh.
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    Surely the whole point of studying literature at high school level is to develop analytical and writing skills. How can you possibly have missed that?
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    (Original post by Ronove)
    Surely the whole point of studying literature at high school level is to develop analytical and writing skills. How can you possibly have missed that?
    Exactly this...and in a language that people still speak, for a start.
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    (Original post by Ronove)
    Surely the whole point of studying literature at high school level is to develop analytical and writing skills. How can you possibly have missed that?
    If that were the point it would make more sense to analyse financial reports or press releases, rather than literature.
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    (Original post by Joinedup)
    I don't think there's anything wrong with Latin per se, but it was previously held in ridiculously high esteem.
    And why is the esteem in which Literature or Spanish is held any less ridiculous? Correct me if I am wrong, but if I proposed to fire every Spanish teacher in the country I would in past times have been neg repped to oblivion, yet I doubt it would have any negative practical consequences noticeable to an ordinary person at all. The same thing can be said of Latin teachers without much fuss; in fact, it has been as good as done.

    Perhaps the pendulum has swung too far the other way but I don't see how it can be rehabilitated in the current era of target obsession and 'learning outcomes'
    Better yet, surely? Targets only require something quantitatively measurable, not something useful. Percentage accuracy in a Latin unseen translation is easily measurable and quantifiable. Targets and league tables are just a result of reheating the principles of the Civil Service Exam anyway.

    Perhaps it'd be nice, but hardly among the most urgent of problems in education tbh.
    I apologise for not being sufficiently blunt, but granting everyone is fine with Latin being gone, my real question is why not get rid of the rest of the stuffing?

    And since people will rejoinder that Literature and Spanish create well-rounded students or educated citizens - that is to say, they instil certain cultural values which are currently favoured - to what extent is the current education system even intended to teach practical skills, as opposed to deliver cultural propaganda?

    Look for instance at the controversy over Muslim free schools. Those schools aren't controversial in the Middle East or Pakistan. They are clearly desired by the parents of the children involved. They were closed down because they would not deliver an approved type of cultural propaganda.
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    (Original post by Observatory)
    And why is the esteem in which Literature or Spanish is held any less ridiculous? Correct me if I am wrong, but if I proposed to fire every Spanish teacher in the country I would in past times have been neg repped to oblivion, yet I doubt it would have any negative practical consequences noticeable to an ordinary person at all. The same thing can be said of Latin teachers without much fuss; in fact, it has been as good as done.


    Better yet, surely? Targets only require something quantitatively measurable, not something useful. Percentage accuracy in a Latin unseen translation is easily measurable and quantifiable. Targets and league tables are just a result of reheating the principles of the Civil Service Exam anyway.


    I apologise for not being sufficiently blunt, but granting everyone is fine with Latin being gone, my real question is why not get rid of the rest of the stuffing?

    And since people will rejoinder that Literature and Spanish create well-rounded students or educated citizens - that is to say, they instil certain cultural values which are currently favoured - to what extent is the current education system even intended to teach practical skills, as opposed to deliver cultural propaganda?

    Look for instance at the controversy over Muslim free schools. Those schools aren't controversial in the Middle East or Pakistan. They are clearly desired by the parents of the children involved. They were closed down because they would not deliver an approved type of cultural propaganda.
    I think literature would be missed, picking on spanish would be pretty weird but wouldn't be an insurmountable problem because other MFL's exist. getting rid of all MFL teaching would be to put the country at an economic disadvantage because not all our main trading partners speak english, Latin would only help trade with the vatican afaik.

    Learning other languages imo helps you understand and appreciate your own language - if that isn't on someone's list of targets, I'd argue that it should be.

    latin was formerly the language of elites in england, knowing latin was a positional good. it's function was to exclude the low born from influence & power. In order to remove the barrier, which was seen as antithetical to the sort of social democracy britain was becoming, they could have gone the other way and made it compulsory for everyone to learn latin I suppose, but we didn't. other languages haven't had that type of role in the last couple of hundred years.

    yeah, education is cultural propaganda as well as filling up little brains with facts, and has been since before government ministers started shoehorning their pet projects into the curriculum. I don't think that should be a surprise to anyone.
    The elementary education act of 1870 included a conscientious opt-out for compulsory schooling where education was being delivered by some other method - it appears that it was anticipated that some people might not readily accept the state's cultural propaganda.

