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Classical Education

Vocabulary Building with Picta Dicta

Picta Dicta is an innovative and highly engaging tool for students to build their Latin vocabulary. This program could easily serve as an introduction for young students into the delightful world of Latin. The lessons would also prove a wonderful supplement to any Latin curricula, or even as a summer strengthening program for Latin students. The approach engages students in learning vocabulary through pictures and images rather than the usual vocab word list found in most textbooks. Instead of being shown two words such as vir, viri, m. – man. The students are shown a Latin word connected to a picture.  In some cases, as the students advance, a sentence is included for context.  This is a fabulous way to instill the true meaning of a word as connected to an image or an idea as opposed to another word. For students who are visual learners this can be a powerful tool.  However, the program does not leave it entirely to the student’s intuitive understanding to connect the word to the right idea.  The NOTES tab will still provide a traditional dictionary entry and other helpful information.  When offered the SENTENCES tab will use the word in a Latin sentence to provide context.

 

Picta Dicta not only builds vocabulary skills by connecting pictures (picta) to written words, but also to words spoken (dicta).  As the images appear on the screen a voice can be heard reading the word or even the sentences.  This is a great tool for the parents who feel anxious about modeling correct Latin pronunciation at home. With this program student and parent can learn together through modeling and repetition.

The more senses students use to learn something, the better they will retain it. Picta Dicta uses visual cues of both written words and pictoral images, the program uses audio cues for them to hear (students would do well to repeat the words they hear form more audio reinforcement), and it uses tactile elements as it requires students to respond to questions they have learned. After learning a specified set of words, the progam will then begin to sollicit responses in a number of ways – clicking on a correct image, fill in the blank (choosing from multiple words), or even typing in a word using the keyboard. A HINT button is always available to give the student a boost. When an error is made the program gently redirects the student to a correct answer and then makes note to quiz that concept again soon.

 

From a teacher perspective this looks like an ingenious idea.  However, I wanted to obtain a student perspective.  There are multiple levels for students in grades K-12. I was able to get a sneak peek at the lower two levels and share them with my own daughter who has just completed the 9th grade. She gave Picta Dicta an enthusiastic two thumbs up.  She looked through a program built around human anatomy.  Some of the words she already knew from her Latin classes, but several words were new to her. She really enjoyed the way the program engaged memory and review by asking questions from several different angles. She found the notes not only helpful, but very interesting as they often give additional insight into eytmology and derivatives. For example the notes tell students that umerus (meaning shoulder or upper arm) is also the funny bone – a “fun” play on the word humorous (humerus).  My daughter happens to be a gifted artist. As such, visual learning suits her very well.  Another feature that she really appreciated as a student is the built in accountability feature. Picta Dicta uses Cerego, a brilliant memory program. Parents can see how Cerego tracks the words that students have successfully learned, those that are weak, and those they labels as “fading” because it has been a while since the student reviewed them. As the program tracks a student’s progress, it will bring up words needed for review. Cerego will also send friendly email reminders to students that it is time to get back in the game in order to continue to build vocabulary skills.

Overall I think this is a truly brilliant program for building Latin vocabulary in a highly engaging and enjoyable manner for students of varying ages and ability levels.  I am often asked for ideas to keep Latin fresh over summer break or for tools to help build vocabulary in general, PICTA DICTA will be my new answer for such questions.

You can sign up for Picta Dicta at www.pictadicta.com.

For another great site for interactive games and visual learning visit the post on Headventureland.

