Saturday, June 28, 2014

Latin is the Weight-Room of the Mind

Most American schools are hopelessly focused on career training.  They are mired in the pragmatic, job applications of each and every subject in the school.  In this context, each subject must justify itself in the context of future job skills.  Why do I need to learn history?  geography?  calculus?  Latin?  When will I use these skills in my job as a nurse?  mechanic?  waitress?  firefighter?

We could fight this battle on the ground of humanity.  That is, human beings are more than money-making machines in school to prepare for future work.  However, it would be far simpler to fight this battle on the ground of brain science.  That is, one of the purposes of school is to help students grow synapses in their brains that will allow for creative, adaptive, problem-solving capacities after school.  For example, all careers require some form of communication.  Communication depends upon a common knowledge base (for example, common understanding of historical, literary, and geographical references) and vocabulary.  Complex communication depends upon academic, college-level vocabulary (Latin and Greek terminology) and reasoning skills.  Therefore, the highest paying jobs, those requiring complex reasoning skills and strong linguistic ability, are the very ones which would benefit most from subjects like Calculus and Latin.

Latin helps us build pliable, flexible, adaptable brains.  Latin is the weight-room of the mind.  Few athletes actually compete in weight lifting, but most use weight lifting to prepare for their own event.  It is just so with Latin.  Few students use Latin as an end in itself, but most use their newly developed mental strength, without always attributing it to Latin, to solve other problems or interpret other difficult texts.

Just as higher math develops numeric logic, Latin builds linguistic logic.  Latin does far more than prepare students for high-paying jobs, but we should not ignore this practical modern application of an ancient language.