Latin as an Ordering Principle

Over the last few years, I have spoken at numerous homeschool conventions around the country, and talked to thousands of homeschool parents. On the basis of the many conversations I have had with these parents, I have developed a theory. My theory is this: most homeschool parents are looking for a Latin program.

My theory may seem counterintuitive. It may seem, at first blush, not only incorrect, but preposterous. After all, if you took a poll, most homeschool parents would probably say they are definitely not looking for a Latin program. And I admit that, on the face of it, my theory would seem to be, if not entirely groundless, at least unsubstantiated—and quite possibly hairbrained.

But sometimes things are not as they appear.

Let me say first that just because most homeschool parents would say they are not looking to teach their children Latin doesn’t necessarily mean that they really aren’t. They may be looking for a Latin program and not know it. In fact, I think that this is precisely the case.

Hear me out.

What I notice about the parents I talk with is this: they are almost all looking for a structured language study that will serve the same purpose phonics has served for them in the past. Their kids have spent several years studying letter/sound correspondences and certain basic phonics rules, and now they can read. Their kids have flourished in a program that gives them the keys to unlock this thing we call “English.” It has given them clear and objective guidelines to help them navigate through our language.

They know their children thrived on the structure that phonics provided them. It gave them a safe environment in which to study the English language—an environment in which there were rules that needed to be followed in order get it right. It was easy, clear-cut, and sensible.

They may still be using a spelling program that invokes the phonics rules that their children studied in their early years, but the children can now read. Phonics has served its primary purpose.

The question then becomes, “What do I do now? Where can I find the structure and organization that my phonics program had to teach English to my older student?”

Parents seem to implicitly realize that the benefits of structure in language study don’t end in the primary years. Despite its many irregularities and peculiarities, language does have a structure, and structured subjects are best studied systematically.

Once again, the average homeschool parent may not think to phrase it this way. But what I have found is that when you ask them if this is what they are looking for, their faces light up, and they say, “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m looking for!” They didn’t articulate it this way themselves, but with someone to help them put their finger on the problem, they can now see it more clearly.

So what is the answer to this question? What should you do after phonics?

The answer, of course, is Latin. Just like phonics, Latin provides a structure or backbone to your language arts program. Latin gives you a way to address the more sophisticated issues of the English language with the same level of objectivity and order that phonics employed.

There are a number of reasons we say this, and these are outlined in Cheryl Lowe’s article on page 8. This article was written several years ago, but we like to blow the dust off of it every now and then because it is perennially relevant.

In recent years, we seem to have unconsciously lapsed into the belief that—outside of phonics—all language study is somehow necessarily subjective, that there is no way to study it in an objective and orderly manner. I think that it is no coincidence that this view seems to directly correspond to the elimination of Latin from the curriculum of schools from the 1920s to the 1960s. In short, the reason we think language study is subjective is because we have forgotten Latin.

The rise of classical education from the ashes of the permissivist methodologies of recent decades is astounding. Even many public schools are taking a new look at the value of this allegedly dead language.

Andrew A. Campbell’s new book, The Latin-Centered Curriculum, explains the value of an education based on the mother tongue of Western civilization: Latin.
A Latin-centered curriculum is a curriculum that answers the question, “What do I do after phonics?” And it reminds us once again that when children learn how to read, they don’t have to wander in a wilderness of subjectivity.

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