My Thoughts on Latin
NOTE: This essay was originally posted on The Homeschool Library Forum in December of 2006 right after the forum opened. It was my most popular post and people still ask me about it from time to time, so I’ve decided to share it again here. I’ve edited it just a bit, but it still reflects my thoughts at the time. It will help you see what kind of homeschooler I really was.
My Thoughts on Latin, for whatever they’re worth.
The study of Latin is a hot topic in the homeschooling world. You’ll find many people advocating it as the only way to be truly educated. What a parent decides to do is up to them, of course, and I’d never presume to tell anyone what they should do. Instead, I’ll just give you my journey and let you do with it what you will.
I became convinced that Latin was really necessary and would make my daughter a great student during a homeschool conference I attended when first starting our homeschool journey. We did “Latin’s Not So Tough!” (along with “Hey Andrew, Teach me some Greek”) in first and second grade, and then started with Latina Christiana when she was in 3rd grade. We completed Latina Christiana 1 and 2 by the time she was ready for 6th grade (following the schedule on the Memoria Press website). Then, in 6th, we did one year of Henle Latin as recommended by Cheryl Lowe (author of Latina Christiana). One day the passage for translation was from Roman history and went something like, “The bodies of the Gauls were in the river…” My daughter stopped, looked at me, and said something like, “Mama, can we learn a language where it talks about the weather, or colors, or family life, or anything but war and death?”
So, in 7th grade we quit Latin and started Spanish.
Again that summer I went to my HS conference and got the usual guilt-trip about not doing Latin. “It’s SOOOOOOOO important to give your child a foundation in the ancient languages!!!”
So we started back on Latin again in 8th grade (2005-06), but instead of using the old-school Latin stuff, we switched to a public school program called “Ecce Romani.” My daughter enjoyed Ecce. The stories for translation were much more varied and better suited to her interests than those in Henle and overall it is a fun program. BUT I was still spending at least 1 hour a week in prep work AND we were spending 1 to 1 1/2 hours DAILY working through the lessons, PLUS other things were slipping. So in January of 2006 I decided to drop it again.
I missed it (because I love languages), but I felt strongly that my daughter needed to concentrate on Math, Science, Reading, Writing, etc. And, further, I felt that when she did pick up a language it needed to be useful and relevant to her real life experiences. We decided that Spanish fit that bill, so we began using Rosetta Stone to finish 8th grade and would sign her up for a Spanish class in the fall.
Now, here’s the funny part: I was in the YMCA a week or so after deciding to drop Latin for the final time. I was on the elliptical machine when this lady got on the next machine and asked me if I homeschooled. (She had seen me drop off my daughter for Homeschool PE at the Y.) So, we got to talking. I found out that she homeschools and does Latin and thinks it’s WONDERFUL. When I said I had been doing Latin but had recently stopped she proceeded to give me the standard guilt trip of: “But Latin will make your student brilliant!! [et cetera, et cetera]”
Well, I just about lost it! I said “I’ve heard ALL of those arguments before, but EXACTLY HOW MANY years does one have to do Latin to reap the benefits????? We’ve studied Latin for almost 5 years now!! She is still struggling to keep up with math, science, writing, etc. It hasn’t helped her that I can tell… And, it isn’t helping her learn Spanish. Yes, she knows lots of Latin which is kind of neat, BUT we were stressing over it and I finally realized that it just isn’t worth it!”
The poor lady! I know I shocked her! I laughed and said “I just got comfortable with my decision to drop Latin, so please forgive me if I seem testy about it!” She laughed too, so it was fine. I hadn’t offended her with my reaction, BUT she did say that we shouldn’t give up on Latin. “You will see those benefits if you continue your study,” she said.
I asked then, “Well, how much Latin study do you have to complete to see the benefits?” She replied, “Well, you need to learn ALL of the declensions, and ALL of the conjugations, AND get to the level of translating the Aeneid or the Odyssey to finally see the benefits…”
To which I could only respond with:
You have GOT to be kidding!
I don’t think so!!!
So, in the end she convinced me that I was right… there is NO WAY I’m going to spend any more time on this!! (I know that wasn’t her intention… but it was the result, nevertheless.)
Now, on the other hand, if I had a BRILLIANT student who wanted to be a College Professor or something, and was making A+++ in every other subject – I might continue to pursue Latin. BUT my wonderful, sweet, and smart, but normal daughter is just going to be stressed trying to balance Latin with real life…
BESIDES, when I really thought about it I realized it doesn’t matter how many or which languages my child can speak if I have not taught her to speak ONE with TRUTH and LOVE.
I’m happy and at peace with my decision now.
OTOH, I’ve decided to continue to study Latin myself. I enjoy it. It’s fun… and who knows what my future might bring?
AFTERWORD: It has now been about 13 years since that post was written, and I still laugh at myself and at the lovely lady who tried to guilt me into more Latin. It’s especially funny, though, because my daughter went on to get her BA in History and chose (you guessed it) Latin for her foreign language.
I guess all of those years of Latin did help her, but I still have no regrets about dropping it in favor of a more balanced and relaxed approach. Sometimes you need to look at your situation realistically and realize there are more important things than having a brilliant kid — sanity being a critically important one. So for those of you out there struggling, feel free to do what works for you and yours, no matter what the critics might say.