This Fall I am teaching Latin 101 for the first time in longer than I care to remember. Five years? Six? One tends to lose count as the years roll by. The salient point is that the last time I taught Latin 101 digital technology, and especially social media, had colonized much less of the individual and collective mind than it has in 2015. We are now– students and faculty alike– far more used to the instant gratification of googling instead of research, of apps in place of memorization, and of games in place of work.
I don’t mean to sound grumpy. I find Om-nom and Facebook as seductive as the next person. But I have observed and felt the diminishing exercise of our brains and had wondered how that would translate into teaching Introductory Latin in the new information era.
What I have found is perhaps surprising, although fundamentally I don’t think so: I have found a thirst in my students for “old school” learning. For memorization (of forms). For cross-referencing of information (person and number of verbs with case and number of nouns). For interpretation of grammar and content alike.
I may, of course, be deluding myself, but I hope that it helps that I tackled this potential problem head on. I informed my students from the first day of class that learning Latin would probably a new and different experience for them, even those who had taken some Latin in high school. I told them that there are no short-cuts, but that this material provides an opportunity for their brains to do what they were truly designed to do: learn, connect, interpret, and grow. I told them– repeatedly, no doubt– that this is a rare gift in a climate of fast-paced information overload. Slowing down intellectually, focusing intently on strange words, terms, morphology, and puzzle-solving can be an oasis in what sometimes seems a mental desert of junk knowledge.
They have risen to this challenge and exceeded my both my expectations and my hopes. I don’t know that I have ever been so proud of a group of students. I have certainly never been more sure that our brains, in this time of frenetic but often superficial mental activity, continue to need Latin, now more than ever.