High school and college students should move beyond "caveat emptor" and "e pluribus unum" and learn about the world from a classical perspective, Latin instructors say.
"It's important because both Latin and Greek take us back to the beginning of our tradition," said Ann Shaw, who teaches Latin at Lawrence High School.
"If we learn about an ancient world, we can look at our own world. It gives us a chance to see that we're not the first people who have had to deal with certain problems," she said.
Stanley Lombardo, professor of classics at Kansas University, said the study of Latin often is promoted as a discipline such as math.
"But Latin is more," he said. "It's also the study of . . . the origin of words. I would extend the notion to the origin of our culture."
Lombardo said KU students should take a look at the university's seal. It depicts Moses kneeling before a burning bush and carries the words, "Videbo visionem hanc magnam quare non comburatur rubus."
"IF YOU don't understand Latin, the seal means nothing," said Lombardo.
Translated to English, the seal says, "I will see this great sight, why the bush does not burn up."
In this case, Lombardo said, the reader must know the story in Exodus of the burning bush and Moses.
"There is a sense of wonder when you look at the burning bush. A voice comes from the bush. That is the transmission of knowledge," he said.
Lombardo said the parallel is that schools are places where students can explore intellectual pursuits and locate new sources of information.
Shaw said there are other advantages to studying Latin. Students who study Latin can enlarge their vocabulary and knowledge of English.
"A NUMBER of people take Latin because they have been told it will improve their SAT and ACT (college placement) scores," she said. "But I don't think that's the primary reason."
Lombardo said most colleges offer courses in Latin and Greek. Some of the classes are limited to a study of Latin or Greek scientific terms, a useful aid to future legal and health professionals.
"And professional schools, in general, regard students who have studied the classics as outstanding candidates," he said. "They know they can handle a challenging academic discipline and they know they are cultured."
Shaw said her Latin courses provide high school students with instruction in the language and the culture of the people who wrote and read the language.
"YOU CAN get much closer to the people by actually reading the language they wrote, not simply reading the translation," she said.
Lombardo said there is growing recognition that the study of Latin is an important academic endeavor.
About 500 students are enrolled in classics courses at KU each semester, and approximately 100 of them study Latin language, he said.
Shaw said more students are enrolled now in her Latin courses than five years ago, perhaps because of a resurgence in the idea of going back to basics.
"For some people that means going back to a classically based education, Latin to some people. I'm very glad that it does," she said.