(Our wonderful Magister, Mr. Stansel, with my amica pulchra Amber in the background at our class’s annual toga party.)
Former Discipuli Speak
My friends Amber, Ari and I all initially learned Latin at a public middle school with a specialty program for the highly gifted. The textbook we used was Jenney’s Latin. Now as adults, we all have differing opinions about whether or not learning Latin was a good idea.
By the time I entered seventh grade I had read every book Lucy Maud Montgomery had every written at least three times. I’m talking Anne of Green Gables all the way to Magic of Marigold over and over again. I had also developed an intense interest in the Tudor dynasty and had been fascinated by the classical educations Elizabeth and Edward had both received. Somehow this all put the notion into my head that I wanted to learn Latin.
This might seem even stranger, but at the public school I attended, Latin was actually a “cool” subject to take. Our middle school housed the San Diego Unified School District’s Seminar program for the highly gifted and beyond. To me, it seemed that all of the smart, popular kids were taking Latin, and so peer pressure had a big influence in my decision making as well. How bizzare is that?
As far as teachers went, we struck gold with our Magister, Mr. Stansel. He was forty years old, lived with his mother, and had a wardrobe from the late 1970’s, but boy could that man teach! Even now looking back as an adult who entered the teaching profession herself, I am really impressed by Mr. Stansel. He made learning Latin really fun, and part of the popularity of our school’s Latin program is definitely due to his masterful teaching.
Here’s the perfect example. Our school was full of brilliant tweens, but the absolute smartest kid of all, “Dave”, was head and shoulders above the rest. A couple of years later in the 9th grade when we took the PSAT he scored a 1590, only missing one question. I should point out that Dave was also the nicest, kindest, most polite kid you have ever met. Well one day we were all sitting in Latin class when Dave raised his hand and looked a bit peeked. Magister tried to call on him, but by the time he did Dave could barely get the words out. “Magister, I feel… I feel… bleaaahhh!” Dave threw up all over the classroom floor and went running outside.
Magister went to comfort Dave and the rest of us seventh graders just stared at each other. Thank goodness we waited until Dave and Mr. Stansel had left our viewpoint before we burst out laughing. We were seventh graders after all, and throwing up in class was pretty darn funny. The laughter had finally died down when Magister returned with the janitor, looking very stern and serious. But as he reached the front of the classroom he turned around.
“Vomito — Vomiteri—Vomitetti — Vomititum!”
I’m not sure if I am conjugating that right, but you get the idea! It makes me burst out laughing even now when I think of it. Magister was just so much fun as a teacher, even though his first and second year Latin classes were seriously difficult.
But despite Mr. Stansel and all of his excellent teaching, I actually wish that I had taken Spanish instead. I’m not sure that learning Latin helped me very much in the long run. On the SAT, I found Spanish to be just as helpful on the vocabulary section as Latin. Later on in college I minored in Spanish, and have always felt that and extra two years of learning Spanish early on in my life would have been most beneficial.
If my children come to me one day and tell me that they want to learn Latin of course I will support them. But I would never insist that a child learn a dead language. Even if they had the privilege of having Mr. Stansel as their magister.