CAV Historian Crafts Press Release:
Classical Studies Alive and Well in Virginia
If Professor Thomas Fitzhugh were alive today, he would be well pleased with the state of Latin and Greek in Virginia. This former Classics professor from the University of Virginia would be delighted that over 17,000 Virginia students engage in formal study of the Classics each year. From the Latin classroom to the Governor’s Latin Academy, to the Virginia Junior (and Senior) Classical League, to Certamina competitions (quiz bowls), to the Augusta County Institute for Classical Studies, a wide variety of opportunities exists today for the classically minded learner. Latin teachers and professors across the state enthusiastically participate in professional organizations such as the Classical Association of Virginia (CAV), the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS), the American Classical League (ACL), as well as regional workshops, e.g. the Randolph-Macon Saturday Seminars for Latin teachers. This promotion of classical teaching and classical culture was exactly what Dr. Fitzhugh had in mind.
Ninety years ago, Dr. Fitzhugh invited all educators and citizens who held an interest in the classics to attend an organizational meeting whose purpose would be the promotion of classical teaching and classical culture. At that meeting on November 24, 1910, the Classical Association of Virginia was born. As Dr. Fitzhugh stated, “This cause is a great and good one, because it upholds cultural standards and academic sincerity, which are everywhere being imperiled by the American spirit of commercialism, with its inevitable lust after numbers and consequent cheapening of academic standards.”
This year, the CAV celebrates its ninetieth anniversary as an organization dedicated to the promotion of classics. With a long and rich history, the CAV has sponsored several lectures each year on such topics as ancient literature, classical art and archaeology, classical mythology, and ancient history. In addition, the CAV sponsors several academic contests every year open to middle and high school students: the Latin Tournament (a test of grammar and translation taken by 603 Virginia students last year), the Classical Essay Contest, and a Latin Essay Contest. The CAV also recognizes an outstanding Latin teacher each year with the Angela B. Lloyd Book Award. True to Dr. Fitzhugh’s dream, professors, teachers, and students are being nurtured and challenged today through a vast network of classics enthusiasts.
What might have delighted Dr. Fitzhugh even more than the success of the CAV itself is the rise of several additional classical organizations that also carry on the torch of classical studies throughout Virginia. The Virginia Junior Classical League (VJCL), a state affiliate of the National Junior Classical League (Latin club for middle and high school Latin students) currently has 5,800 members. The VJCL just held its annual sate convention in Richmond with about 1,250 delegates in academic, graphic arts, and oratory contests. Also at this convention, Latin professors and college students gave lectures on a variety of classical topics. In addition, several informal groups meet monthly, usually in teachers’ homes, including CVLTA (Central Virginia Latin Teachers Association), FCLTA (Fairfax County area Latin Teachers Association), and FALTA (Fredericksburg Area Latin Teachers Association). Teachers bring an idea or a teaching technique as well as a covered dish to share with colleagues. Most Latin teachers encourage their students to take the National Latin Exam. Last year, 10, 695 Virginia Latin students took the exam , more than any other state, with 215 public and private school participating (the largest number in the country).
The Augusta County Institute for Classical Studies provides one of the most inspiring examples of students getting involved in the classical world. Created by Doug Bunch, a junior at the College of William and Mary, the Institute brings classics to third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders in the form of a two-week summer camp. Directed by Doug and Matt Webb, a junior at the University of Maryland, the elementary students learn about word derivations, Classical Latin, mythology, and daily life in Ancient Rome. This Institute is an excellent example of the convergence of creativity, energy, and a love of the classics.
Latin is alive and well in all corners of the Commonwealth. Each spring, the Classical Studies faculty at Virginia Tech holds a Classics Day program for 90 third-graders at Kipps Elementary School in Blacksburg. According to program coordinator Dr. Trudy Harrington Becker, the third-graders create their own myths, conduct a scavenger hunt for Classical architecture on the Virginia Tech campus, writing their names Greek and Latin, and visit an antiquities museum. If the Classics Day program at Virginia Tech is any indication, even younger students can enjoy and benefit from Latin.
College admissions officers take notice when they see that a prospective student has studied the classics. According to an ongoing survey of college admissions officers conducted by the Maryland Senior Classical League, Lee Morgan, Senior Assistant Dean of Admission at the University of Virginia, states:
“We [admissions officers] are impressed when we see that students take Latin and/or Greek in high school. We consider such study evidence that the student truly values and enjoys learning… Ancient culture, history, and philosophy are also vital for understanding current systems of government, values, etc., and therefore we consider this excellent preparation for college work as well as for life in general.”
Latin can be beneficial in graduate school as well. Dean Taylor Reveley of the William and Mary School of Law observes:
“Anyone interested in becoming a lawyer would benefit materially from studying Latin, not because of the episodic Latin words and phrases still afoot in contemporary law but for the THINKING involved in coming to grips, truly, with Latin, for the understanding that learning Latin fosters about the structure of the English language, and for the sense studying Latin provides of things Roman — things which have been so central to the evolution of our civilization.”
Through these many different programs and activities, the study of the classics remains alive and well in Virginia. Would that Dr. Fitzhugh could see Virginia now!
– Julie Anne W. Herrick Historian of the Classical Association of Virginia