latin education

Why Study Latin?

As the school year gears up, prepare yourself for an inevitable question from the backseat on the way home from school: “Why am I learning Latin?”

I love Cheryl Lowe’s short and sweet case for studying Latin. She writes for The Classical Teacher over at Memoria Press.

Why Study Latin?
by Cheryl Lowe

Have you ever wished you had a good answer for those people who ask why you would spend your valuable education time studying Latin when you could be spending it on something more “practical”?

There are three reasons Latin has long been considered the one master subject before which all others must bow.

First, Latin teaches English better than English teaches English. “The study of one’s own language,” says classicist Charles Bennett, “is achieved incomparably better by the indirect method of studying another language … It is because translation from Latin to English … is so helpful to the student who would attain mastery of his own language … that I find the full justification for the study of Latin.” In other words, education based on the study of the child’s own language is inferior to one based on Latin.

Second, the mental discipline Latin instills in students makes it the ideal foreign language to study. Latin originated with the Romans, and their character pervades the language they created. The Roman, says R. W. Livingstone, “disciplined his thought as he disciplined himself; his words are drilled as rigidly as were his legions, and march with the same regularity and precision.”

Latin is systematic, rigorous, analytic. Its sentences march “serried, steady, stately, massive, the heavy beat of its long syllables and predominant consonants reflecting the robust, determined, efficient temper” of the Romans themselves.

Latin is clearly superior to other languages in this regard. Like English, modern languages are “lax and individualistic,” reflecting the modern temper of those who speak them. Thinking that you can get the same benefit out of studying them is, in Livingstone’s words, “like supposing that the muscles can be developed by changing from one chair to the other.”

Third, Latin is the ideal tool for the transmission of cultural literacy. Latin is, in fact, the mother tongue of Western civilization—a language that incorporated the best ideas of the ancient Greeks, and which then, after the conversion of Rome, put them into the service of Christian truth.

Rome fell into ruin, but the dying language of the disintegrating empire was infused with new life. Harnessing the power and precision of the old Latin, Christianity transformed the tongue of conquest into the tongue of conversion, and Latin became the very language of the Christian faith for over a thousand years.

Christian Latin takes the intellectual discipline of classical Latin and adds another element: simplicity. Although the basic grammar and vocabulary of Christian Latin are the same as the classical, Christian Latin authors emphasized the transmission of Christian truth, striving for clarity and simplicity above all else. Because Christian Latin is easier to read, it is the perfect gateway to the more difficult classical Latin of Caesar, Cicero, and Virgil.

And then she offers this compelling tidbit:

Need a short answer?
Mean Verbal SAT scores for 2006:

Spanish Students: 577
French Students: 637
German Students: 632
Hebrew Students: 623

Average for all students: 503

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Enchanting Chanting

If you walk down the grammar school hallway at Regents, you will hear a lot of laughter and a lot of singing, repeating, and chanting. Children love to memorize, sing, chant, and repeat. Classical methodology capitalizes on these tendencies and emphasizes them.

Here is the Regents second grade class chanting the elements of design (part of the art curriculum) and the conjugation of the Latin verb “amo.” Also, the Regents third grade class chants the “to be” verb in Latin. Kudos to Mrs. Sowell for her excellent Latin instruction and to Mrs. Ashley Bryant for her creative art instruction.

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Biology Corner: What is the difference between a centipede and a millipede?

Many people think the only difference between a millipede and a centipede is the number of legs. Since the Latin root centi- means one hundred and milli- means one thousand, centipedes must have one hundred legs and millipedes must have one thousand legs, right? Wrong. A centipede doesn’t even have fifty legs, and a millipede has nowhere near one thousand legs. Though, millipedes do have many more legs than centipedes.

There are some other notable differences as well. A centipede is flat and has only one pair of legs per body segment. A millipede is round and has two pairs of legs per body segment. A centipede is aggressive and fierce and is able to immobilize its prey with poisonous claws. A millipede is docile and slow. It eats vegetation and organic debris. And when threatened, it will roll up in a ball and hope its exoskeleton will be enough to protect it.

So, if you see a millipede, you have nothing to fear. But if you see a centipede, give it a wide berth. Its bite is painful to humans, though rarely dangerous.

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Ursa Major and Ursa Minor

Third graders are so amazing. We were making prepositional phrases with their new prepositions and they wanted to say “in front of a bear” in Latin. I told them the word for bear is ursus, ursi and we declined it to see which form we needed for our prepositional phrase. I remembered that they study astronomy in science and asked them if they had learned about Ursa Major and Ursa Minor (lit. Great Bear and Little Bear) which contain the Big and Little Dippers. Most of them were somewhat familiar with these so I asked them why it was ursa and not ursus. Hands went up. It’s because it is a mama bear with her cub. They figured this out because they know that the “a” ending makes it feminine. We also talked about Ursa Major and Ursa Minor being constellations. Since cum is one of their new Latin prepositions, we talked about the roots of the word constellation. When cum is used as a prefix it often means together. The Latin word for star is stella. So constellation literally means stars that are together.

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Obsessed with roots? Most definitely!

On February 26, 2010 I heard Bob Costas interviewing Joannie Rochette, who had won the bronze medal in the Olympic women’s figure skating the night before just four days after her mother’s sudden death. He offered his condolences. My mind immediately thought about the roots of that word- com- with + dolēre- to suffer pain (physical or mental.) It is my hope that all the students at Regents Academy of Nacogdoches, TX will learn to see the rich meaning of the vocabulary of our language.

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