Friday, 2 January 2015

A Latin class...

My Latin teacher at school was Mrs Granden, a patient elderly woman with some dignity who wore those ornate old dear glasses with a gold chain (she even let me try them on once) and long skirts. I liked and respected her enormously because she was authoritative, in a kindly manner, and knew her subject with the kind of effortless tenacity that only comes with forty years of teaching experience. In short, I wanted to work hard for her.

The only occasion where she fell foul of me was when the word "paravisti" came up in a text we were translating. We each took turns on a sentence and I had done very well by translating "appropinquaverunt" without recourse to a dictionary or grammar and it was somebody else's turn. James' in fact. James was both the class simpleton and stinker. We were all held up for about ten minutes on this one simple word. This is obviously not verbatim but this is the general gist of it so far as I can remember:

Mrs Granden: "Think back to the perfect tense. Do you remember -i, -isti, -it?"
James: "Yeah..."
Mrs Granden: "Right, so do you remember the second person singular?"
James: "Yeah!"
Mrs Granden: "Right, so in this sentence what person does the verb take?"
James: "I don't understand."
Mrs Granden: "What don't you understand?"
James: "I don't understand what the person is."
Mrs Granden goes to the blackboard and picks up some white chalk. "Okay, let's go over it again." She conjugates paro in the perfect tense. Pointing with the chalk to two columns, singular and plural, she underlines paravisti in yellow. "What is the second person singular?"
James: "Paravit?" (He pronounced it pa-rawit).
Mrs Granden corrects his pronunciation. "And that's the third person singular. See! one, two and three? I, you, he, she and it. Do you understand?"
James: "But that's five..."
Mrs Granden: "It doesn't matter. He, she and it are all one person." She writes numbers next to the words. "James, what is the second person singular? I promise you, it is not a trick question."
James: "I don't know."
Mrs Granden: "Let's start again, then." She picks up some chalk and writes down the grammatical persons in English adjacent to the Latin column. "Repeat after me, everyone: I, you he, we, you, they. I, you, he, we, you, they." She starts a rhythm going by tapping the table for each person. "Right, James only now; I, you, he, we, you, they."
James repeats this four times.
Mrs Granden: "Look at the board." James looks up."If paravi is the first person, and paravit is the third person, what is paravisti? Remember, I, you, he!"

Dead silence.

Bearing in mind that the actual meaning of paro hadn't even been mentioned yet and that this stuff was so basic that we covered it in the first lesson, my patience had run out and I thundered: "Oh, come on! It's perfectly simple!"

At this, Mrs Granden gave me a stern look and asked me to leave the class. Afterwards, I was rebuked for disrupting the class and humiliating someone who was "clearly struggling" (that is verbatim). It was evident that I had made him cry because he left the class shortly after me and rushed towards the library with that dewy face that says complete incomprehension and frustration.

What I found incomprehensible and frustrating was that the answer was there, for all the world to see, and yet his mind couldn't assent to the answer. It still bothers me to-day.


  1. I think Mrs Granden hoped and believed that James would, eventually, understand. I think she was displeased with you because your interruption interfered with what she was trying to accomplish. She sounds like a patient and experienced teacher, so she might have succeeded with James. Who knows? Concerning your not understanding why James was not understanding the lesson, consider that you are diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, and that a lack of empathy and insight into others is typical of that condition. I think that I understand the frustration that both you and James experienced. However, I am not skilled teacher, so I do not think I could explain it. I grieve for the suffering you both endured. I think that Mrs Granden would have been a trustworthy adviser in this situation. To navigate the world, you might want to collect a set of trustworthy people who can provide insight in situations where your condition might lead you into uncharitable behavior. Conversations with such trusted people (and they must truly be trustworthy people) might help your come up with strategies that would help you deal better with people such as James. You are a bright fellow, so I have no doubt that you could do that, if you wanted to. Perhaps you do not, but it would be charitable to explore the possibility.

  2. Hi Patrick,

    What you describe has often happened to me, not only in Latin class, but in several classes. Some would say I am gifted (though for years I thought of me as being cursed) with an intelligence way above the mean. My mind excels at finding patterns, getting to logical conclusions when information is full, and picturing lots of possible scenarios when information is scarce. But from time to time even when information is complete there will be someone who just can't connect the dots. They will have forgotten something, or be unable to associate two different events as clues of a single cause. Etc. A reminder can help them with the small leap they're missing. I have learned to manipulate less-intelligent people in terrible ways, feigning to be completely lost and asking them questions or making apparently irrelevant comments worded in such a way that it will trigger a reminder and make them feel they have just had a great idea - when in fact the idea was planted by me.
    It's the basis of the Socratic method: that some people need more nudges in the correct direction in order to help their minds get to the right conclusion.

    Some people are more intelligent. But the rest find it offensive if one keeps throwing all the answers.After long years of loneliness, I now treat everyone according to their ability. I would delude myself and become quickly dissatisfied if I expected everyone to be always clever. God made us all different so let it not bother you, if someone is unintelligent. If they're evil, it's not because of their intelligence :)

  3. I should explain that this lesson took place when I was 12 years old. In the first year of school, Latin was compulsory and we were only split into "lower" and "higher" tiers in the second year.

  4. I think I was 12 when I was first taught Latin. I loved it. It is good to hear that you had a good teacher. I find your description of her very appealing. I wish I could have met her.