Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Fall of the Roman Empire

Coincidentally, I finished The Secret History the same day as my brother sent me a link to a newspaper article detailing the dissolution of the Latin program at the high school I graduated from.

The Secret History
, you see, is about a classics program at an isolated liberal arts school in Vermont. The professor who leads the program demands that students devote their full class schedules to Greek, and this insularity eventually drives the six students involved to commit murder. The book ends with, among other things, the classics program ending forever.

I took Latin at both high schools I went two. The first was a Catholic school, so the presence of Latin isn't that noteworthy — though, perhaps, it's more so than one might think, as Vatican II has reduced the need for an education in dead languages. But when I transferred, I got to continue with Latin because San Benito High School has the rare virtue of being a public school with a Latin program. (Rare for it being a public school but also rare for it being San Benito High School, which most graduated regard as being lacking in virtues.) During my day, it also had Japanese and American Sign Language, and today I wonder if those have gone by the wayside as well.

Latin worked in my favor, for the purposes of being a reader and a writer and a taker of the SATs. ("Word attack! Break apart the root from the suffix! Use the Latin! The Latin!") Most of all, the Latin rocked because it ingratiated me to Mrs. Gaylord, the woman who taught both Latin and English AP. She liked me a lot, unless I'm mistaken. She even wrote me a letter at the end of senior year in which she compared me to Athena, who skipped past childhood and sprouted fully formed out of Zeus' skull.

This Latin program gave me a lot — for example, the ability to read and quasi-comprehend Spanish, French and Italian without ever having been able to speak them. I also had the awesome experience of sitting through the advanced Latin course senior year. Mrs. Gaylord had to cram both the intro and advanced coursed into one classroom. The newbies were all freshman — think hyperactive puppies with their tongues hanging out and drool coming out all over — and therefore the advanced kids had this cool little autonomous sliver in the corner where we did our own thing. I think of it like Monaco — a tiny and off the to side of France and seemingly less powerful in terms of sheer size but so much fucking cooler. We did a lot of Latin, but kind of hit a brick wall when it came to the subjunctive in the spring and then resorted to making fun of each other all day. And that was fun.

But they're shutting Mrs. Gaylord down, as the article states. Please disregard that the piece is headlined "Staying alive" for reasons I'll never understand. Also please disregard that this news story actually begins with the lines "OK, so..." in the way you'd begin a recollection of some memorable drunken night to your friends. ("OK, so I was taking shots out of this girl's navel and I get my tongue stud caught on her belly button piercing.") Just take this and the general lousiness of the news writing as in indicator of the town I come from. I nearly feel like Hollister doesn't deserve Latin. Or words. Or oxygen.

Okay, so I'm like way sad about that and junk, but the small nugget of good that I'm able to mine from this cavern of sorrow — ahem — is that reading the interview with Mrs. Gaylord is like speaking with her again. This woman has a special presence and I realize now that I've missed it for the past few years. Just reading her quotes, with her "lamb" this and "classics" that, is nearly enough to make me forget how pissed I am that they're taking something valuable away from future generations of students.

The least the school could offer them is one chance and a drunken, drug-induced Bacchanal where they can get loaded and tear apart some hapless wandering farmhand. The kids in The Secret History got at least that and they turned out okay.

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