The Classic Texan – April 21, 753 B.C. and A.D. 1836

All classicists know that today, April 21, is the anniversary of the founding of Rome. All Texans know that today, April 21, is the anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto. Do you know the story of the Classic Texan, the legendary figure of Sam Houston and the imprint of the Classics in his own life? His tale is truly that of a modern Odysseus or Aeneas beset with a torment that forces him from his home and sends him wandering through the wild west. Eventually, Providence would guide him to Texas where his destiny and that of the land he came to love became forever inextricably linked. Read the rest of this entry »

How My Road Led to Rome – A Latin Teacher’s Testimony

I am often asked why I became a Latin teacher. The story is not what one might expect. It is every bit a testimony of God's direction in my life. The Lord had a plan and a purpose for me. He made sure to lead me down a path that He clearly purposed for my life, my own Roman road of sorts. Read the rest of this entry »

Scripture Memory

My New Year's Resolution? This year it began in August. I am in the process of joining my daughter and her classmates in memorizing the book of Philippians. This exercise is part of a vision that began in 2010 when my 7th grade ancient humanities class first memorized the book of James. Since then our school, Grace Academy, has challenged our students to commit an entire book of the Bible (or extensive passage) to memory each year, hiding God's Word in their hearts. The Association of Classical Christian schools asked me to write an article for Classis, their quarterly journal, about the vision and implementation of our Scripture Memory program. I share it here with all of you. Read on to learn the historical precedent, the present implementation, and the fruit this work is bearing in the lives of our students. Read the rest of this entry »

Imitation in Writing through Latin

l believe the purpose of learning the Latin language is in order to study Latin literature. By studying Latin literature, I mean studying the Great Books. These are great pieces of literature of outstanding merit that have stood the test of time. Such works reflect the worldview of the culture and time in which they were written. Such works have often influenced not only the people of their own time, but the people of times that would follow. Such works should demonstrate some combination of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. By studying such works we better understand the flow of human thought over the course of history. We better understand our civilization when we know from whence it came. We better understand what is truly great literature. By studying Latin literature, I mean Read the rest of this entry »

Loki Loves Latin!

I have always wanted to create a course on the classical origins of comic book heroes.  So many of them have strong ties to classical mythology.  The Norse themes of the Thor series are among the most notable. So imagine my pure delight to learn that actor Tim Hiddleston, who played Loki in the recent Marvel movies for Thor and the Avengers, holds a Classics degree from Cambridge!  What better training could there be for such a role?!  In the following clip Hiddleston offers a wonderful answer to the question, “what do you do with a classics degree?”

Be prepared to take notes.  You will want to write these answers down!

“Latin . . . Why Study It At All?”

A colleague recently shared an article by William Harris, Prof. Em. Middlebury College, titled “Latin . . . Why Study It At All?” I found the article intriguing. Professor Harris expresses his discontent with the usual line-up of reasons for studying Latin. He then goes on to offer his own reasons for the study, strong reasons which I think must seriously be considered not only by those who question the study, but also by those who seek to support it. A link for the article is provided along with my thoughts on two of his arguments in particular.

“Latin . . . Why Study It At All?”
William Harris, Prof. Em. Middlebury College

While I think the author oversimplifies his objections to the “usual arguments” for Latin (there are still many benefits in the usual line up) the author has made several good points that should be considered. The argument that resonates most strongly with me is the lack of authentic reading most programs provide. I too am frustrated by programs that view Latin grammar as both the means and the end of a Latin program. It saddens me to see students learn a language and then stop just short of reading. How can one not see the value of reading Vergil in the original? Or for Christian schools Augustine or Aquinas? It seems that is like taking a music class, studying the notes, learning “Mary Had a Little Lamb” but never learning to play anything of Gershwin or Mozart. What is the point?  The language in and of itself should not be the goal of study, but the opportunity to read and enjoy the masters in their element.  Reading original texts is the beauty of the Latin Alive! program.  We are having the students read adapted and then authentic passages as soon as they are able. This is vastly different from Cambridge, Ecce, Orberg, etc.  All of our work in each chapter from vocab, to grammar lesson, even to simple sentences is meant to prep them to read a passage. And the passages offered are just marvelous: Cicero, Vergil, Pliny, Tertullian, Augustine, Aquinas, even Newton.  There is not another program that offers the variety of styles and genres found in the LA series, particularly the reader.

