When I was a kid, 40 or more years ago, the world was a very different place than it is today. I was in 7th grade and like my brother who was a grade ahead of me, I had been enrolled in Latin. My teacher, and my brother's was a man named Howard Comeau.
I don't know how Latin is taught today but back in 1970 or so it was probably taught much the same way it was taught in 1870 or 1770 or, even, 1370. It involved an enormous amount of rote memorization, recitations, translations, dictations and mneumonic tricks, many of which I remember to this day. (There are but four masculine nouns in the first declension and they are a PAIN. Poeta, Agricola, Insula and Nauta.)
We were drilled and drilled and drilled some more. All of us had to be able to conjugate verbs like machinery. I can still rattle off Sum Es Est, Summus Estis Sunt, etc. like a sonofabitch. We were also drilled so that we could decline Bonus Bona Bonum, Hic Haec Hoc, etc. through the five cases both singular and plural--30 words with different endings in under 30 seconds. My best was in the sevens, more than respectable, but Connie Jacobs (who once got sent to the principal for calling something asinine) was the class champ--she declined Bonus in under five seconds.
None of this knowledge has really been helpful to me in my life and career. I do enjoy reading Roman history (in English) and when in Rome find that I can muddle through inscriptions on monuments.
The real value of this torture transcended Latin. I was forced to use my mind, to discipline it in ways that I fear have vanished. The power to understand, store and retrieve information--to recall conversations, dates and ideas, is vitally important. Mr. Comeau and Latin taught me that.
Mr. Comeau also taught me a lesson about the semiotics of dress. This was the early 70s when all the old rules about girls wearing dresses and boys wearing trousers to school were disappearing. Kids started wearing t-shirts, jeans and sneakers. The old order was collapsing.
There was a dance one Friday night in my Jr. High. Mr. Comeau was a proctor and reminded us that we would not be allowed in the gym if we weren't wearing a jacket and tie. We were outraged and couldn't understand why the dress code was so strict.
Mr. Comeau explained it simply: "you won't roll on the floor if you're wearing a jacket and tie."
BTW, if you're ever in the mood for a good movie I think about when I think about my education, get ahold of the 1951 classic "The Browning Version." It's directed by Anthony Asquith, written by Terence Rattigan and stars Michael Redgrave.