All-black boys school in Philadelphia where Latin is the key

A reader alerted me to a piece in the Wall Street Journal about an all-black boys school in West Philadelphia where Latin is taught in a serious way: Boy’s Latin.

The subtitle of the article is outstanding:

A dead language helps forge identity and esprit de corps, like boot camp for Marines.


The boys are winning national awards.


“I invite anyone who doubts what this does for our students to come to a graduation and watch 100 black boys sharply dressed in caps and gowns and proudly reciting their school pledge in Latin,” says the school’s chief executive officer, David Hardy. “Not only is this an unexpected sight, it defies the low expectations society puts on young black men.”

Latin was one component of my double-major for my BFA.  Let’s just say that I aced my GRE.  

If only I had been given Latin at an earlier age!

This is a key for the renewal of the Church, by the way.  We need Latin in our Catholic schools (as long as we still have a few left).  Start Latin as early as possible.  Give our Catholic children a huge head start.   Moreover, I believe the Latin will have an impact on vocations to the priesthood and religious life.  Latin aids a person’s entrance into the Catholic “thing”.

More from the WSJ piece…

Why Latin? Partly it’s that the language immediately raises expectations all around. You can’t fake Latin, either.[] When these boys learn it, they taste the satisfaction that comes from achievement.

Partly it’s the school’s thing. Even if students hate Latin, says Mr. Hardy—maybe especially if they hate it—it’s something everyone at Boys’ Latin goes through, what boot camp at Parris Island is for Marines. It builds identity and esprit de corps.

It’s also what helps make Boys’ Latin attractive to the Philadelphia School Partnership, an influential group of donors whose mission is to get more of the city’s kids into great schools—and put more on the path to college. Since 2011, these men and women have spent nearly $60 million in private funding to help thousands of low-income students attend schools such as Boys’ Latin.

As long as the school is doing great things, folks at the Philadelphia School Partnership don’t care whether the institution they are supporting is a traditional public school, a charter school or a private school. When they look at Boys’ Latin, for example, what they see is this: a high school that sends more black boys to college than any other in Philly— and has a waiting list to get in.

Here’s the deal… to teach Latin you need some books and a chalk board.  You don’t need to throw zillions of dollars at Latin.

I’m with Fr. Foster on this one…  HERE

If you don’t know Latin, you know nothing!”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. donato2 says:

    I’ve long thought that a requirement for graduation from the 8th grade in Catholic school should be that the student be able to recite from memory in Latin, and be able to accurately translate, the Ordinary of the Mass, the prayers at the foot of the altar, the preface of the Trinity, and the prologue to the Gospel of John. This would not be hard to learn over the course of 8 years of elementary school. For the relatively modest effort involved it would pay outsized dividends in fostering Catholic identity, preserving tradition and internalizing the Mass for Catholic school students.

  2. lmgilbert says:

    One thing I do not get about Fr. Foster’s approach to Latin, and your approach to Fr. Foster revolves around this idea: “Latin has nothing to do with memorization. Every bum and prostitute in ancient Rome spoke Latin and they didn’t learn it by memorization. Got it?” He might have said every three year old as well, for as my Latin prof used to say, “”Learning a language is a baby activity.” But the bums, prostitutes and three year olds did not have Fr. Foster or his book, a blackboard, time, books or inclination to study. Latin was all around them and they simply absorbed it. So how is that an argument for Fr. Foster’s approach or his class? I am not trying to be difficult. I don’t get it.

    Given Fr. Foster’s observation about bums and prostitutes etc. I would have thought that a much better approach to getting Latin into the heads of wide swathes of Catholics would be something akin to the Pimsleur approach, or Rosetta Stone, or especially Assimil ( best language program ever, imho). Like many other people, and many other Catholics I have a lot of time in the car and at the moment am making inroads into French through Assimil, and have studied Hebrew and Italian in the same way. It only takes you so far, but it at least gives you a foothold in the language. It is not at all a question of hard vs. easy, but for most of us a question of time.

    And as far as the hard vs. easy issue goes, though, I cannot understand the objection to making it easier, as easy or somewhat comparable to the ease with which our prostitute, bums and three year old friends learned Latin. They had no books, but lots and lots of audio which they understood the more the more they were exposed to it. How is that not an argument for the Pimsleur ( Assimil etc) approach vs. Reginald Foster’s?

    [Foster isn’t against memorizing things. He is against memorizing things in paradigms, as was/is often the method of instruction in language. Mind you, paradigms can be helpful! However, when you are chained to them to search for your next form… well… that makes a living language into a dead language pretty fast.]

  3. jarocookies says:

    How fortunate my siblings and I were to have a Latin and Greek teacher for a father, and to attend a middle/high school where Latin was offered all 6 years. Since it was our dad’s subject, we children all had to take it, too! “You can study other languages in college and it will be much easier,” he said. He was right. Father knows best! Alas, there’s no school–that I know of–within a hundred mile radius of us that teaches Latin.

  4. Julia_Augusta says:

    I agree that Latin is very important and without it, you cannot read many of the classics in their original form. Nor can you understand the origin of many of the words in the English language.

    Latin classes were phased out around the late 1960s and early 1970s in western Europe, although until the 1980s some high schools in Germany and the Netherlands still had Latin in the curriculum.

