Classics Professor Defends Middle School Latin Program

Classics Professor Richard F. Thomas joined students, parents, and other Massachusetts professors yesterday evening at a public hearing at F.A. Day Middle School, urging the Newton Public School Committee to reconsider the implementation of a proposed budget that would eliminate Latin courses at the middle school level.

Besides Latin, the school committee is also considering cuts in the arts, foreign languages, and special education programs.

“What is important here is that it is the middle school Latin experience that sets up the value of Latin and however much or little the student will pursue in the following years,” Thomas said.

Addressing the superintendent, committee members, and concerned parents, Thomas said that, as the father of two children, he and his family moved to Newton because of the exceptional public school system in 1987.

“It should be a source of pride that some 300 of our seventh and eighth grade students are allowed to take Latin,” he said. “We should see this as one of the real jewels of our educational system and preserving this experience should be, in my opinion, a priority.”

The School Committee voted initially last Thursday in a straw poll to support the proposed $171.6 million budget, which requires more than 30 positions to be cut. The public hearing was aimed to gauge the reaction of residents prior to a formal vote, which will take place within the next month.

School Committee Chairperson Claire Sokoloff told the audience that these cuts were difficult, but were the best options to address anticipated budget increases in the next fiscal year.

“There was a $4.4 million gap that the superintendent did manage to close, but not without program cuts and other losses,” she said. “We have been able to preserve a lot in our schools given the magnitude of the cuts that we have had to make.”

Audience members volunteered in advance to address the committee members and superintendent, advocating against the elimination of middle school Latin courses. A Newton North High School student stood and read a letter from her friend in college, who could not attend the meeting in person.

“The greatest benefit that I received from taking Latin was that it gave me something to be passionate about,” she read. “It made me feel like I was special. There aren’t many ways that you can stand out in middle school, but here I was a crusader and a protector of a higher level of learning.”

Sherley Blood Thom, a Latin teacher at Newton North High School, told the committee and superintendent that although many people were surprised that Latin was still taught in schools, the benefits from the courses were indisputable.

“Middle school enrollments are critical to the survival of Latin departments in high schools,” she said. “Do you want to be the ones who break the link between these children and an ancient legacy that has done so much good?”

—Staff writer Barbara B. DePena can be reached at barbara.b.depena@college.harvard.edu.

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