Another fantastic point highlighted in this article is the case for reading Latin out loud. In my own classes, I always have students read the Latin out loud before interpreting into English and find that to be very important. Even the finest Roman orations and works of poetry were meant to be heard, not read in silence. The goal is to begin to follow Latin as a Roman would, to hear and feel the language not just look at it as a mathematical equation.  It is also important for students to understand the Roman mind as revealed in Latin grammar.  In many ways, their way of thinking and speaking makes more sense than modern English.  We are looking at the way two different cultures express thought and that is fascinating.  It ought not to be excluded in the classroom.  Both of these points draw attention to studying Latin as the beautiful expression of a language for a culture and a way of thinking. Let’s entice students to continue in Latin by engaging them in the joys of the beauty of this literature and the language in which it is contained.

Latin Alive Reader: Latin Literature from Cicero to Newton!

LA Team: Steven, Chris, Karen, and Gaylan at the book release during the national conference for the Society for Classical Learning in Austin, TX.

We are very excited to announce the publication of the fourth and final installment of the Latin Alive series!  The Latin Reader is the fruition of the dream Gaylan and I shared for the series from its earliest beginning. It was our desire to create a series that would train students to read original Latin literature and then enjoy the fruits of such literature, not just from ancient Rome, but literature that reflects the great breadth and depth of Latin influence through the ages. This unique reader provides excerpts of Latin literature that includes the prose of Cicero, Caesar, and Bacon; the poetry of Vergil, Ovid, Queen Elizabeth and Milton; the theological treatises of Augustine, Luther, and Aquinas; and the scientific musings of Pliny and Newton.  And these are only a few of the authors represented!  So great is the content, that we are delighted to welcome Dr. Steven L. Jones as a third author for this special book.  You can read more about Steven on the “about the authors” page of this blog site.

 

As with previous LA books we include biographies of each Latin author so students can learn about the context of each piece: historical, social, and even political.  Footnotes abound which provide further insight to the language, idioms, and cultural references for each piece.  We have also provided a variety of reading comprehension questions (Latin and English) to allow teachers to explore the readings further with students.  For all intents and purposes, this book serves as the basis for a humanities class in Latin.  For my students, this is their favorite Latin class.

Another distinctive unique to this book is the inclusion of a thorough grammar review in the second section.  Teachers and students may use this to review aspects of Latin grammar that apply to the pieces of literature they are reading.  Numerous appendices with reference charts, pronunciation review, and lessons in both Medieval Latin and poetry make this book on Latin literature complete.  There truly is nothing like this in circulation to date.  We are overjoyed to share this treasury with all of you.

You can read more about the Latin Alive Reader on the CAP website, including sample chapters.  Here is a sneak peek at the wealth of literature contained within its pages.  Among these you will see many of the authors and titles often included among the literature lists of classical schools.  This is very intentional as it is our hope through this book to support and enhance the study of these pieces of literature.

  1. Pro Archaia, Cicero
  2. Cornelia Gracchi, Nepos
  3. De Bello Gallico, Caesar
  4. Tria Poemata, Catullus
  5. Aeneid, Vergil
  6. Quattuor Poemata, Horace
  7. Metamorphoses, Ovid
  8. Fabulae Breves, Phaedrus
  9. de Ira, Seneca
  10. Evangelium secundum Sanctum Lucum, St. Luke
  11. Evangelium sucundum Sanctum Mattheum, St. Matthew
  12. Naturalis Historia, Piny the Elder
  13. Institutio Oratio, Quintilian
  14. Alia Epigrammata, Martial
  15. Perigrinatio Egeriae, Egeria
  16. Confessiones Sancti Augustini, St. Augustine
  17. Confessiones Sancti Patricii, St. Patrick
  18. Institutiones Divinarum et Saecularium Litterarum, Cassiodorus
  19. Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, Bede
  20. Vita de Caroli Magni, Einhard
  21. Magna Charta, The 25 Barons
  22. Summa Theologica, St. Aquinas
  23. Epistola ad Ciceronem, Petrarch
  24. Epistola Latina Columbi, Columbus
  25. Disputatio pro Declaratione Virtutis Indulgentiarum, Luther
  26. Stultitiae Laus, Erasmus
  27. Adversus Lutheranos, Cajetan
  28. Carmen et Oratio, Queen Elizabeth
  29. Elegia Secunda, Milton
  30. Historia Regni Henrici Septimi Angliae, Bacon
  31. Principa Mathematica, Newton

In addition, we have provided two readings included on the AP Latin syllabus from Caesar and Vergil.

