22 March 2014

Latin, Roman numerals, and Catholic grade school

Every Friday afternoon I follow (as they say in Italy) Latin Language I, a class which meets from 1:30 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. and is, thankfully, taught in English.

By the admission of the professor (who is an Italian, from Rome), it is the worst possible time for any class to time meet, both because it is a Friday afternoon and because it falls right in the midst of the proper time for a siesta.

So far as I know, everyone in the class is a priest or a deacon (in Rome, generally speaking, only the Americans wear "clerics" to class) and we are enrolled from the canon law, theology, and philosophy faculties. What is more, we come from North America (from both the United States of America and from Canada), India, and Africa (though I'm not sure from which countries). There was also an Iraqi with us, though he hasn't come to class since Christmas.

Such a range of backgrounds brings with it many blessings and many challenges. Among the challenges, for example, is an expectation regarding homework. For reasons I cannot quite understand, the Africans - with the exception of one - seem to regard homework merely as a suggestion and not something that should actually be completed before class. Another challenge often encountered is discovering a common level of background knowledge.

From grade school on, I have received - more or less - a very good and thorough education, especially in grade school and in college, thanks to many dedicated teachers. I regret to say that I all too often take this for granted and simply presume that others know - or at least should know - what I have been taught. I was reminded of this yesterday afternoon when one of the African students asked the professor for an explanation of Roman numerals. With a culture not entirely based on "Western" history, it made some sense to me that the Africans might not have studied Roman numerals before, but when the Canadian also didn't know much about Roman numerals, I thought back with gratitude to the days when I learned how to use them in grade school.

I cannot remember what grade I was or which of my teachers taught them to me (though I suspect it was either Mrs. La Tour or Mrs. Kasparie), but I do remember learning about them and how to use them. I even remember doing homework in them and I have not since forgotten them (though it does take a bit of work to add and subtract it all together to find the answer).

This post is a bit late for Catholic Schools Week, but let me add this to the many other reasons I am grateful for the Catholic education I received in grade school. It was more thorough than I ever knew!


  1. Interesting. My public elementary school also taught us Roman numerals, although I have to admit I still get L and D confused. I wonder if this is something still widely taught or if it has gone by the wayside.

    1. That's a good question; the Canadian is a few years younger than me.