Latin Not Alive and Well in Gettysburg?

This item from the times includes the excuse I keep hearing — ‘no demand’ (a.k.a. “no expressed interest”) — and I always wonder how one can say there is no demand, if the product isn’t offered in the firs place? Anyhoo:

Today marks the Ides of March, when Adams County high schools once observed the assassination of Julius Caesar as part of their Latin classes.

But there won’t be any students dressed in togas today parading throughout their towns, to commemorate the death of Rome’s greatest general and statesman. Latin classes are no longer offered as part of the standard curriculum at most local schools.

“We offer — or would offer — Latin classes as an online course, if there was interest,” says Littlestown School District Superintendent Donald Wills. “There has just has not been an expressed interest to date.”

Similarly, the Fairfield School District does not offer Latin to its high school student body.

The Gettysburg Area School District offers four Latin courses as part of its regular curriculum, and two other classes as independent studies. Latin teacher Mal-Lee Gong-Johnston launched the Ides of March in the 2010 spring semester, as a mini-lesson and hopes to offer expanded programming in the future.

“Latin is a building block toward a complete education,” says Gong-Johnston, adding that classes cover literature, mythology, Latin grammar, English grammar culture, diversity, geography, and history.

“Latin builds English vocabulary, makes connections among English and the Romance languages, and provides a true liberal arts education,” says Gong-Johnston.

The program was offered at Biglerville High in the Upper Adams School District for nearly four decades, before the retirement of popular Latin instructor Dan Bushman in 2002. When Bushman retired after 46 years of teaching, the district educated existing Latin students, before discontinuing the program in 2005-06. Upper Adams Superintendent Eric Eshbach notes that Ides of March festivities were “carried through until then, but alas, just like Julius Caesar, they died.”

Former teachers point out that the English language was derived from Latin, and it is also the base of the world’s five common Romance languages: Romanian, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian.

“If you understand Latin, then you know the English language — that’s what I always tried to stress to the students over the years,” says Bushman, noting that medical terminology also has Latin roots.

Bushman started the Ides of March parade in the mid-1960s in Biglerville, when students wore white togas, yielded cardboard swords and carried a Caesar impersonator atop a stretcher, throughout school hallways and the streets of the borough. Band members joined the march, too, which often drew up to 60 participants. Bushman taught for 46 years, and the Latin program was offered to students in eighth through twelfth grades.

“When you’re in it for that long, you really develop a relationship with the students, and that’s something you never forget as a teacher,” says Bushman.

Charlotte, N.C. resident Erin Bushey Mistry took five years of Latin with Mr. Bushman at Biglerville High, where the first two years covered English, the third year covered Greek and medical terminology, and the fourth and fifth years focused on mythology and philosophy.

“Although Latin may not be a spoken language, it is everywhere in our society,” says Mistry, a senior Biotech-Pharma engineering consultant. Mistry says she could “not have been more impacted by an individual teacher” than she was by Mr. Bushman, noting that he was “demanding but supportive, caring and interested in us, excited about what he taught, an advocate and a charismatic adult.”

Bushman’s popularity with the student body was a main reason the program was discontinued three years after his retirement, according to Eshbach.

“We were not able to find a replacement for him,” Eshbach says regarding Bushman. “Obviously, he is irreplaceable.”

At Biglerville, Mistry points out that students “wanted to be in Bushman’s class,” because “he taught them about Latin, and how to be adults.”

“We were passionate and we also wanted to do well not only for ourselves, but we also did not want to let him down,” she says.

Mistry notes that Latin is commonly used in the legal and financial systems, with the Latin phrase “E Pluribus Unum” printed on most coins or bills.

Even though only one local school offers Latin as a regular course, most superintendents agree that if students expressed interest, it wouldn’t take long to revive the program.

“Over the years, we have had sporadic interest by students, and have offered the class when requested,” says Conewago Valley School District Superintendent Dan Trimmer.

As a member of the Roman Senate, Caesar was called to a special meeting March 15, 44 B.C., and attended, despite repeated warnings about threats on his life. Fearful that the former Roman General would eventually become a powerful all-ruling dictator, the Roman Senate turned on Caesar that day, stabbing him 23 times. Realizing that his friend Brutus was in on the assassination plot, Caesar uttered the famous words, “Et tu, Brute?”, translated “you too, Brutus?”

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