 

Why everyone should learn the ancient languages.


November 2014

The Latin vote

Later in this issue, the Yale classicist Donald Kagan writes about Sir James Headlam-Morley, the man who occupied the position of Historical Adviser to the British Foreign Office in the 1920s. Headlam-Morley was a fount of good advice about all manner of strategic issues, not least the threat of German militarism. Headlam-Morley’s deep acquaintance with the past allowed him to predict the future with a gimlet-eyed clarity that, unfortunately for the world, most of those charged with steering the ship of state in the post-World War I years lacked. Headlam-Morley, Professor Kagan observes, was “a man with the only proper training for an expert in almost any field of human endeavor, but especially for the conduct of foreign policy and diplomacy: I mean, of course, Classical Studies.”

We smiled when we read that, too. The “of course” was especially nice. A more charming example of disciplinary chauvinism would be hard to find. Except that it is more than disciplinary chauvinism. It is also the simple, pragmatic truth.

It is a truth whose practicality the industrialist and oil man Jean Paul Getty appreciated. Getty, widely reckoned to be the richest man in the world until his death in 1976, employed only classicists to run his worldwide business empire. He understood that mastery of (say) the passive periphrastic was a more important business qualification than an MBA. (Pecunia obtinenda est!) It wasn’t romance but competitiveness that underlay his decision. Asked why he insisted on employing classicists in key positions, he answered bluntly: “They sell more oil.”

We take the story about J. Paul Getty from the opening pages of Gwynne’s Latin, a new introductory Latin textbook by N. M. Gwynne, author of Gwynne’s Grammar, “The Ultimate Introduction to Grammar and the Writing of Good English,” which was a surprise bestseller in England last year and has been making some headway in America since its release here a couple of months ago.

When it comes to grammar, Mr. Gwynne, himself a retired businessman, is a prescriptivist. Not for him the split infinitive, the cringing accommodation to feminists (s/he, using “their” instead of “his” after a singular pronoun like “everyone,” etc.), or the semi-literate but ever popular “between him and I.” The fact that people speak and write that way does not mean that they should speak or write that way. Shakespeare split no infinitives, neither did the scribes who gave us the King James Bible. We should, Mr. Gwynne advises, follow their example. (Incidentally, let us forestall the excitement of impatient readers who clamor “What about Sonnet 142?” Shakespeare there writes “Thy pity may deserve to pitied be.” But that is not a true split infinitive, in which an adverb is interposed between “to” and the verb—“to boldly go”—but is rather an inversion undertaken to preserve the meter.) Gwynne’s Grammar, which we have only begun to read, seems full of good things. If it is half as good as Gwynne’s Latin, it will be a masterpiece—an atavistic masterpiece, perhaps, given the drift of our culture away from the virtues of orderliness, precision, logic, and precedent that Mr. Gwynne advocates, but a masterpiece nonetheless.

Mr. Gwynne is an evangelist for the classics, especially for his chosen métier, Latin. Why learn Latin? Mr. Gwynne lists nearly twenty reasons, many of which will be familiar to anyone who has ever sat through an introductory Latin class. Nearly half the words in English derive from Latin (when they have not come down to us intact); a mastery of Latin grammar helps us better understand English grammar; so much of the jargon of the law, of science and medicine, of our political and civic heritage, is instinct with Latin; Latin is the language of one of the three great world literatures (the others being classical Greek and English); etcetera.

