What with travelling and beautiful spring weather, I decided that May would be a good month for the kids to have some time off school. We don’t usually take a summer vacation; everyone gets bored after three or four weeks, and anyway no one wants to go outside in Virginia in July or August. So we do school year round, which allows us to take breaks whenever we need them.

And I REALLY needed a break in May. My mother always says that everyone wants to quit home schooling in November, February, and May. So true.

However, now it’s back to work. Monday is our day off (we do Saturday school instead) and Tuesday we went to the library, so Wednesday (my husband’s long day at work) was our first full day back.

Here is Wednesday’s List.

We have one of these for each day of the week, generally divided into Mom and Dad columns, so that we have a fighting chance of getting everything done.

Today’s big challenge was getting Christopher (aged 15) back into his Latin. Doing the first translations after a break is always very patience-intensive. For both of us. Usually by the end of the first exercise I have announced at least once that I am not his artificial brain, and that if he doesn’t remember a construction, he’d darn well better look it UP instead of gazing at me with huge wistful eyes until I give him the answer.

Today’s exercise was slightly complicated by the fact that Emily (six) had finished her school (she doesn’t do more than about 45 minutes a day right now–she’s technically not starting first grade until September) and was sprinting around in the background.

And singing.

Fortunately, there’s enough of an age gap between Christopher and Emily (I have two sons in between them) for him to take this with relatively good humor.

If you can’t silence ’em, bore ’em to death.

I personally have never thought that Latin is central to the goals of classical education–or, more precisely, neoclassical education (which, as I have repeatedly pointed out, is what all modern classical educators do). I’ve read the texts of the neoclassicists who suggest Latin should be at the center of education, and I remain unconvinced. Latin-based learning was, indeed, a staple of ancient schooling, but I have no huge desire to reproduce the educational standards of ancient Rome.

In researching the medieval world, I came across a chapter in Peter Brown’s brilliant study Power and Persuasion in Late Antiquity which strengthened my reservations about over-focusing on Latin. Late Roman education, Peter Brown points out, was designed to instill in young men all over the Empire a shared sense of culture–for the purpose of uniting them in an aristocratic, elite ruling class, one which would hold together in the face of challenges from an increasingly diverse set of working-class Roman citizens. It allowed them to treat each other as friends, and to claim friendship with those in power–a friendship “based on the mutual admiration that sprang up quite naturally between educated persons” who knew the same books, the same philosophies, and the same drinking songs. They were the initiates; their education allowed them to hold themselves apart from the lowborn and uneducated. (This is, of course, in the third and fourth centuries; I’m tracing this same theme backwards into the older Roman empire now, although since I’m supposed to be moving towards the present, not away from it, I’ve got limited time.)

Anway, I find this a compelling and disturbing account of the purposes of language-centered education in medieval times….and it made me stop and think again about why I’ve insisted that my children do Latin. In the end I hold to Latin as one of the best possible tools for shaping English language skills–analogous to the five-finger exercises that make it possible to play an immense variety of piano compositions. It isn’t the only language we do: Christopher has been studying Japanese with a tutor for the last two years, Ben (13) is learning Farsi (his choice) and Daniel (10) and I are working on our Spanish together. (And I’m trying to pick up enough Korean to hold a polite conversation, but that’s another story.)

I’ve seen both of my older boys improve immeasurably in their writing since studying Latin–which is, for me, the proof of the pudding. Frankly I have no real desire for them to read Latin literature, which is primarily derivative and (in my opinion) second-rate. Certainly I do not want them to join a cultural elite which holds itself apart from “the rest” (those would be the ones Christ tells us to love, right?)

I do want them to handle their own language with perfect ease, and Latin (which I studied myself for years) has proved a first-rate tool for this purpose. But not the purpose itself.

Any of my readers out there want to chime in?

(And before you ask, Christopher is using my old Jenney text. I don’t usually recommend it, because you can’t really teach it unless you’ve studied Latin yourself, but since I’m so familiar with it I decided we’d ditch our other home-school-friendly options and go back to what I already knew.)


