High School Latin -- and the Gettysburg battlefield
As I hinted in my last post, I have been in Philadelphia - giving a couple of lectures at Dickinson College in Carlisle PA.
It was a great occasion, at a wonderful Liberal Arts College founded in the eighteenth century, with an audience comprising academics of all shapes, sizes and disciplines, plus ex students from Dickinson, plus interested people from the local community.
But what was most striking was the glimpse of the state of Latin teaching in US high schools, on the East Coast at least. I had always been fed the line that Latin was effectively dead in US schools (or the non-fee-paying ones anyway). And, even though I had met a good number of high school-teachers from Virginia who had thriving Latin classes, I had assumed that Virginia (and its links to the founding fathers) was a special case.
I wasn't entirely right. One of the great things about the lecture at Dickinson was that so many "alums" turned up -- and a good number of them were teaching at Philadelphia schools. The basic position seemed to me that public (ie state) schools in "Philly" would normally offer four languages: Latin, Spanish, French and German. A bright student would take two, possibly -- but rarely -- three.
Exactly how far they got in high school wasn't clear (and there did seem to be some odd idea that you didn't study two languages simultaneously, but normally one after the other). All the same it seems a far cry from the limited range offered in UK schools.
The other surprise was going to Gettysburg.
The site of the battle lay between Carlisle and Washington Dulles airport, so I could go there on my way back home.
First reaction: it was an incredibly beautiful bit of rural landscape. Second reaction: it had been recreated and resignified as a 'site of memory" since the late nineteenth century (not so long after the battle between Confederate and Unionists). It was just littered with regimental statues and memorials. It had obviously been made a tourist centre for decades, unlike any English battleground I have ever been to. (The closest I have seen is the symbol of crossed swords marking the site of the battle of Edgehill, not all that far from where I live.) And that's not to mention the 'address', and the story of reconciliation.
So what exactly was this memorialisation all about? Who still cares for the American Civil War?