Monday, January 15, 2007

Notes on Teaching Latin with 'Courses'

More than half a century ago Jacques Barzun wrote, in Teacher in America, something I feel strongly about everyday when I go to work and struggle to teach with the Cambridge Latin Course:

We have all had in our hands these little works, which start off "Wie geht's heute mit dir, teurer Hans?" and go on with chitchat, anecdotes, and pictures of Salzburg. This is chumminess misplaced. Let the teacher say "how do you do" and let the book remain what a book should be -- a systematic exposition of the subject, in which the student can find what he is looking for. Nothing is more exasperating than to have to wonder whether the subjunctive was given together with a description of Bremerhaven or later, with the sad story of Struwwelpeter. Besides, no student is better off for having all the verbs given in bits, half a tense at a time.
Instead of Bremerhaven we have the remains of Pompeii. We're not lucky enough to have Shock-headed Peter, but the ghost of a gladiator makes a brief appearance. The subjunctive will wait for the second or third year, along with probably the ablative and many other useful things. Instead of chitchat we have an unending stream of Latin in the vein of 'See Spot run': servus anulum conspectat. servus anulum capit. servus abit. *yawn*

The 'course' is useful if you have little more Latin than the book will teach you, and even less history and culture.

The problem with courses is that they're proscribed -- teach the genitive if you wish, but the kids won't see one for another year. Every time you step off the course you're bound to wonder whether you should ever step on again.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've just found your website (26/5/08) and am just happy to find someone out there who doesn't think the CLC the best thing since ... what? I take it you're in the USA: in England there is virtually NO alternative any more. Of course, it sounds as if you don't like any course book - as who does. Sooner or later the annoyance turns to rage - although I still hold a large candle for the Oxford Latin Course, even in its new dumbed down version. But It's even worse for Greek: Wilding will still do for the highly motivated, Athenaze for the very young or those who haven't already gone through the Oxford Latin but there's nothing in between.

Dennis said...

Anonymous,

On the Latin side we have switched to ├śrberg's Lingua Latina, which allows us to teach grammar, history, and culture in our way while providing plenty of text to work with.

In preparation for next year, I'm requiring returning students to purchase a book from REA sold under the title Latin Super Review. This is really a $9 reprint of Benjamin D'Ooge's Elements of Latin, the sort of traditional textbook that will serve them very well as a reference and serve them for years if they have any interest in staying on top of their Latin.

On the Greek side there's now the new edition of C.A.E. Luschnig's An Introduction to Ancient Greek: A Literary Approach (Hackett 2007). I actually worked on this, painstakingly entering and formatting the text of the original in Unicode for the first draft.

I didn't agree with everything, such as the misplaced feminism that occasionally inserted women into contexts in which you never find them in Greek literature. And I made several changes where they seemed necessary on linguistic grounds. I don't know how many of my changes survived the editing process, but even without them it's a much more traditional and rigorous book and is the textbook of choice at Bryn Mawr.