I should clarify: I’m not suggesting that modern Latin-centered educators are motivated by a desire to join a cultural elite and shut off the rest of the world. But I do question the wisdom of reproducing a style of learning which was intentionally constructed for just that purpose…

Showing 16 comments
  • leslie

    Thank you for this post!!! I might drop the beginning Latin with my two middle school boys and let them do the French they have been begging me to learn. I do agree though that the high school Latin my oldest has done has been great for many areas of his education. You continue to guide me. Thanks for coming to Orlando, too.

  • strider

    I have to say I agree with your thoughts about Latin. I do see the benefit of studying it–especially with my daughter, whose talents are in the area of language arts, generally speaking. Yet while I see the benefit of Latin in our course of study, it has never made sense to me to focus on Latin as the center of our curriculum. Simply put, there are other areas of study that are more relevant and applicable to our life. Thanks for a balanced perspective.

  • Meredith

    Heya Susan,

    Really enjoy your approach to teaching and curriculum choices. Flexibility is a good thing, and Latin, while useful is not the summum bonum. (See, I remember some of it anyway.) My Arabic teacher says it is a ‘language of peasants’ but since Arabic ripped off a lot of stuff from the Greeks, as did the Latins (as we Byzantinists call them), don’t know what he’s so torqued about. If your kids can handle Japanese and Farsi, Greek oughta be a breeze. I mean, what’s not to like? It’s got great literature, a funky alphabet, diacritical marks, and it’s even in the Bible! Woo hoo! PLUS, they can then upstage the pretentious seminarians at church who sit in the front row with their Nestle-Aland in hand. (I can make fun of them because I was one in a previous life.) 🙂

    Anyway, I hear what you’re saying about Latin helping one’s command of English. But I’m glad you’re not making it central because people can refine their English by wide reading of good authors in English. Yet Latin does help with all those continental languages….

    Right. Back to my own school work…

  • e

    Sadly, I must admit to the fact that I did not have any formal grammar training until the 8th grade, when I began learning my first foreign language, German. Because you cannot learn German without grammar, I found myself quickly learning English grammar, too. And I am forever indebted to that German teacher….

    C.S. Lewis hit the nail on the head when he wrote that when we talk our native language, we are “obviously using language and grammar: and when we try to talk a foreign language we may be painfully aware of the fact.” We take our own ability to articulate our thoughts well and properly for granted when we speak our own language, but a foreign language makes us more aware of what is correct and what is not.

  • Susan


    very well put. Thanks for the quote, which highlights the usefulness of Latin for me….


  • dangermom

    Oh, thanks for bringing up the Latin! I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately too. On the one hand, we really enjoy learning Latin and being able to sing songs, recite prayers, and read funny scenes in “Lingua Latina.” I’ve gotten interested enough to plan to study Latin myself this summer (Henle is on its way!) so that I can be ahead of the kids. I think it’s great for English and its general interest, and the grammar is very useful indeed.

    But I’m really not interested in being able to read Latin authors in the original. I’m not a fan of Roman literature, and we have no reason to want to read Thomas Aquinas in Latin (since we are LDS, Hebrew or Koine Greek would be more practical for theological purposes). So I’ve been thinking that after next year, we might take a break and switch over to Koine or something else. The kids are still pretty little, and I don’t think it will be a problem; right now we’re really doing it more for fun than anything else.

  • Eliana

    Your description of Latin literature made me giggle – it sounds so much like what my mother always says. She enjoys the structure of Latin, but it isn’t one of the languages she has chosen to maintain b/c there isn’t anything she wants to read in Latin!
    I dabbled in Latin in middle and high school (using my mother’s old texts), and my eldest two did some latin, but it has really fallen off the bottom of the list for now, in large part because our Judaics take up so much time/energy and (biblical) Hebrew language study is a very high priority…

    Its nice to hear about the mundane details of your life, and a little startling to realize how much your kids have gronw since we first ‘met’… mine are sneaky and their maturation is done so quietly that I, for the most part, take it quite calmly, but somehow it hits me more when I see how other people’s kids have grown up so much. Perhaps it brings home how quickly my no-longer-so-little people are growing up despite my rigorous attempts at denial.