    What's changed IMO is there's a greater number of people with unorthodox ideas about what the correct propaganda should be than there used to be... cranks - though probably there's an effect from these people being more willing to challenge authority than there was in the past - rather than homeschool or set up brick and mortar schools on their own dime, they want the state to run their cultural propaganda. (not just radical muslims btw, other sorts of crank exist)
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    (Original post by Ronove)
    Surely the whole point of studying literature at high school level is to develop analytical and writing skills. How can you possibly have missed that?

    (Original post by infairverona)
    Exactly this...and in a language that people still speak, for a start.
    As Observatory points out, I don't think studying literature is the most effective means of developing those skills in particular. In my opinion a subject like History, or perhaps Law (didn't do it personally so can't say for sure), is far better at getting students to parse complex passages and/or from disparate sources, and form a cogent written essay tailored towards delivering a certain argument.

    In fact, I think the way English is currently taught in schools - encouraging students to find, and often invent, inferences and depth which may not have been deliberate on the part of the author, and hyperanalyse texts down to their minutiae - rather kills the joy of reading for reading's sake. And I say that as a fairly avid reader.

    Perhaps the one skill it could be most effective at is reading and analysing a large text - but the way it's examined and teachers prep the subject in school, this skill isn't nourished much either.

    (Original post by Observatory)
    Some time ago it was common for children to be taught Latin. This is no longer the case. Most people don't think about why. Of course, Latin is a useless dead language; reading it is not a marketable skill, so teaching it is a waste of time.

    However when pushed many people will admit that much, possibly a majority of what is taught in secondary school is ultimately not marketable. Literature isn't, except for a small number who will become authors or academics; the same is true of Latin. For that matter, the vast majority of people will never become fluent in, let alone work in, a "live" foreign language. Much more time is wasted providing language instruction that will never be used than would be lost by the small minority who need it learning as adults.

    When pushed further, most will nonetheless defend Literature and Spanish instruction, usually with mystical justifications that appeal to higher values and the good life. But why is not a knowledge of Latin something with higher or intrinsic value? Why is knowing it not also a part of the good life?

    Another argument is sometimes made against Latin instruction is that it is associated with the pre-1945 conservative tradition, and teaching it to children may therefore promote the values of that tradition. The person making this argument of course believes that those values are bad. This is the only argument that seems to me at least logically consistent, but it is also morally weak. If we eliminate Latin instruction because its main purpose is to transmit cultural values, which some may not approve of, why not eliminate all subjects whose main purpose is to transmit cultural values, since not everyone approves of any value? And if the cultural values that ultimately shape society are transmitted by what is very close to a state monopoly mechanism, can we truly say that we live in a free democracy?
    I would distinguish Spanish from Literature on the basis that the former has much more practical benefit for those who take it. My French GCSE has been put to use much more than my Chemistry A Level despite my career/degree being roughly equidistant from both, or perhaps even closer to the latter.

    I don't really see a compelling skillset that Latin delivers uniquely or more effectively than other subjects; but I do agree with you if your point is to highlight the 'why literature' bit, that that does not deliver useful skills particularly effectively either - see my response above.

    I've never heard anyone object to Latin on the basis of cultural indoctrination. Are there really people out there who do so? I don't even see what 'values' it's supposed to be transmitting.
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    you need a lifee
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    Latin was a requirement for any University course until the late '60s/early '70s, so really quite recently
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    (Original post by Ripper-Roo)
    you need a lifee
    You're spending Sunday night on an online student commmunity after the academic year has ended for most students, telling someone they don't have a life?

    Kudos to the defenders of Latin in this thread. As a student who's studied it for 6 years, I can testify to all the benefits thus far listed. The arguments put forward by everyone (incl and esp Observatory) have been put into words far better than I could have.
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    (Original post by ClickItBack)
    As Observatory points out, I don't think studying literature is the most effective means of developing those skills in particular. In my opinion a subject like History, or perhaps Law (didn't do it personally so can't say for sure), is far better at getting students to parse complex passages and/or from disparate sources, and form a cogent written essay tailored towards delivering a certain argument.

