This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
To the editors:
Ever since the takeover of Philadelphia public schools by the state, there has been a shrinking of the curriculum. Studies that were once considered essential for a balanced education, including the arts and foreign languages in the elementary schools, have gradually disappeared. Today the curriculum is limited, standardized and test-driven.
Only a few years ago, the School District won awards for a literacy program that incorporated Latin instruction in the elementary grades. Studies showed that children’s language skills improved with exposure to the classical roots of English. But Latin was thrown out as soon as the School Reform Commission took over the schools.
Something is happening that could reverse that. The SRC just approved the installation of a charter high school for boys modeled after Boston Latin, where Latin will be required for four years.
As a retired teacher and Temple student teacher supervisor, I have been trying to keep Latin instruction alive in the schools through a pro bono class at the Dunbar School. On June 24th, four days after school was dismissed, four of my Latin students agreed to participate in a demonstration lesson at the American Classical League Institute taking place at Penn. They received a 90-minute lesson from Latin scholar Barbara Bell of the UK. It was a historic occasion.
It is gratifying to know that the SRC wants to experiment again with instructing high school boys in the classics. My suggestion to them is to restore Latin to the elementary schools from which it was snatched if they want to feed that program with able students.
Literacy is not taught in a vacuum.
-Gloria C. Endres
The writer lives in South Philadelphia and teaches at Temple University’s College of Education. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.