Building Character with Something Special, Something Difficult


William McGurn’s recent column in the Wall Street Journal reminded me of Ray Rickman’s program teaching young men in Providence to tie bow ties:

It may not be surprising to learn that a charter school named Boys’ Latin still offers courses in this dead language. But it is surprising to learn that this is an all-black school in an iffy part of West Philadelphia, and Latin isn’t merely an option here. It’s a requirement.

Turns out, too, that the young men of Boys’ Latin have become pretty good at distinguishing their ad hominem from their ad honorem. This month the school received the results on the introductory level National Latin Exam, a test taken last year by students around the world. Among the highlights: Two Boys’ Latin students had perfect scores; 60% of its seventh-graders were recognized for achievement, 20% for outstanding achievement; and the number of Boys’ Latin students who tested above the national average doubled from the year before.

There’s something about learning Latin, in modern day America, that gives the endeavor a sense of doing something unique and special, and it’s also a challenge that can help students learn how to learn, so to speak.  Languages, like math, are something you either know or you don’t.

Of course, for some of these very reasons, one can easily imagine this idea being caught up in our modern pathologies.  The students are giving themselves over to white culture, or some such nonsense.

Also of course, self-interested advocates would fault the school for draining the resources of government schools.  This is the attitude we ought to have for our overall education system:

As long as the school is doing great things, folks at the Philadelphia School Partnership don’t care whether the institution they are supporting is a traditional public school, a charter school or a private school. When they look at Boys’ Latin, for example, what they see is this: a high school that sends more black boys to college than any other in Philly—and has a waiting list to get in.