Reports of the demise of Latin as part of the high school curriculum in the United States were premature. It not only refuses to join the Roman Empire in oblivion, but has been making a strong comeback of late.
One reason, apparently, is that high school Latin has a new look. The discipline of "hic, haec, hoc" still prevails, but conjugations are packaged by innovative teachers in the glamour of Roman myths, games, and attire. Students like it.
More high school students are tackling the so-called "dead" language voluntarily than at any time since World War II, reports Gilbert Lawall, president of the American Classical League. And with good reason, he adds:
"Latin improves a person's command and understanding of the English language. This is evident in the inner city with black children. And Latin even helps Spanish- speaking kids understand their own language better."
The current Latin renaissance reverses a "catastrophic decline of 75 percent, " from 626,000 high school students in 1965 to 159,000 in 1976, says Mr. Lawall in an article, "The State of Latin Studies in the Schools," in the January-February 1980 issue of The Classical Outlook.
In the early 20th century 50.6 percent of all high-school graduates took Latin, compared with 22 percent enrolling in modern languages, says Sister Jeanette Plante, program director of the American Classical League and Latin teacher at Notre Dame College in Manchester, N.H.
Spanish, French, and German classes far surpass Latin in enrollment -- more than 10 to 1 each -- says Sister Jeanette. Students taking Latin, however, tend to average 100 points higher in verbal scores on college boards than others, she finds.
Students are trickling back to Latin classes because:
* A back-to-basics boom has caught the public fancy.
* A "new breed" of Latin teachers is utilizing innovative means of instruction, making a dull subject palatable to youthful minds.
* Students and teachers are recruiting with the vigor of coaches.