At approximately 4:30pm on Thursday, February 19th I learned that my destiny was coming into greater focus.
After tutoring some students in Latin, as they were having trouble with the four verb conjugations and using indicative and imperative moods, I was called into the principal’s office. It’s never a good thing to be called when he says ‘Shut the door.’ This was no different.
The school is deciding to go forward with a plan to scrap Latin from its curriculum and will be suspending the program next year. After that, they may revisit offering the course again, but as of now they are scrapping the program.
The answer? It was not entirely clear, which lead me to believe that this was more of a short term solution and an easy one at that. Target the subject that everyone thinks is the least practical and get rid of it. The answer, however, had a mixture of both “budget concern” and scheduling conflicts. Neither of which seems to me to be answered by clearing out Latin.
I was told, however, that I am doing a great job teaching and that was not a move made for personal reasons. Considering I was just observed on the previous day, I know that my administrators are satisfied with the job I am doing in (and out) of the classroom. As for the assurance that this is not being done for personal reasons, it seems that the mere mentioning of it is alarming. I would think that such a move would never be done for personal reasons – that is, if we are to be professional educators. That said, I feel that the closing of the Latin program is being looked at as a possible solution for the upcoming budget concerns.
Here’s the problem though: outside of my salary, which is nothing extraordinary (believe me, I have a hard enough time keeping up with bills) there is really nothing to the cost of the program. I bought some new textbooks at the start of the year, but I purchased these at an extreme discount (about 50% off the cover price) and only purchased a classroom set. I am well under the limits of my budget – by thousands of dollars.
Using these new materials, I am able to rigorously train my students in Latin. So, I would imagine that the actual cost per student and the return on that investment must be among one of the most efficient programs – if not the most efficient program – at the school.
So how could eliminating the Latin program really save the school money? It’s easy to fire one teacher and shut down a program when you are trying to focus on the bottom line, I suppose. Yet, I am not being fired because my principal would like to find a way to keep me – but I would be, as of now, teaching out of my certified subject area (for which I still have to complete my professional certification needs and currently have my temporary permit).
The situation is at best described as a lame duck situation. The real problem, however, is not my position but rather the academic ripple affect from this.
Students currently enrolled in Latin II are expecting to take Latin III and possibly Latin IV. One of the reasons, aside from challenging themselves to master a language, is because prestigious schools like the Harvards and Yales of the world want applicants who have take more than the minimum requirement for a language. Doctors Charter School currently requires 2 years of a language – and we stress doing it in back to back years so as to not lose any of that training. Going ahead to take a third and fourth year puts our students in that upper echelon for consideration at more presitigious institutions. In removing Latin, we have effectively sabotaged their opportunity to achieve this and we are not fulfilling our goal as an educational institution nor are we living up to the charter, which states that students in 7th and 8th grades are supposed to be taking Latin during those years.
[Technically, 7th graders take an Introduction to Foreign Language course and 8th graders take Latin I, which gives them high school credit in 8th grade and keeps them ahead of the game going into 9th grade.]
More importantly, all the students involved in Latin have made a choice to take that language over the other language offered at our school, Spanish. It seems shortsighted to eliminate Latin because Spanish is perceived to be more practical on the grounds that most students who study Spanish will take their two years and no more, and most likely will not be able to communicate effectively in the language. Not to mention, that Spanish is offered at practically every school in the country and doesn’t allow for our students to stand out – even if they chose to take a third or fourth year. Latin, however, would.
The administration, however, countered this alarming situation of setting their students on a sinking ship by offering up Florida Virtual School as a solution. It is true, they do offer a Latin I, Latin II and Latin III course online – but the quality of such an education is debatable. Not to mention, those students who decide to take those courses will need computers to be able to access the courses and will have to be in a classroom and managed in order to be engaged in their courses. This means that the school will have to spend money to have someone qualified to watch the students and manage the class. This means that the school will have to maintain the cost of keeping a classroom running. This also means that the school will have to take on the cost of additional computers, their maintenance and any additional costs that result from managing a larger network. At DCS, our bandwidth for use of the internet at school is already being gobbled up and stressed; the connection is slow and cumbersome with all the teachers connected at the same time on a T1 connection. The school will have to increase its bandwidth needs which also will result in a higher cost.
In other words, the school will be spending more money to eliminate a program then they would to just keep it in place. Latin is, remember, a part of the charter and to actually get it taken off the charter would require the charter to be rewritten – which can’t legally be accomplished in time for next school year.
Aside from eliminating the program, there is a greater alarm here – the continued devaluation of our educational system.
The reason why a charter school was founded was so that it could be insulated in situations like this. If parents wanted to build a school, going through all the trouble, only to have it stripped down and taken a part in moments of crisis why then didn’t they just avoid all the headache and send their students to the public schools? Right now, the school is faced with offering a limited curriculum, with few academic choices, and virtually none of the benefits a larger school might have (athletics and facilities, more clubs, events, etc.) to its community. Why would anyone want to attend that institution? More importantly, why would anyone continue to fund it? What incentive would the community as a whole have to be actively involved with the school and programs associated with it?
By cutting out academic programs to meet the budget concerns of your school you seriously risk damaging your institution’s appeal and influence. More importantly, the students will have virtually nothing to challenge them and give them skills they could use in the future. It is precisely in times like these that we need to make sacrifices – but the sacrifice should not be on things we deem to have no immediate value. The sacrifice should be reserved for things that are superfluous, and are more luxurious than sustaining.
Latin is not a luxurious thing, as I have detailed previously. It is a subject that can greatly enhance a student’s perceived value in regards to applying for more prestigious institutions. It can offer the mastery of not just one language, but serve as a strong foundation to master languages like English, Italian, French, and even Spanish. It directly exposes students to the thought of minds extending back thousands of years – not just ancient Roman thought but also more recent developments extending from the middle ages and the Renaissance. Latin can expand horizons, unlock hidden doors. Is this not the kind of thing that we strive to offer our students and children in their education?