Learning Latin leads to success

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April 3, 2014 | 6:23 pm

By John Gruber-Miller

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I found it interesting that the Dec. 8 Gazette placed two contrasting articles side by side on the first page.

The first, “Et Tu, Kid,” interviewed enthusiastic Latin students at Xavier High School who extolled the benefits of studying Latin. The second, reporting international test scores in reading, math, and science, found that U.S. students are in the middle of global pack.

Justin Kramer’s Latin students may have some answers for U.S. education leaders who are looking to improve U.S. test scores. Studying Latin vocabulary brings students in contact with word roots, prefixes and suffixes that constitute 60 percent of all English words and 90 percent of those over two syllables long. Students acquire the building blocks of English and are better able to understand how to create well-constructed sentences and paragraphs.

It is no surprise that Latin students consistently outperform all other students on the verbal portion of the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT).

In addition, Latin helps students with math, reading, social studies and other basic skills. Sixth grade students in Indianapolis who studied Latin for 30 minutes each day for five months advanced nine months in their math problem-solving abilities, one year in reading, eight months in world knowledge, four months in spelling and five months in science.

Learning Latin gives students a firsthand look at the literature, mythology, history and philosophy that shaped writers and leaders from Shakespeare to Jefferson to J.K. Rowling (a classics major in college). And acquaintance with the multiethnic and multicultural world of the Roman empire promotes tolerance and understanding of other cultures and links us with the cultures of 57 different nations.

Latin enrollments around the nation are growing because students and parents realize that Latin offers an educational advantage. Latin is in demand at many colleges and universities throughout Iowa: the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, Coe College, Cornell College, Grinnell College, Loras College and Luther College.

At my institution, for example, it is not unusual to have more than 40 students in Beginning Latin every year. And at the secondary level, more than 140,000 students take the National Latin Exam each year.

Studying Latin is certainly not the only answer to improving performance, but it is one way to help our students become more proficient in vocabulary, reading, basic skills, and understanding other cultures.

John Gruber-Miller, professor of Classical Studies at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, is secretary-treasurer of the Classical Association of Iowa. Comments: JGruber-Miller@cornellcollege.edu

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