But Mr. Gwynne goes far beyond such familiar recommendations. “What a well-designed course in Latin provides,” he writes, “is a training and development of the mind and character to a degree of excellence that no other mental or physical activity can come anywhere near to bringing about.” Don’t believe him? Hark:

Specifically, it trains these: the ability to concentrate and focus; the use of the memory; the capacity to analyse, deduce and problem-solve; the powers of attention to detail, of diligence and perseverance, of observation, of imagination, of judgement, of taste. In fact, it trains the mind and character to the utmost extent in everything human that is valuable. It does all this as no other academic subject (other than classical Greek), or other activity of any kind at all, can come remotely close to doing.

Latin,” he writes, “is, quite simply, the most utterly wonderful . . . thing.” The ellipsis is in the original. Like the pedestrian abstract noun it precedes, it is occasioned by contemplation of an abundance, not a paucity, of riches. Does it sound extravagant, all this praise for learning a dead language? Just wait.

Mr. Gwynne reminds us of a few pertinent facts. For the last thousand or more years, up until about fifteen minutes ago, i.e., up until the 1960s (O devilish, shadow-casting decade!), Latin and Greek were taught much as Mr. Gwynne advocates and, what’s more, until the 1850s they were virtually the only subjects that were taught in any of the leading schools in Britain. The reason for this exclusive concentration on the classics was not that our forebears were unaware of the importance of other subjects: English, say, or mathematics, or history or geography or other foreign languages. No, schools and universities slighted other subjects because, in comparison with Latin and Greek, they were easy. “Picking them up,” Mr. Gwynne writes, “was something that could more appropriately be done during the school holidays and in other spare time.”

Possibly, but the classics aren’t practical,” you say. Really? Ponder this: the heyday of classical learning in Britain, from the seventeenth through the mid-nineteenth centuries, was also the heyday of British intellectual, political, and economic supremacy. During this period, Mr. Gwynne points out,

Britain shone in every single human endeavour, academic and practical, to such an extent that, “single-handed,” Britain was responsible for the Industrial Revolution and most of the scientific inventions of that period that changed the world, and, for better or for worse, actually ruled about a quarter of the world—and, what is more, all this while producing one of the greatest literatures of every kind of all time.

What do you think, merely post hoc? Or was there an element of propter, of causation, about the contingency that brought a mastery of Latin together with worldly success?

It seems that, since retiring from business, Mr. Gwynne has devoted himself to proclaiming the gospel of the Latin language. Together with his teaching partner (who is also his daughter) he visits schools and even—via the Internet—homes to exhort, inspire, illuminate, and instruct. His method is based firmly on the tried and true example of Dr. Benjamin Hall Kennedy, D.D., whose first Latin primer appeared in 1871 and whose Shorter Latin Primer was known to generations of schoolboys as “Kennedy’s Shortbread Eating Primer” (you needed to be a dab hand with a pen nib to effect the transformation). “The difference in effectiveness between the traditional methods and those used by even the best schoolteachers of today is so astonishing, consistently so,” Mr. Gwynne claims, that the results speak for themselves.

So what can a neophyte who gets outside the material of Gwynne’s Latin hope to learn? One answer is “about as much Latin as a reasonably intelligent eleven- or twelve-year-old would have known in the days when I was at school” (ca. 1950). If that seems like small beer, he quickly adds. “Another answer is: many times more Latin than will be known, in almost all cases, by highly intelligent scholars of today who have passed all their Latin exams and are studying Classics at any of the top universities in Britain.”

For those of you tempted to respond as did the travel writer Alexander Kinglake, who wished to inscribe the legend “Interesting, if true” upon the lintels of churches throughout Britain, we suggest suspending judgment until you conjure with the book and Mr. Gwynne’s methods. You can start doing this today. There is a popular misconception that classicists tend to be enemies of innovation. Mr. Gwynne’s commitment to the traditional method of teaching Latin (the one, he points out, that generations of students have shown actually works) may at first reinforce that misconception. But Mr. Gwynne is not against innovation. He is only against innovation that experience has shown is unproductive where it is not downright destructive. Which is where the 1960s and its legacy of ruin come in. But one need merely look at the Gwynnes’ website gwynneteaching.com to appreciate their readiness to employ new technologies, when appropriate. The online videos show just how infectious, and how effective, the Gwynnes’ pedagogy can be.

