The following article was written by the Unruly Headmaster, Mr. Sarr, and is included in the Raggant Standard from February 7, 2017.
Lately I’ve had a couple of curious parents ask me respectfully and sincerely why we study Latin. A lot has been written about this subject, and much of it is very helpful.
Let me commend to you a couple of very accessible resources:
An article from Memoria Press entitled “Why Latin is Not an Option.” One snippet: “[It] is the ability of Latin to teach students how to think that is the most underrated of its benefits. A grammar-based Latin study is not simply a grammatical study, but an exercise in what modern educators like to call ‘critical thinking skills.'”
Dorothy Sayers’ essay “The Lost Tools of Learning.” If you’ve never read this, do yourself a favor and read it. If you have read it, and you’re still wondering why or what it is we do, it’s worth revisiting. One taste: “I will say at once, quite firmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar.”
And there are lots and lots more, but those two are a good start.
Now that I’ve done that, let me offer a few (quite unoriginal) thoughts of my own…many of which have been inspired by the above (and other) resources.
Latin is the most important language of Western Civilization. (And yes, I realize the New Testament was written in Greek.) We’re Westerners, we love the West, and our love for the West helps us to better love other cultures. And if the whole story of the West had to be told in one language, it would be Latin. When we look at the great books of Western Civilization, almost all the writings are either Latin, contribute to Latin, or were written by Latin speakers.
Latin grammar aids in English language mastery. Generally speaking, students who can make sense of Latin parts of speech and who can capably translate a Latin sentence are well- equipped to make sense of English. Additionally, most polysyllabic English words come from Latin. As an added bonus, learning (Latin-based) romance languages (i.e., Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian) after mastering Latin is far easier than without a prior study of Latin.
Latin requires precision. As an inflected language, Latin is far more precise than English. Depending on its endings, a Latin noun can be identified as a subject, direct object or indirect object. And in order to apply the proper ending, the Latin student must first know what an indirect object actually is. But this also frees up the speaker or writer to switch around word order for particular emphases.
Latin is a classical language. And classical education requires the studying of a classical language. Otherwise, it’s the studying of new and old stuff in an old way. The study of Latin has only fallen out of vogue in the last few generations; it served our fathers very well, and has contributed in no small way to our Protestant and Western heritage. When we study Latin, we study the language of Virgil and Calvin. And when our students are fluid readers of Latin (as is our ultimate aim), they will not be at the mercy of translators when engaging with many of the most influential works of our culture.
I wish I would have studied Latin when I was in school. It would have made my English studies (my college major) more interesting and easier. It would have made learning Spanish (my college minor) simpler, as well. But I’m thrilled that my kids are getting something that I did not. And they’re well on their way to surpassing their father in this way, too.
We still have some wrinkles in our Latin program and offerings that we continue to work out, but we’re convinced that, as G.K. Chesterton famously said, “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly,” until we can get good at it. Latin is worth working for, and our children will be better off for it.
Risus est bellum! (That’s Latin.)