Letter: Latin is a foundation for critical thinking

To the Editors:

I write in response to letters of Feb. 14 and Feb. 7 suggesting that Latin should be replaced at Wilton High School by languages more “relevant in the 21st Century” that “better prepare Wilton graduates for college and the real world.”

This argument presumes that Latin students are not prepared for college and for the real world, and that those who make contributions to today’s world have not studied Latin. We want our students to be creative and innovative critical thinkers. We want them to analyze the world, break it down, and synthesize it, as one would a problem set in the STEM disciplines.

That process of solving a STEM question is no different than that needed for the study of Latin. If this surprises some, it would not surprise billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, for whom Latin was a formative part of his education, even in a generation where Latin was already grossly undervalued. In a 2012 panel at Stanford University, Zuckerberg described himself in college as “a psych major with a passion for Latin and Greek … fascinated by the intricacies of the human mind, and the study of classical languages. “

I took Latin because I wanted to understand history better; I wanted to understand that language which classicist Llewelyn Morgan called “the math of the Humanities,” the language critical to the grasp of and the histories of nearly all other disciplines. Where has Latin taken me? It has been only one part of my education, and I must give my fantastic Wilton High School teachers in the other disciplines their due. But Latin, as a foundation for my critical thinking, helped me to a top liberal arts school on full merit scholarship. It helped me to the White House, where I bonded with many other U.S. Department of Education Presidential Scholars over our collective love and study of classics. Next year, it will be part of my graduate school studies at a leading United Kingdom institution, which I will attend on full merit funding.

We might not all start studying Latin in order to be like Mark Zuckerberg. But as we consider the Wilton schools’ budget and curricula, we must remember the brilliant minds, past and present, who have studied classics and loved studying it. If you want your children to understand a Zuckerberg, a Thomas Jefferson, a Gandhi, or even a brainy actress like Mindy Kaling … if you want your children to be like these innovators, they must study Latin. It is not just the math of the humanities; it is its DNA, the common intellectual thread across eras. Wilton has in Max Gabrielson a wonderful steward of this ancient, modern and relevant legacy. Do not deny it to our students.

Sarah H. Gustafson

Davidson College Class of 2014

36 Fox Run, Feb. 25