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Op-Ed: The stimulus for Literacy and College Admission – Latin

"These standardized tests, which include reading comprehension and higher math skills, are major predictors of academic aptitude and success."

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By Gloria C. Endres

South Philly Resident 

By now everyone has learned the shocking story of how over 50 people, including millionaire celebrities, were arrested for various cheating schemes to gain entrance for their children into elite colleges. While it is no secret that the very rich often use wealth to influence the educational outcomes of offspring who otherwise might struggle, this most recent scandal has surpassed all limits. In some cases, paid individuals actually altered test answers on the SAT or ACT exams to raise scores.

These standardized tests, which include reading comprehension and higher math skills, are major predictors of academic aptitude and success. Preparation for these exams, including a strong vocabulary, is nurtured by stable learning environments throughout the grades.  Many factors contribute to the student’s readiness for post-secondary education, including, well-trained teachers, functional libraries, class size and a level playing field. It would not hurt high school graduation rates, either.

Building a collegiate vocabulary worthy of the SAT or the ACT tests can be enhanced in many ways. Reading classical literature is one way. Studying lists of words perhaps is another. Words that might appear on the test could include, for example: dormant, tenuous, adamant, debility, obstreperous, odious, rigor, alacrity, ignominious, intrepid and lurid. Oh, there is one thing those words all have in common. They are all derived from classical Latin.

I believe we can bet the house that most of the sons and daughters of those millionaires, who needed to cheat on their SATs in order to pass, never had a Latin lesson.  It is harder and harder to find Latin courses even in elite schools. I studied four years of Latin at St. Maria Goretti High School in the ‘50s, but it is not offered in the merged high school.

There is one Philadelphia charter school, Boys Latin, that does offer this classical language,  but you have to be a boy to be admitted. Before the state took over the school district, there was an attempt to introduce middle school students throughout the city to Latin. I was teaching at the John H. Taggart School then and welcomed itinerant Latin teachers into my classroom. Because of my own background, I was able to supplement the course with numerous activities.  I even spent some time writing Latin curriculum for the middle grades. The children responded well and worked on enlarging their vocabularies. My fondest memory was introducing Latin to a second-grade class and having them act out a play entirely in Latin called Vita in Roma Antiqua (Life in Ancient Rome).

For those who have studied Spanish, Italian or French in school, at least you have been exposed to a language derived from Latin. While English is not a full romance language, it contains 60 percent Latin roots. I was told by one of my high school teachers that Latin trains the brain. If you can grasp Latin grammar, you can improve your own grasp of English grammar and usage.

Here is an example of what we would sound like without Latin roots. It is a section I copied from a newspaper clipping: “A major transformation is occurring in the most prosperous of American cities…In Philadelphia, gentrification has generated contention and controversy.”  Here is what those sentences would sound like without Latin derivatives. “A GRUNT GRUNT is GRUNT in the most GRUNT GRUNT cities…In Philadelphia, GRUNT GRUNT has GRUNT GRUNT and GRUNT.”

So if you want to gain admission to a great university and graduate magna cum laude, try to find a Latin tutor. Better yet, let’s return the study of Latin to our schools.

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