Here’s a quote from the seminal work in American linguistics, Leonard Bloomfield’s Linguistics, written in 1933:
“At a later stage in schooling we encounter the many-sided problem of fl teaching. For the sake of what is called cultural tradition or continuity, some part of the population ought to be familiar with ancient languages, esp with Latin and Greek. For the sake of contact with other nations, and, esp., to keep up with technologic and scientific progress, a fairly large body of persons must understand modern fl. The large part of the work of h.s. and colleges has been devoted to fl study, incl. an appalling waste of effort: not one pupil in a hundred learns to speak and understand, or even to read a fl. The mere disciplinary or “transfer” value of learning the arbitrary glossemes of a fl can be safely estimated at almost nil. The realization of all this has led to much dispute, particularly as to the methods of fl teaching. The various “methods” which have been elaborated differ greatly in the mere exposition, but far less in actual classroom practice. The result depends very little upon the theoretical basis of presentation, and very much upon the conditions for teaching and on the competence of the teacher; it is only necessary to avoid certain errors to which our tradition inclines.
A minority of the population stays in school long enough to reach the stage where fl instruction begins. In the old days, this minority was condemned en bloc to study Latin and Greek. The bitter struggle against the abandonment of this custom seems unwarranted, in view of the fact that the pupils learned to read neither of these languages. There remains the fairly widespread four years’ Latin course of our h.s.’ apart from other factors, its ineffectiveness is explained by the fact that scarcely any of the teachers have a reading knowledge of Latin. The modern fl are better taught, b/c some of the teachers know the subject; here too, however, the results are scarcely good enough to counter a movement for abolishing the instruction. Even as it is, very few persons, , even of our middle-class populations, have a useful command of any fl. Whether the number of such persons should be increased, and, if so, how the selection is to be made, is a large-scale educational problem. We are far from the point where this is determined by the pupil’s aptitude rather than by his parents’ economic means, combined with chance or whim. In particular, we could gain by having children of foreign background study the language they had heard at home.”
He goes on to compare ours to the European system and makes some recommendations, not all of which I think would work. He uses some phrases I like: (p. 505) “… the incompetent teacher who talks about the language instead of using it.” (p. 504) “… the snobberies and imbecilites which make a by-word of the American college.”