Exegi monumentum aere perennius.
Horace begins a sarcastic ode on his own immortality with the above phrase, which translates to “I have erected a monument more lasting than bronze.” Ironically, in our continuing study of this poem, Horace has, indeed, achieved a form of immortality, one invulnerable to the physical ravages of time.
Last week I wrote a fanciful speech I never intended to deliver (“Et tu, Espagnol?”). This week, however, fate guided me to the School Board meeting where, with no preparation I delivered the following remarks (perhaps slightly embellished for the purposes of this page):
“I am reminded of a time some twenty or so years ago when a different economic downturn enveloped our nation. Then, the state also tightened its fiscal belt around the necks of young students. In the face of this monetary maelstrom, we cut the string program from our budget. Or so I am told by people who lived in that day.
Despite efforts by others and myself, the district never developed a strategic path back to restoring strings to music studies. Even to this day, no such strategy exists. And so, a generation of HFL students has grown up without ever experiencing the wonders of a full orchestra.
But I come before you tonight not to speak of a string theory. I’m here because, for the past two weeks, my kids have, with a horrid look in their plaintive eyes, regaled me with wild stories portending of doom for Latin. They claim it’s being cut from the curriculum. I do not know if this is true, but this is what they tell me.
My response to them was, “So, what are you going to do about it?” They told me their friends shared their worries and I encouraged them to get together with their friends and let the appropriate people know about their concern. Yet, every night I would hear the same story. And every night, when I asked them if they had done anything to share their anxieties, they merely shook their heads and said, “No.”
Tonight, as I was driving my son back from an ACB Meet in northern Greece to a Boy Scout event in East Rochester, he told me the school board was going to cut Latin at this evening’s meeting. I ask him what he had done about it. He said “Nothing” and asked me to say something to the board. I countered by asking, “Why can’t you stand up for yourself? Why do you need me?” He rejoined, “Because you’re a taxpayer and they listen to taxpayers.”
And so, that is why I am here: Because my kids asked their dad to say something. Now, I don’t know what exactly is being considered, but it’ll disappoint a lot of kids and a lot of parents if Latin is cut. In fact, I’ll go you one better. Every year we face a dearth of student enrollment in Latin. This is unacceptable for a district that purports to be top tier. The value of Latin training is well documented and, while we can’t expect a sixth grader to know this, every adult should. Granted, Latin isn’t for everyone, but it should be considered the “Honors” language track for all students wishing to work in the scientific fields as well as the historical, theological or creative writing professions. Yes, Latin is more difficult than either Spanish or French, but in exchange for jumping higher hurdles, the language rewards its students with a much more practical education.
The challenge, as I see, it not to consider cutting Latin, but to avoid making the same mistake this district made with its string program two decades ago. Now, before it’s too late, we need to develop a strategic path that will populate Latin classes with the best and the brightest students. We all know their collegiate competitors are already there. Let’s make sure our kids don’t fall further behind.
The skills one develops when studying Latin far overshadow the use of the language itself. Perhaps Horace meant his ode not for him, but for his language.