Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Si Placet Tibi, Discamus

Res Publica

July 2004

by Lisa Otten

The motto of the Ashland Academic Honors Program is esse quam videri. I am told that this is Latin for “to be rather than to seem.” What a wonderful motto. An honors student ought to strive to actually be the honorable individual he no doubt is attempting to appear to be. However, there seems to be a strange hypocrisy, a nearly laughable irony, in selecting this phrase as the motto of Ashland’s Honors Program: there is no student in the Honors Program who can actually read the motto.

Consider the students who are majoring in Religion, Philosophy, or History. There are many classes offered where the primary texts studied were originally written in either Greek or Latin. Students find it deeply frustrating not to be able to pick up the relevant text and read the material in the original language. How is a student to know he can trust the person who did the translating from the Latin or the Greek into English? How can a student be confident that the translation is accurate and that the translator is not, in effect, re-writing the text via translation? Also, how can he expect to understand the full meaning of the words when the author’s nuances and witticisms cannot be translated into English? For example, some of Plato’s plays on words are dependant upon their original language and cannot be translated into English. Thus, the role that irony that plays in interpreting Plato is lost on an English-dependent reader.

Consider also the Biology students. At first blush, it doesn’t seem that there is as much sense in a Biology student learning such languages. They don’t read primary texts, do they? Perhaps not as much as a theologian, philosopher, or historian, but for centuries scientists wrote in Greek and Latin. There are instances known where science students have had the opportunity to read these foundational thinkers. How if they were limited by lack of knowledge due only to the fact of their institution not providing the means to learn? No one would think it reasonable to deny these students their microscopes, so why do we deny them the very tool of conceptualization, language? All of the scientific names used to identify a particular organism are Latin and usually describe key distinguishing features of the organism. For example, a monopod comes from “mono” meaning “one” and “pod,” which means “foot.” Hence, a monopod is a one-footed organism. Or, gastropods are stomach-foots with “gastro” meaning stomach. Another example is the felis domesticus, which means domesticated cat, or housecat. If a student knew his Latin, his class performance would improve because he would know what the names mean, thus making him more capable of remembering not only the names, but the natures of the organisms as well.

Consider also the goal to have a Renaissance approach to learning. Honors students are all deeply influenced by the Renaissance movement of the second millennia. Students revere such Renaissance thinkers as Galileo, Petrarch, Dante and Leonardo da Vinci. All of these masters knew the classical languages. Students strive to be like these men who could speak and read languages besides the vernacular. Since they knew the classical languages, they could read older masters such as Aristotle, Ptolemy and Galen. A modern student cannot accomplish his goals and reach his full potential if he is denied the very tools that he requires. Such denial is devastating to education. Perhaps the university does not believe them capable of such an undertaking?

Students ought to be given every opportunity to be rather than to seem well educated. Classical languages are vitally important to many fields of study. If an institution of higher education such as ours exists for the sake of the education of each individual student, on what possible grounds can the university impede the means to learn?

Lisa Otten is a senior from Chagrin Falls, Ohio, majoring in Philosophy, Religion, and History.

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