There are three weeks left in this semester, and after class today a student asked me one of my least favorite questions. “Will the final cover the whole semester,” she wondered, “or just since the midterm?”
This question might make sense in a literature class or history class. Maybe you didn’t read Moby Dick and therefore screwed up the midterm, but now you can read The Scarlet Letter so thoroughly that you do a stellar job on the final. Maybe you missed all your history prof’s lectures on the New Deal, but you started coming to class during the Truman administration. Your professors will not like to hear you dismissing the first half of the semester, but you do have a good chance of bringing up your grade.
But I teach Latin. What is a language student thinking by asking me that question, especially this late in the game? How could I even make up a test which doesn’t include material from the beginning? I feel a great temptation to answer sarcastically. “Of course,” I might say, “you can forget the verb ‘to love’ now and all its forms. That word came way back in August! Who can be expected to remember it? Same with ‘girl,’ ‘boy,’ ‘father,’ and ‘mother,’ and all those pesky verb endings. I promise never to use them again in any context.”
I suppress my sarcasm, however. I just say that learning a language is cumulative, like math. When you learn multiplication, I say, you still have to remember how to add, right?
My student smiles wanly and turns away. This is not the answer she was hoping for.