I get this question quite frequently from those within and out of the school. While there are several varying opinions on which of the foundational languages are most important in the classical Christian environment, the overwhelming choice has been Latin. The most common concerns with Latin we hear are that it is a “dead” language, something students will never “really” use, and that Latin is too hard. In hopes of providing some clarity as to why CCA is committed to the instruction of Latin, I’ll try to address these three most frequent points of contention.
Latin is a dead languageThe idea that Latin is a “dead” language comes mostly from the very real fact that we no longer speak Latin to communicate with one another in our day to day interactions. So, why teach it? The easy rebuttal to that statement is the fact that we do indeed still use it. Over 60% of our common English language comes from Latin. Another 20% of our common borrowed words come from romance languages that developed directly from Latin. That is a total of 80% of common everyday language that is derived from Latin. A whopping 90% of higher professional vocabulary comes from Latin as well. Chesterton’s oft quoted quip, “Latin is not dead, it is IMMORTAL” summarizes much of the aforementioned.
Students will never use LatinThe statement that Latin is “something students will never use” moves us into a new realm of thinking about Latin’s usefulness. The statement itself is based on the presupposition that students should only be taught “useful” information. That idea begs the question of what is “useful” and who decides? The classical education model that CCA follows admits freely that those great thinkers, church fathers and our founding fathers have been tested and tried and are more than qualified to lay the foundation of educational standards. The individuals who established our culture and our country were trained in the classical model and we strive to follow in their footsteps. We not only teach Latin to increase a student’s working vocabulary, increase thinking skills, and perfect English grammar. We teach Latin to ingrain the values and ideas paramount to our western civilization, to involve our students in the “Great Conversation”, something much more valuable than simple usefulness.
Latin is hardLatin is hard and difficult, that is true. It is the vigor and laboriousness of Latin that make it one of the primary methods for training the mind. Our current culture has settled into a place of lethargy when it comes to rigor and training. We seek the “easy way out” as a pattern in our daily lives. Athletes use steroids to stimulate muscle growth. We read cliff notes instead of the actual literary work. We have conditioned or unconditioned our mind through abbreviated texting, twitter, and multimedia renditions of actual current events. We have lost our appetite to work hard. Latin trains our minds to think; critically, systematically, and creatively. What our world needs now, more than ever, are citizens who can think; citizens who are able to resist the urges of lethargy, identify falsehoods, decipher propaganda, respond reasonably and rationally, and to defend the faith logically while holding to the ideals of a coming Kingdom. I did not receive Latin instruction during my early education. My family provided me with the best education they knew to be available and I am extremely grateful. I in turn desire to provide our children with the best education available as well. History proves that, contrary to fad methodology of the last hundred years, classical instruction with Latin as a foundational component is the best western civilization has to offer. We must allow students to use their minds, we must make this training a challenge, constantly encouraging, and graciously correcting so our children may become, at least as Kipling put it, “better men than we.” References/ Further Reading:
- Climbing Parnassus, Tracy Lee Simmons
- The Devil Knows Latin, E. Christian Kopff
Mr. Ortego is the current Head of School at CCA. He has been an administrator in Classical Education for over 10 years.