    In fact, I think the way English is currently taught in schools - encouraging students to find, and often invent, inferences and depth which may not have been deliberate on the part of the author, and hyperanalyse texts down to their minutiae - rather kills the joy of reading for reading's sake. And I say that as a fairly avid reader.

    Perhaps the one skill it could be most effective at is reading and analysing a large text - but the way it's examined and teachers prep the subject in school, this skill isn't nourished much either.
    I studied Lit, Latin and History to GCSE level, I did Classics at A level, and then went on and studied Law at degree level. I have to say the only one I found useful at all was Lit. I agree that you do need to overanalyse text in Lit, but overanalysing is not necessarily a bad thing. It can push you to think outside the box. And why don't you think the exam/prep isn't good at teaching you to analyse and read a large text? When I did GCSE and A level English, you obviously read a long book (and not just the one) and analyse it, and compared it with others...I found it a perfect example of the skills you just described, personally. Re cogent written arguments, again I found Lit most useful because certainly at A level you would be putting forth an argument, in History I found it was more explain both sides in a very boring, structured way (intro, arguments for, arguments against, conclude) and the kind of essays I wrote at university were far closer to Lit essays than what I found History GCSE, or Classics A level essays (both very similar subjects) to be.
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    (Original post by infairverona)
    I studied Lit, Latin and History to GCSE level, I did Classics at A level, and then went on and studied Law at degree level. I have to say the only one I found useful at all was Lit. I agree that you do need to overanalyse text in Lit, but overanalysing is not necessarily a bad thing. It can push you to think outside the box. And why don't you think the exam/prep isn't good at teaching you to analyse and read a large text? When I did GCSE and A level English, you obviously read a long book (and not just the one) and analyse it, and compared it with others...I found it a perfect example of the skills you just described, personally. Re cogent written arguments, again I found Lit most useful because certainly at A level you would be putting forth an argument, in History I found it was more explain both sides in a very boring, structured way (intro, arguments for, arguments against, conclude) and the kind of essays I wrote at university were far closer to Lit essays than what I found History GCSE, or Classics A level essays (both very similar subjects) to be.
    Fair enough - I went off and did Maths for my degree, so you'll have a better understanding (even if only anecdotally so) of which subjects were more useful for an essay-based degree.

    It's hard to specify exactly why I think literature in schools was a bit wonky without looking at some actual exam questions. I think a question such as: "How does Dunmore present Carla’s relationship with the Head and with the teachers in My Polish Teacher’s Tie?" is a fantastic question. It's open ended and allows for individual analysis and points of view, but there are still many things the student could write down that are objectively wrong, or are poor and unsubstantiated interpretations. Moreover it really tests, for me, whether the student has properly internalised the characterisations in the book - which is more likely to come about from reading it as a book, and not as a piece of text to be overanalysed.

    By contrast, I find questions like "Compare the methods the poets use to create a strong sense of place in ‘Crossing the Loch’ (page 26) and in one other poem from Place" to be poor. The point of such questions is generally to point out differences in poem structure and composition, sometimes with the most wildly invented/inane stuff. I find little value in being able to say that poem A has some A-B-B-A structure but poem B has a A-B-A-B structure, because the fact that this is the case has very tenous relevance to the 'sense of place'. This also rather undercuts the 'cogent' part of forming a cogent argument.

    I guess in summary I'm not opposed to literature questions about the actual narrative, but I do oppose questions that make students 'compare and contrast' structure or composition. This is not to say that studying structure or composition isn't a valid thing to do, but it would be more valid to do so in a relevant context like the progression of Medieval English poetry over time, say, rather than two completely unrelated poems from potentially different eras.

    I also submit that as a STEM student I could be totally missing the point of these questions altogether - although I did do pretty well at them at school. Also my sister who did both English and History A Level would often say English was far easier because she could just invent her way through exams.
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    (Original post by ClickItBack)
    Fair enough - I went off and did Maths for my degree, so you'll have a better understanding (even if only anecdotally so) of which subjects were more useful for an essay-based degree.