  • Mom2Three

    I studied Spanish in high school, and came to Latin later in college and graduate school. I also studied French in college. I found Latin was the language that really had the greatest impact on my own thinking and writing. I am not sure why, but studying Latin was like pre-logic for me. My writing became much more tight and of course I understood English grammar far better. Spanish and French did not have this same impact, though I really enjoy both languages. I read somewhere that students who have studied Latin consistently outperform other students on the SATs — including those who have studied other modern languages. Maybe that’s just an urban legend!

    I absolutely loved Latin, including reading Latin literature (though I never gained the mastery necessary to read with ease). I’m sure it’s just a matter of taste. I’m hoping my children will still enjoy it enough in high school to attempt some original texts.

    I’m currently teaching myself Koine Greek. I love it!

  • Jennifer in OR

    I’m just thinking those strawberries look really yummy. Lucky Christopher, is this his study snack?

    We’ve been working on French for over a year, with great success. Spanish and Latin are soon to be incorporated. Latin won’t be central, but I can’t see not doing it, either.

    I’m with you on the year-round homeschool, taking time off when you need. We took a month off from Thanksgiving to Christmas, and other chunks here and there. This is the beauty of homeschool – such flexibility, please take advantage of it.

  • Vicki in WA

    Peter Brown’s account of Late Roman education reminded me of the atmosphere at Princeton U. where I worked for a few years. Not a surprise I suppose. (I was able to sit in on a few of Brown’s lectures as an auditor before morning sickness got the best of me.) However, Latin is definitely not required these days to climb the ivory tower.

  • Brenda

    As I don’t have a latin background, I’m honestly confused. What do you mean that reading latin is primarily derivative? You also say that it’s second-rate? What is 1st-rate? Thanks!

  • Shelby

    Thank you for your post. I have to say that I took latin in college and found that if you are going into the sciences or medical fields latin as well as greek can be of tremendous help. There are many terms that are much easier to understand if you have a background in greek and latin.

  • Sarah

    I was wondering at what age should a foreign language be started? I have read that the earlier the better. I know I struggled with German in jr. high. When I went to H.S. I switched to Spanish and found it much easier due to the German background. I have 4 kids the following ages 13 in 7th, 6 in 2nd, 3 in K, and a 6 mo. Motivation is a huge issue in our house since I pulled the oldest from public school and the rest have known nothing but homeschool. This will be the fist year we switch to a different mode of teaching and learning as the oldest struggles with Math, History and Language. My 6 is well advanced in Math but has minimal reading skills and that means mom has to read his History, Language and Science. The 3 is very smart, she listens and learns from the older two. My thoughts were to use Saxon Math for 13 along with Story of the World History, not sure of Language and Abeka for Science. For the 6 I am thinking either Christian Liberty Press or Abeka Math, Abeka for Science, Story of the World History, and Modern Curriculum Press or First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind level 1-2 for Language. I am not sure what to use for the 3 yet, if anything. I was leaning toward Five in a Row, but am not sure yet. I would love some input from long time homeschoolers as well as those that have kids the same age. Please let me know what your thoughts are. [email protected]

  • Heather_in_WI

    Aww…. I love the pictures of Emily and Christopher! What a great big brother he is! 🙂

    ~Heather (who was the only girl with three brothers and now has 0 daughters and 3 sons!)

  • Laura

    I’m very curious why you are learning Korean!! We just got back from two weeks in Korea — and the kids and I really miss it. My sons (10 & 11) have been learning Latin, German, and Korean (my father is from Korea) for several years now, and this trip was the first time they were able to try to speak in a foreign language (our previous big trip was England!). It was hilarious listening to them strategize at the post office while attempting to get actual stamps, not just stickers with the postage printed on them. It took three tries, but they succeeded 🙂

  • Lori

    I agree with you about learning Latin to make other languages (especially our own polyglot) easier to master. I am not a brain by any stretch but just studying Latin and Greek roots in 6th grade helped me immensely in high school and beyond. Sadly, I’m now forgetting all of that so I need to get back into it again.

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