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How Latin studies cultivate the intellect and prepare for real life

Here is R.M. Wenley in an essay entitled, The Nature of Culture Studies, published in Latin and Greek in American Education, which we consider one of the five most important books on education written in the 20th century:

Ability to write decent Latin prose, with dictionary at elbow, simply cannot be acquired without at the same time inducing the kind of mental organization which at length enables a man to go anywhere and do anything, as a great general phrased it. My brilliant colleague, Mr. Shorey, of Chicago, lays his finger on the point when he says: “I am cynically skeptical about students who cannot understand elementary Latin syntax, but distinguish themselves in mathematics, exact science, or political economy. The student who is really baffled by the elementary logical analysis of language may be a keen observer, a deft mathematician, an artistic genius–he will never be an analytic thinker.”

And I draw the proof from my own experience. the most effective masters of the “postive” sciences known to me personally are invariably the men who have first acquired the mental organization which the culture studies confer; of this fact they are quite aware themselves. A creed was impressed upon them in these early years; not simply work, and still work, but work in a certain fashion. they gained connective processes; thereafter the rest is, not only easier, but immensely more efficient.

This essay was written in 1911, back when the classics were at war with the progressives and the progressive pragmatists had not yet so thoroughly routed the classics that even classical schools now teach as little Latin as possible and debate whether to include Greek. Here we are witnessing the beginning of that process known as the dumbing down of our children (which now, of course, means ourselves since we also were dumbed down).

For me, the biggest frustration in reflecting on these words is the realization that my own faculties are far from adequately cultivated. I have renewed my commitment to read some Latin every day, if only five minutes worth. Maybe I’ll never really learn it. Or maybe nibbling will lead to opportunities.

I would be interested in another research project too: what is the effect of Latin and Greek studies on the aging mind? Does it slow down dementia, memory loss, alzheimer’s, etc.? Seems like a worthwhile study, though more involved, no doubt, than studies on crossword puzzles and eating sardines.

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