It was and probably still is common among classics students to look askance at the Loeb Classical Library, that huge (521-volume) library of the Greek and Roman classics brought to the world by the wealthy Harvard alumnus James Loeb. Since its inception 102 years ago, the pocket-sized Loebs, with their distinctive green (for Greek) and red (for Latin) jackets, have been a familiar fixture in school and university libraries. But because they feature an English translation en face with the original, many students regarded them as slightly infra dig. (which is not to say that most of them did not gratefully avail themselves of the trots when need arose, which, typically, was often). In years gone by, the translations one found in the Loebs were hit or miss. The more glandular passages of Horace, Martial, and many other authors were typically rendered in Italian or (if the author was writing in Greek) in Latin. Translations of other writers were comically out of date. Augustine’s Confessions, for example, was rendered by the English translation of William Watts, 1631.

But for the last couple of decades, the Loeb Library has been undergoing a renaissance. There are new or revised translations of many authors, and, a month or two back, the entire library was brought online at loebclassics.com. There are other searchable classics databases, the Perseus project through Tufts University, for example, or The Packard Humanities Institute’s library of Latin authors, which contains nearly the whole of Latin writing down to 200 A.D. Yet there is still something glorious about having all 500-plus Loebs online. Free trial access is available and an annual subscription for individuals is $195 for the first year, $65 for subsequent years. It’s an extraordinary resource, one which we like to think the exacting Mr. Gwynne would be pleased to welcome to the world.

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 33 November 2014, on page 1

Copyright © 2014 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.com
http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/The-Latin-vote-7987

Latin’s Effective History

We have been blessed to welcome a number of historical contributors to the Latin Alive series.  These contributors come from several universities across the United States, each one sharing something from his own expertise and love of ancient history.  These vignettes appear in the unit reading chapters along side a piece of Latin literature.  Below is a small sample taken from the introduction to Latin Alive Book 4, generously provided by Dr. Nodes of Baylor University.  Latin Alive Book 4 features a wide variety of readings from the time of Cicero to Newton’s Principia.  Dr. Nodes writes about the incredible influence Latin Literature had on generations far beyond the fall of Rome.

The post-classical or ‘medieval’ Latin language in use from A.D. 400 to 1400 is still Latin, and it conforms in broad terms to the same principles of use as the Latin of Cicero and Vergil.  What’s different is the freer use of the language in terms of the grammar, vocabulary, and regional variations, and the subject matter expressed.  It was common for writers of every part of that long period to speak disparagingly of the classical authors at one time, and yet use their works and even praise them at another time.  The monk and scholar, Alcuin of York, for example, is said to have kept an elder monk company as they kept vigil one night.  At dawn, when the bells sounded morning prayers, the old monk continued to sleep, and immediately he was set upon by demons, who beat him terribly.  The boy Alcuin later prayed, “Lord Jesus, enable me to keep the vigils, and if I will love Vergil more than the Psalms, let me be beaten too!”

But Alcuin was nothing less than a monument of classical learning.  He is said to have died still reciting Vergil!  How can this be?  Scholars have tried to show that the two behaviors are not incompatible, if one remembers that the medievals held classical learning as a means to the goal of spiritual wisdom, and not the goal itself. They wisely could not fail to recognize the greatness of their classical Latin predecessors as an aid to gaining clarity and depth of thought and expression, and a good measure of wisdom.

– from “Latin’s Effective History” by Daniel Nodes (Latin Alive, Book 4)

To learn more about Dr. Nodes and all those who contributed such articles to the Latin Alive series, please see the page titled “contributing historians.”