What to do about Latin

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.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

15 thoughts on “What to do about Latin

  1. Thanks for the reviews, Catherine. The Latin-Centered Curriculum is one of my favorite books on education, but it seems not many people know about it or have read it. I’m glad to see it get some press 🙂

  2. I’d be curious to know what you’d say are your top 3 books on education. Which would you recommend as the very best to read as far as philosophy of education?

    I’d be interested in Lisa’s answer too since I’ve read at least one book that she recommended in previous comments and liked it.


    1. That’s a tough question, because it depends on where you stand on educational locations (public, private, home), where you stand on methods (public-style, classical, Charlotte Mason, unschooling, textbook-based, etc), and whether you need vision or practical help. Also, the books that have really helped me at one point don’t always continue to help me later on. My educational philosophy has evolved and shifted as I’ve put it into practice, and I’m sure that will continue to happen.

      That said, here are some ideas:
      -“Endangered Minds”- good information and research on how brains develop and the impact that should have on how our kids spend their time: http://aspiritedmind.com/2008/11/week-in-books-no-44/ (scroll down for review)

      -“When Children Love to Learn”- a series of very well-written essays about the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education, geared toward private school but including a lot of very helpful information for parents using any type of school option. http://aspiritedmind.com/2008/06/week-in-books-no-22/ (scroll down for review)

      -“Laying Down the Rails” – I’m assuming with this listing and the one above that most people don’t have time to wade through the entire 6 volume set of Charlotte Mason’s writings. This book compiles and organizes all of Mason’s ideas about training children in good habits of character. Eminently useful no matter where your child goes to school. http://aspiritedmind.com/2010/07/laying-down-the-rails-week-in-books-2829a/

      -“The Case for Classical Christian Education” by Doug Wilson – This book is geared toward private schools, not home schools, but lays out some ideas for how to overcome the mediocrity usually seen in modern education.

      -“The Well-Trained Mind” by Susan Wise Bauer – For some reason I can’t find my review of this book, but it was very inspiring to me when I first read it (Hannah was a baby then so I didn’t realize that it is high on vision but not as detailed in execution as I might like now). I will say that this book is about a classical education in the sense of “reading great books” – a worthy goal to be sure, but not the sum total of what I’m aiming for at this point in my thinking. However, it’s a good inspiration for excellence, and would be helpful to parents who want to supplement a public school or general Christian school education with a more rigorous reading and learning program at home.

      -“The Latin-Centered Curriculum” – As I mentioned in this review, this is the book that most closely tracks with my thinking now, although I’m aware that could change in the future! This book is BOTH good for imparting vision AND for laying out how to accomplish the vision, grade by grade. That is what I really felt the need for now.

      I will let Lisa know that you asked for her picks as well, and maybe I can convince her to do a guest post! 🙂 Thanks so much for your comment!

  3. The book (not already on Catherine’s list) that immediately pops into my mind is “The Seven Laws of Teaching” by John Milton Gregory. It is tremendously practical instruction on how to teach and how to evaluate your own teaching. It’s a short read, and I keep it as a goal to read through it once a year. I would put it on the shelf next to “Laying down the rails” as a good book to read if you don’t have the time or interest to read all of Charlotte Mason’s books.

  4. Thank you both! “The Seven Laws of Teaching” is the book I had in mind that Lisa recommended. I read it during the summer and found it useful.

    I still haven’t read “Laying down the rails” but I think I’m going to start ”The Latin-Centered Curriculum” first based on what both of you have said.

  5. I just discovered your review of this book (thanks to Sheila). I did not know of this book before so I’m really excited to read. My husband started Greek at age 12. He, however, never took Latin. He is studying it now in preparation for his PhD. It’s coming easily as he is very good in ancient languages (Greek and Hebrew), but he says he wishes he had done Latin first. Our kids will definitely be doing Latin first, but I haven’t decided exactly when to start. When did you all start?

    Like you, I read The Well Trained Mind when Stefan was a baby. I was really inspiring at the time and gave me some vision.
    My thinking has evolved and I love bits and pieces of several other philosophies. I suppose that is what is great about homeschooling. You can tailor things to meet your goals. Seems daunting, though, to know where to start.

    1. Johanna, I would SO recommend Song School Latin for young kids, even the 2-3 range. We did that when Jack and Hannah were very little, and it was such a gentle introduction to Latin. We just did the songs, and I did some games based on the songs rather than using the book as a textbook. They caught on quickly, developed an ear for lots of words, and got used to the idea that we learn Latin at our house. Then we moved into Prima Latina and are VERY slowly working through it. I use it primarily as a vocabulary, and do some of the exercises orally with them, and sometimes we write them. We’ve learned a few Latin prayers with Prima, so often at bedtime the kids ask to sing the Gloria Patri in Latin rather than in English and they actually know what they are singing. We’ve learned the noun endings of the five declensions in CC this year, which I think is helpful (they are set to song) although not directly applicable at this level. Whenever we get through Prima and I feel they’ve really mastered all of the vocabulary, we’ll move on with the Memoria Press sequence. After looking at a LOT of Latin curricula, I feel like the Memoria books are most adaptable and best sequenced to support early learning of Latin in preparation for more rigorous study, which we will probably begin in the 3rd/4th grade time frame for Hannah and Jack.

      This post has more of my thoughts on Song School Latin and Prima Latina, as well as some links to why/how to do Latin with little children and how it fits in with a longer-range plan: http://aspiritedmind.com/2011/03/latin-for-littles/

      1. Oh, and I meant to say that my husband teaches Logic online for Memoria Press. I think their Latin is good as well, though I know I haven’t researched nearly as much as you at this point. Good to know you like it as well!

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