Response to questions from the UK


The following is in answer to a question from a UK Latin teacher about who gets into Latin.
Perhaps I exaggerate the differences between the UK and the US but let me offer you a story that, while it has nothing to do with language, gives some insight into my suspicions summed in the old saw: Britain and the United States are two countries separated by a common language:
A grad student in social work from the U. of Kent in Surrey or the U. of Surrey in Kent (I can never remember which it is) was posted to the mental health center I was working in in Phoenix, AZ. A university supervisor visited her from England, a man named Nick, and Sue invited me to join them for lunch. Nick and I chatted and ……… oh, BTW, this was about 1977 or so…. and the issue of social class came up b/c the center Sue and I were working in was what we call a poverty-area. I mentioned that moving up from one social class to another was possibly easier here than in England and Nick said not really, since WW II all that had changed.
I painted the picture of a worker at an assembly line on the factory floor who took night classes in management and who, upon graduation, was hired onto the management team of the same factory. Nick’s eyes widened a bit and he said, “Oh no, that would never happen in England.” Sue vouched for the factuality of it for the U.S.
I tell that story simply to make us both sensitive to what “screening”, “top 5%”, “ability range”, etc. The main difference between the public school I worked in before and the private school I work in currently is discipline. Students are much more likely to try to work, try to do homework, try to pay attention, and try to be polite, than in a public school.
Other than that, I don’t see a huge difference between the two populations. Obviously, we don’t have poor kids attending our school in large numbers, although we do have some on scholarship. I do notice that of the large number of Hispanics in my current school, few speak Spanish whereas in my former school, most did and quite a few did not speak English.
The disciplinary infractions at my current school are having your shirt not tucked in and chewing gum whereas at my former school weapons and drug violations were common. IOW, there was a much greater range of behaviors, family traditions re education, expectations, and so on.
Having said all that, it is clear that in my current school, most of the students range in the upper levels of ability. In my old school, that was true initially until counselors discovered I could work with kids and so I started getting a much broader range of students. In only the 3rd year at this school, I find that already happening; in my new first year there are 3 or 4 students out of 30 whose presence I question.
My educational goals tend to be broad and students can reach them with a modicum of effort. I want them, first and foremost, to be able to pick up a piece of simple, easy, Latin writing and read it for comprehension, something like the equivalent of being able to read a letter to the editor in the local newspaper (not the New York Times). I eschew translation and most grammar. I teach some grammar but not for the purpose of understanding Latin. IOW, I teach Latin the way I teach other fl (I taught Spanish and Russian as well as Latin in my old school).
The expectations voiced by prep schools like mine and the reality are different, IMHO. They stress rigor, discipline, a huge work load, etc., but in listening to the students, a very different picture emerges: one of the bright, motivated students learning the ropes and being able to pound out the tons of work allotted while students who struggle just struggle. That angers me b/c I think all students need to enjoy learning and can do so if taught rather than having “information systems delivered” to them. My teaching is very personal and, I believe, for that reason I uncover “abilities” in students who otherwise would not display them.
How do you find the student’s ability range in the UK? Is there some sort of national system or some sort of testing? And how would you teach Latin composition unless students were already somewhat comfortable reading and understanding spoken Latin, i.e. doesn’t writing come out of fluent reading and comprehension of the spoken language?
The answer to your screening question is that my school just wants students who have good discipline records and a track record of doing reasonably well in academics. Recruiting for athletic ability plays a role, too.
I hope I haven’t bored you to death and that I’ve answered as many questions as I’ve opened up.

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