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Why the Standards Matter for College and University Educators

John Gruber-Miller

Cornell College

It is tempting to think that the revised Standards for Classical Language Learning are just for grades K-12.  Many college and university instructors feel the time crunch of covering “all the grammar” in just one year.  Many college textbooks tend to minimize the cultural content or else to offer it as random snippets that might add color and interest rather than present a coherent overview of the major aspects of Roman history and culture.  How can it be expected that college and university Latin instructors add the five goals of the Standards for Classical Language Learning to their already tight curriculum?  This paper asks these same instructors to view the Standards from a different vantage point:  How do we make the case that learning Latin and the Classics is still relevant in the 21st century?  I will argue that integrating the Standards into one’s teaching makes one a stronger teacher, that students learn Latin better, and that learning Latin (and Classics) is relevant to larger educational concerns about effective communication skills, intercultural competence, and flexible and nimble problem-solving skills.

So how do the Standards make one a stronger, more responsive teacher?  If we look at why students study Latin, they not only want to learn vocabulary for the SAT and translate well, they also want to learn about history and mythology, speak Latin, read without translation, read ancient literature, and seek a new way of looking at the world (Goodman, National Latin Survey).  By following the five Standards, teachers may attempt new activities, assignments, and assessments that go beyond the test and that introduce students to a wider range of material.  The “Can-do statements,” sample indicators, and learning scenarios provide a wealth of pedagogical ideas to consider for the classroom.

Second, why do the Standards help students learn Latin better?  Students whose classrooms are defined by the Standards learn the whole language—where language and culture impinge upon each other, shape one another, and create a dialogue about values and perspectives then and now.  When students explore the intersection of language (Standard 1) and culture (Standard 2)—for example, by studying word clusters such as libertas, pietas, or pudicitia, their nuances and contexts (Syson, “Close Readings in a Latin Dictionary”)—students understand Roman core values and how these differ from our own sense of these words (Comparisons: Standard 4).

Finally, how do the Standards make our work more relevant in the marketplace of ideas?  Inherently interdisciplinary, Classics can make a strong case for developing communication skills, critical analysis, intercultural literacy, and problem-solving skills, all emphasized by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and the AAC&U (College Learning for the New Global Century).  Standard 3 (Connections) emphasizes the importance of using the target language to explore other disciplines.  In reading Petronius or Martial, students can understand Roman lived space from multiple angles: the vocabulary of household rooms and items, commentary on social hierarchies, intertextual, parodic allusions, Roman funerary customs, etc.  By considering this shared space from multiple angles, students learn the importance of approaching problems from multiple disciplinary perspectives to understand and solve problems of interpretation, reconstruction, or reception.  In short, the Standards point to how Latin and Classics do the liberal arts better.

Session/Panel Title

The New Standards for Learning Classical Languages (organized by the Committee on Education)

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