‘Tis the season for our annual discussion and exploration of how to educate our children. As we explore the idea of homeschooling, we’re looking through various curricula and co-op options and talking to a variety of friends about what they do. One of the approaches to education that has gained traction in the homeschooling world, particularly among the theologically Reformed, is the classical education model. There’s a lot to commend it, but I have reservations as well. What follows is essentially me “thinking out loud.”
|Photo from InsideClassicalEd.com|
Classical education generally distinguishes three stages in the growth and development of children, and tailors the educational goals and methods to each stage. These are usually labeled “grammar” (for little kids through grade 5-6), “logic” (roughly the middle school years), and “rhetoric” (the high school years). The grammar phase focuses on memorizing facts and data, the logic phase begins to assemble them into greater understanding (connecting the dots, so to speak), and the rhetoric phase develops these into a worldview that can be explained, articulated, and defended. That’s a rough explanation (as I understand it).
It makes sense in many ways, and certainly has strong historical precedent dating back to the Greco-Roman period – hence the name “classical” education. But I have my reservations, the chief of which is the usual insistence on most classical schools and curricula that students learn Latin. I don’t think that “that’s the way it’s always been done” is a good enough reason to do it this way. Obviously for close to 2,000 years, Latin was a central component to education (utilizing some version of what we now call the “classical” model). The early American universities like Harvard all required a reading knowledge of Latin as a prerequisite for admission.
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But, for most of that period, Latin was the language of education because most of the source material and books used had been written in Latin. It was the universal language of the intelligentsia, the learning class across Western civilization. There just wasn’t nearly as much material available in other languages. But that does not remain the case. In fact, French supplanted Latin in that role around the 1700’s (giving rise to the term “lingua Franca”), and now English is the universal language of learning.
So is Latin useless? Of course not. Understanding Latin gives one a leg up in learning languages that derive from Latin (like Spanish) and in broadening one’s understanding of English, much of which comes from Latin roots. A lot of terminology in fields ranging from medicine to theology derives from Latin. Learning Latin is also said to be excellent training for the mind – though I wonder if that’s true of any kind of language learning.
So Latin is fine and has some value. I just have not been persuaded that it’s important to begin having young kids memorizing Latin as opposed to a “living” language like Spanish or other academic pursuits. But I’m open to argument on that point.