Education is one of my main interests, and over time I’ve read a vast number of books and articles about various philosophies and methods of education and developed my own sense of how I’d like to pursue it in my family. Because I tend to be a strategic/big picture sort of person, I have a vision for how the parts of various philosophies and methods can work together into a great education for my kids, but I have long struggled with how to begin. If I want my child taking Latin AP exams in high school, how do I get there from here? If I want my high schoolers studying humanities (history, government, literature, art, etc) in an integrated and in-depth way, what do I teach them in kindergarten?
That is why The Latin-Centered Curriculum was such a revelation for me, has catapulted into the top spot as my new favorite book on education, and will be one of my top picks for 2011. This book is enormously helpful and useful, containing not only the reasons for a language-based classical curriculum, but concrete, year-by-year suggestions for scope and sequence, goals, and age-appropriate curricula in various subjects.
As with many other books on classical education, this one begins with an explanation of what the author means by classical (if you have read much in the genre you’ve probably realized that people mean a zillion different things when they say “classical education”) and why you would want that for your child. The Latin-Centered Curriculum focuses on the importance of laying a strong foundation in classical languages and implementing the concept of Multum non Multa, which means “not many things, but much” or, in other words, pursuing a depth of knowledge rather than a large amount of superficial knowledge.
The book provides answers to common objections for Latin and classical study, and offers reasons for pursuing it from a utilitarian, cultural, and formative perspective. If you’re not sure about the reasoning behind studying ancient languages, this section would be helpful for you and I think it’s more persuasively and simply laid out than similar sections in other books. You should know that the classical education discussed in this book is not the “Learn some Latin so you understand the roots of English words and read a lot of Great Books” version espoused by some other classical proponents. The author takes no issue with the Great Books style of neo-classical education, he just thinks that the best foundation for that is laid with studying Latin and Greek for the sake of developing intellectual capacity, reasoning skills, and ability to use language.
The most valuable part of the book, however, is the age-specific discussions of how to implement a classical curriculum beginning in kindergarten. Most of the books I’ve read are good at imparting vision, but fairly weak on how to implement it. The Latin-Centered Curriculum, however, covers year by year practical suggestions for English Studies (in primary years that encompasses phonics, nursery rhymes and tales, copywork, and recitation), Latin, Classical Studies, Christian Studies, Modern Studies, Arithmetic, and Science. I loved seeing the progression of how you could study manageable amounts of things year by year and get to fantastic proficiency by the end of high school.
This book really helped me to crystallize my plan for language study in the primary years and gave me confidence. I haven’t found another book that tracks so closely with my own ideas about education – including rigorous language study, interacting with ideas deeply rather than just superficial facts, using Charlotte Mason type ideas about short lessons and narration, and studying humanities in a fully integrated way.
Since everyone has their own approach to education, I’m sure The Latin Centered Curriculum would be more helpful to some people than others, but I would highly recommend it.
While we’re on the subject of classical education, I will also touch on another book I recently read, The Devil Knows Latin: Why America Needs the Classical Tradition. I think I was biased against this book because it’s based on an illogical and silly anecdote. The story goes that a priest was asked to baptize a baby in the vernacular. The priest said he would not, because “the baby doesn’t know English, but the Devil knows Latin.” That’s not funny; it’s inane. I get that the point is that learning Latin will train the student to be a better thinker, but I don’t really know how learning Latin would keep the Devil at bay. It didn’t work out that well for the Romans.
If you can get past the silly fight-Satan-with-Latin thing, the book does contain some good points about the history of education and how studying ancient languages enhances education. Overall, I think most readers would be better off reading The Latin Centered Curriculum instead, unless you’re just really into the theory and history of classical education. Even as someone who IS really into that subject, however, I have to say that The Devil Knows Latin was not my favorite.
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