Ut Docui necne ut Docui?

In CategoryHome Schooling

Several weeks ago, my friend Hortense called me to say Merry Christmas and catch up. She told me about her Education students at the university and I told her I hadn’t had my foot peed on in weeks.

That didn’t seem very glamorous, so I switched to blathering on about planning our school year and tried to get in a few plugs for the awesomeness that is homeschooling. She talked a little about training your brain to work, and how important it is to persevere when solving tough problems.

At least I think that’s what she was talking about. Professional Professors seem to have their own lingo and I might have gotten lost in a couple of places.

I was inspired to mention that I am planning on teaching my kids Latin. Trying to impress people always bites me in the ass, I should try to remember that. I rather thought a professional teacher-of-teachers, who just five minutes before was talking about the importance of complicated reasoning, would think Latin was a cool idea.

I was mistaken.

In fact, I was completely nonplussed that a person who has dedicated her whole life to learning and teaching would argue rather strenuously against learning something. Even if you could successfully make the argument that Latin has no practical value at all (and I don’t think you can), what about learning for learning’s sake? What a boring life we would lead if we only devoted ourselves to knowing the bare minimum. I would not knit, lunatics people would not climb Everest; and sports, music, and art would disappear completely.  

Unfortunately, I hadn’t practiced any speeches, and I embarrassed myself thrashing around trying to make a coherent argument. I have reasons, but I don’t thing I communicated them very effectively – Big is very verbal and into language and I think he would dig it; a huge chunk of the English language (50%) comes from Latin (not to mention the romance languages, which base 80% of their vocabularies in Latin); learning Latin develops precision, logic, analytical and reasoning skills, and helps students better understand English grammar; and of course the least significant reason, that people who know Latin positively KILL on the SATs.

I find this Memoria Press article by Cheryl Lowe to be very convincing, as well as this bit from Climbing Parnassus by Tracy Lee Simmons (which I have not read yet)-

“Every lesson in Latin is a lesson in logic…Taking the simple two-word Latin sentence Vellem mortuos (“I would that they were dead”), … this sentence aright requires fourteen intellectual turns. A student must know (1) the person, (2) tense, (3) voice, (4) number, (5) mood of the verb…, (6) it comes from volo, meaning (7) ‘I wish’; and that (8) the subjunctive has here a particular shade of meaning. As to mortuos, he must know that it is (9) the accusative, (10) plural, (11) masculine, from (12) mortuus, meaning (13) ‘dead’; (14) the reason why the accusative is necessary…. A student who slips up on any one of these steps is bound to make a lovely mess when he comes to translate… In Latin you must be absolutely right, or you are not right at all…

Can anyone seriously maintain that such stiff training in just expression leaves no salutary marks upon the intellect of someone who, having successfully run its gauntlet, becomes captive to the habits of the precise mind?”

I am more concerned with training my children HOW to learn and HOW to think than I am with WHAT they learn. Accidentally forgetting to include Colorado history (I have a whole rant about state history, actually) worries me far less than sending my kids into adulthood without the tools they need to make good decisions and problem solve; decide what they want to do, and figure out how to get there.

The sole true end of education is simply this; to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do, this is effort spent in vain  ~ Dorothy Sayers
Any of you Latin moms have anything else to add? Melanie? Tressa? Why do you teach Latin?

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11 Responses to “Ut Docui necne ut Docui?”

  1. Tressa Says:

    Oh boy! A Latin discussion! Right now may not be the best time as I am trying to slog through the perfect participle passive and still haven’t mastered the subjunctive, but I have to say that I do like the Latin language.

    I think you hit all the main points. Truthfully, I started teaching Latin because it would cover the foreign language credit and since no one speaks Latin anymore who cares if we say it right. It has turned into much more than that. It has taught my kids how to think. Hard. What Cheryl Lowe says sums it up nicely.

    We are in our second year of intense Latin. We used Latina Christiana 1 and 2, but only loosely. Now, we are waist deep in Latin and it gets done every day. I am just now starting to see the benefits in my kids. Their writing is better and are not as resistant to tackling hard problems. (Not to say that we don’t have our days. Believe me, we have our days.) And since I am just giving anecdotal evidence, I will go ahead and brag about my son. Yes, he knocked the English portion of the PSAT out of the park. I do credit the Latin, and Rod and Staff Grammar.

