What are the goals of a Latin class?

The question goes to the material we offer students. Some in the fl teaching community question having 17 year olds delving into the sort of questions graduate students are expected to deal with when they do not understand the language well enough to read the literary material outright.
If you will indulge me…… this will be lengthy.
The current fl instruction practices come out of older traditions. We’ve all seen discussed the terrible rumors that children were introduced to Latin by living with monks who spoke Latin to them so that within a couple of years in such an institution the children were meeting daily needs in Latin. Even later, as these medieval institutions gave way to boarding and private schools, Latin was commenced at a very young age and students were possibly capable of reading high literature at the tender age of 15 or 16.
However, what is meant by the students’ understanding of literature? Just a week or so ago as school was ending, I was discussing with English teachers just how well juniors and seniors (16 and 17 years old) could grasp the deeper levels of authors like Faulkner. A good many just try to figure out what the teacher is looking for and give that. I remember studying the Lake Poets as a sophomore and being appalled that anyone would live like that. It destroyed any possibility of my reading, let alone understanding, their poetry. Guys sitting around in the fog wrapped up in blankets? In my neighborhood we beat up guys like that.
So first of all I question the maturity of students to reach the emotional and intellectual depths of the great masters. Yet there is plenty for them to learn reading some of the masters and other things as well. My school is a religious school and there is much Latin written about topics they are already familiar with and in language simpler than that of Ovid and such. Not to avoid high literature entirely, but feed it to them judiciously.
Now why? Just because they don’t have the maturity to grasp the nuances of great literature? Not entirely. The real problem for me is that our students often start Latin study with absolutely no background in language and we are expecting them to read difficult language with only what? 128 hours a year, 250 hours in 2 years and then on to Cicero in year 3? Or even year 4 with less than 400 hours?
The guidelines from the Foreign Service Institute made famous by Alice Omaggio’s book on proficiency states it takes 480 hours for a screened FSI member – a service that is difficult to get into – to reach Level 1 or 2 of a Difficulty Level II language (I’d say Latin is between Levels II & III). At Levels 1 & 2 you are not ready to tackle Great Literature in the target language.
So it seems we are back to the question I posed in the earlier post: what are our goals? While we may state that Latin is a language like any other, that’s only in terms of being able to learn it. Considering its status and the limited need to interact conversationally with others in the language, we can reallocate some of that time and energy. We use conversation to stimulate the putative Language Acquisition Device that seems to be activated by genuine communication, but we will always need lots of written language for input.
So what can we do to meet the needs of our students? In the long run, Will, your description of all the various methods and techniques you see being used serves to remind us that there are indeed a variety of goals. Who is it up to to decide which goals a particular class will aim toward? The teacher? The school? The nation? The principal? The students? Tradition? University requirements?
It’s tough and, lacking guidance, or at least guidance I was willing to accept 🙂 I rolled ahead with a goal of getting students to find themselves comprehending Latin without thinking about it. Few remained long enough to be able to read a story in that mode, but they did find themselves comprehending immediately, i.e. without the intercession of analysis and memory tricks, what I said to them. Just for them to experience that is such a blow to the smug American attitude that fl are gibberish and to the common teacher attitude that you have to be a genius to learn a fl.
Even with the superior students I have now in a prep school, I don’t think even 4 years is enough time to have them casually reading medieval fables so that they could profitably struggle through tougher literature. Therefore, while I use the CLC material, I routinely give even my fourth year students the Fabulae Ancillantes to keep reading for comprehension. That’s my compromise. All of us will have to make such compromises but is there a consensus on what those compromises should be? I doubt it. I love teaching my classes and don’t ever want to lose that feeling, so I hope no one forces me to teach in a strait jacket. I’ll retire before they carry me out.
Thanks for reading thus far (if you have).
I will post this to my blog for discussion from other regions of the cybersphere.

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