    It's hard to specify exactly why I think literature in schools was a bit wonky without looking at some actual exam questions. I think a question such as: "How does Dunmore present Carla’s relationship with the Head and with the teachers in My Polish Teacher’s Tie?" is a fantastic question. It's open ended and allows for individual analysis and points of view, but there are still many things the student could write down that are objectively wrong, or are poor and unsubstantiated interpretations. Moreover it really tests, for me, whether the student has properly internalised the characterisations in the book - which is more likely to come about from reading it as a book, and not as a piece of text to be overanalysed.

    By contrast, I find questions like "Compare the methods the poets use to create a strong sense of place in ‘Crossing the Loch’ (page 26) and in one other poem from Place" to be poor. The point of such questions is generally to point out differences in poem structure and composition, sometimes with the most wildly invented/inane stuff. I find little value in being able to say that poem A has some A-B-B-A structure but poem B has a A-B-A-B structure, because the fact that this is the case has very tenous relevance to the 'sense of place'. This also rather undercuts the 'cogent' part of forming a cogent argument.

    I guess in summary I'm not opposed to literature questions about the actual narrative, but I do oppose questions that make students 'compare and contrast' structure or composition. This is not to say that studying structure or composition isn't a valid thing to do, but it would be more valid to do so in a relevant context like the progression of Medieval English poetry over time, say, rather than two completely unrelated poems from potentially different eras.

    I also submit that as a STEM student I could be totally missing the point of these questions altogether - although I did do pretty well at them at school. Also my sister who did both English and History A Level would often say English was far easier because she could just invent her way through exams.

    Of course, it's just my experience. I'm sure other people will have found other subjects better preparation even if they also studied law. I was ok at science and maths but definitely naturally better at humanities, plus I preferred them, so it made sense for me to go with those. I think with lit in particular it is hard to revise for and sometimes people who are very good at science/maths simply don't 'get' it. My best friend is probably the most intelligent person I know - A*A*AA at A level, with the two A*s being 100% in psychology and maths, and she is studying medicine. But she was abysmal at english lit. So for those people I reckon latin is probably much more useful because you can take from it, as you study it differently.

    Although for the methods question you used, I wouldn't say the structure point is a particularly relevant one, to be honest. As you say there's little merit in pointing out the structure and you certainly wouldn't get very good marks just for pointing that out aimlessly, not at A level anyway.
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    (Original post by infairverona)
    Of course, it's just my experience. I'm sure other people will have found other subjects better preparation even if they also studied law. I was ok at science and maths but definitely naturally better at humanities, plus I preferred them, so it made sense for me to go with those. I think with lit in particular it is hard to revise for and sometimes people who are very good at science/maths simply don't 'get' it. My best friend is probably the most intelligent person I know - A*A*AA at A level, with the two A*s being 100% in psychology and maths, and she is studying medicine. But she was abysmal at english lit. So for those people I reckon latin is probably much more useful because you can take from it, as you study it differently.

    Although for the methods question you used, I wouldn't say the structure point is a particularly relevant one, to be honest. As you say there's little merit in pointing out the structure and you certainly wouldn't get very good marks just for pointing that out aimlessly, not at A level anyway.
    Had a look at the mark scheme. It says: "Examiners are encouraged to reward any valid interpretations. Answers might, however, include some of the following:

    - Caesura and other structural techniques
    - The use and effects of sound patterning"

    I haven't read the poems, so perhaps these are valid points, but from what I remember you'd often get marks even if they really weren't. But as you say, perhaps this changes somewhat at A Level.
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    (Original post by ClickItBack)
    Had a look at the mark scheme. It says: "Examiners are encouraged to reward any valid interpretations. Answers might, however, include some of the following:

    - Caesura and other structural techniques
    - The use and effects of sound patterning"

    I haven't read the poems, so perhaps these are valid points, but from what I remember you'd often get marks even if they really weren't. But as you say, perhaps this changes somewhat at A Level.
    Yes but what I mean is, it has to be linked to the theme. If you pointed out the structure but it had nothing to do with a sense of place and you didn't link it to that, there is no 'valid interpretation' to reward. You're just pointing out the obvious. I don't know what the poems were but it's really not as simple as just pointing out obvious features of a poem, that's what a lot of people actually lose marks on. You would get some marks maybe, but not decent marks.
 
 
 
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