    I think Latin should be taught in elementary school. It is a great foundation for learning not just Latin languages like French, Spanish and Italian, but any other language. Plus, you will understand easily all of the Latin prayers and when you go to hear Bach’s “Mass in B Minor” or Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater” in a dark concert hall, you can sit back and enjoy the beautiful music and the sacred words, while your companions are fumbling around with the program in the dark, trying to see what the words mean.

    The decision by schools to toss Latin into the rubbish bin seems like a lot of decisions in the 1960s and 1970s. The result was to deprive us of our inheritance, our patrimony, and the glories of the centuries. [That’s why they did it – to keep people in the dark and slow their minds down.]

    It seems to me that many of the decisions taken in the 1960s and 1970s, which did away with tradition (for example, Vatican II) were based on a mistaken belief in the Myth of Progress: that we humans are heading towards a future like that in the cartoon “The Jetsons”, that we don’t need the the past or any knowledge of history because we’re headed for the stars, and that knowing our history is a burden.

  5. Legisperitus says:

    “Non enim tam praeclarum est scire Latine quam turpe nescire!” – Cicero

  6. ce lathrop says:

    yes, so important to read the NT in the original Latin…..

  7. Nicholas says:

    The original NT was Greek.

  8. leftycbd says:

    I took 3 years of Latin in Catholic High school years ago. With a dictionary and grammar book I can still be a dangerous reader. My children’s catholic elementary school has Latin all 9 years, (K-8). It is one of several schools in our diocese that teaches Latin. I am one of the few parents who can actually help my kids with their homework. I have heard that some parents want to remove Latin from grading for various reasons. That is a shame.

  9. … ????? ?’ ?????????? ?????·
    “….And great thanks [are] shining forth” (Homer, Odyssey, 18.298). (Bad linguistic humor…I know)

    Agreed: I wish that I had been taught Latin in elementary school. I consider not only of my own edification and sharing in the patrimony of mother Church, but also of the seminary training that was given many years ago, when young boys were taught Latin in elementary school in preparation for the priesthood. This was the type of seminary training that the late–great!–Dr. Ralph McInerny–had been given before he discerned that he did not have a vocation. And that was fine! Just look at what his background in Latin and the great masters like Aristotle and St. Thomas allowed him to offer to the rest of Christendom. Now, multiply that by a huge factor and ponder the impact that even only 1,000 men such as McInerny would have had on the world. I use his name because he is proof that a knowledge of Latin improves society in general; well beyond the bounds of the Church, but for Her good, just the same.

  10. Of course, leave it to me to forget that the Greek font does not post even when I see it on my screen … apologies to everyone.

  11. … χάρις δ’ ἀπελάμπετο πολλή·
    “….And great thanks [are] shining forth” (Homer, Odyssey, 18.298).

  12. Boy’s Latin of Philadelphia Charter School and students: Tibi favemus, te tua frui virtute cupimus. In cognitione et scientia excellere, pulchrum putamus. Quam ob rem puer ille laudatus est? Luadatus est, quia litteris bene studuit. Quid ex eo factum est? Factus est medicus, patronus causarum, rex. Haec benignitas etiam rei publicae est utilis. Humanitatis plurimum refert.

  13. robtbrown says:

    Latin has not been phrased out in Italy. The Italians have the liceo classico, where students are taught Latin, Greek, Roman and Greek history, and history of philosophy. I was told, if memory serves, that at least one third of all liceo students are in classical studies.

    And I don’t think I ever met a young Italian priest or seminarian who had not been exposed to Latin and was fairly comfortable reading it. There is a serious shortage of vocations in Italy, but my impression is that Latin is still there for those who study for the priesthood.

  14. Semper Gumby says:

    This is great. God bless those young men and their teachers.

    PTK_ 70: Excellent link.

  15. frjim4321 says:

    I did great on college entry tests and the MAT, not because I’m smart, but because of high school Latin. Everyone here knows I’m not a fan of throwback, but I credit Latin for earning a surprisingly high MAT score. I’ve suggested Latin to all the young ones in my family for that very reason.

  16. jaykay says:

    Well, Fr. Jim4321, very few here would be fans of “throwback”. Pius XII defined it well as “archaeoligism. The NO springs to mind, especially Eucharistic Prayer II.

  17. jaykay says:

    “archaeolOgism”, even. Mobiles. Eheu.

  18. Pater Jim: Habesne aliquid dicis bonum?

  19. frjim4321 says:

    Fits in here, Lucas!

  20. robtbrown says:

    Should be: And I don’t think I ever met a young Italian priest or seminarian who had not been exposed to Latin, and almost all were fairly comfortable reading it.


    Your reference to nostalgia (throwback) seems to be common among those (incl Francis) who don’t understand why someone thinks the liturgy should be in Latin. They think Latin liturgy is like listening to old pop music because it brings back memories–like a high school reunion. And then there is the pope’s tired 1970s cliche’–love of Latin liturgy is a manifestation of a rigid personality, caused by insecurity. [Both rather blinkered, if not to say stupid, assessments which we have heard far too often over the years from far too many people who ought to know better.]

  21. Pater Jim: Factum a me stulte est: peccavi, fateor. Gratia gratiam parit. Obsecro mihi ignoscas.

  22. @FrJim4321: Pater Jim, quaeso, accipe excusationes. Ignosce mihi, quod dixero. Fui in malum.

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