    I have a pastor friend that helps me when I get stuck. He tells me that now that my kids are on their way in Latin, I need to start them in Greek because who wouldn’t want to read Homer in the original language? How is that for an argument? 🙂

  2. Tressa Says:

    Um, I think I need to review my posts before posting. Don’t mind the grammatical errors. It is early here. Gosh.
    Tressa´s last blog post ..Veteran’s Day

  3. Deb Says:


    Thank you, thank you! You know that whole thing with my friend was making me nuts, but I feel so much better having thought it all out. Plus, I have super-moms like you to guide the way…(I particularly like that bit about the pronuciation – I can totally get behind that).

  4. Happy Elf Mom Says:

    I’ve given up teaching ANY language but English, so you’re ahead of me…
    Happy Elf Mom´s last blog post ..Hiding Under a Rock

  5. hi kooky Says:

    Thanks for this post. As a new homeschool mom (and coming off of 4 years in public school) I still feel insecure about taking the reins and veering off the beaten path. I’m an English major, so I’m all for language. Hooray for Latin! Thank you for reminding me that it’s about teaching them how to think, not just filling them up with info.
    hi kooky´s last blog post ..I hope David Bowie will understand

  6. Connie Weiss Says:

    I can barely speak, tweet and write the English language. And besides…Dora is teaching my kids spanish.
    Connie Weiss´s last blog post ..When Play Imitates Life

  7. Theresa Says:

    A took Latin at co-op in the fall. Ever since considering homeschooling, I knew I wanted to teach them Latin. I probably should just get off the pot and do it, but I don’t want to take on too much too soon…I know we will do it in time. I agree with all of your reasons, what was Hortense’s reasoning for you to not teach it?

  8. Deb Says:

    Theresa –
    I think her reasons centered primarily around the idea that Latin is a “dead” language, and that if we want to understand English better, we should focus on English. I think she saw no practical reason for studying it, since no one speaks it today.

  9. Melanie Says:

    We study Latin for the same reason we study advanced mathematics, formal logic, and Greek – because it’s harrrrd!

    (That’s my inelegant rendition of, “Can anyone seriously maintain that such stiff training in just expression leaves no salutary marks upon the intellect of someone who, having successfully run its gauntlet, becomes captive to the habits of the precise mind?”)

    Really, Deb, you’ve got it covered. But the best reason for studying Latin (or anything else) is because YOU CAN.

    My (somewhat snotty) post about Latin (and Greek): http://foursquares.squarespace.com/home/2010/9/27/you-study-latin-and-greek-why.html
    Melanie´s last blog post ..Weeks in Review 12-13

  10. Deb @ Green V-Neck Says:

    My own kids take German and I do believe you know how successful they are! (Sorry, couldn’t resist that.) I have several friends whose kids began Latin around 4th-5th grade and have continued for years. They do have private tutors who come every week, though, dunno if that is something available to you.

    FWIW, we have had great success with Rosetta Stone. If you buy it, make sure you check <Homeschool Buyers Co-op site (http://www.homeschoolbuyersco-op.org/) first, they often have good deals.
    Deb @ Green V-Neck´s last blog post ..SNOW!

  11. Emma Says:

    I took Latin in high school and I can tell you it was awesome, especially in retrospect. My verbal SAT score was much higher because of it, it helps you learn to spell, and after having been in several Romance language countries (several Spanish ones, and a few more since I live in Europe now) and I can understand much more than if I hadn’t taken Latin.

    There was a school system in my state that taught kids Latin starting in elementary school and at state Latin conventions (yes, I was a nerd) these kids would be speaking to each other in Latin – a dead language – when they were freshmen! It was amazing to see. Teach your kids Latin (or whatever language you choose) early because they’ll do much better with learning it then…their brains are still such that they can easily learn languages.
    Emma´s last blog post ..Stress- and a hopefully fun weekend coming up