In today’s materialistic society, the thing we all seem to want more of is immaterial: time. Homeschool parents struggle to teach multiple children in different grades. Classroom teachers have up to 25 or 30 students in a single grade (15 as a maximum if they are lucky), and their time in the classroom is diminished with music classes, art classes, P.E., and more.
The main question teachers and parents have when they are faced with implementing Latin is “Where am I going to find the time?” Many people are convinced that Latin would be a worthwhile educational endeavor, “but we just don’t have time!” Notice the word worthwhile. We have already answered the question if Latin is worth your while.
The Reality of Class Time
When we say that we don’t have time for Latin, we are saying that we think our time is best spent elsewhere. Let’s hypothesize that at a given school they have class 5 days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. That is 7 hours a day, 35 hours a week. If we give 30 minutes for lunch and an average of 20 minutes a day between P.E. and recess, we end up with 30 hours and 50 minutes left for the week. That means just over 6 hours of instructional time a day.
If Latin really is the core of a classical language arts program (which it should be), if it really does teach vocabulary, grammar, and intense analytical thought (which it does), is it not worth one measly sixth of your educational week?
Dedicating an hour a day to Latin still gives you time to dedicate 15 minutes to recitation, an hour to literature, an hour to math, and 45 minutes to grammar, spelling, and composition combined. This still leaves 10 hours of time a week, ample time for Christian Studies, Classical Studies, American/Modern Studies, Science, and Music/Art.
The time we dedicate to a specific endeavor generally reflects the priority we give it. If a man were to spend an hour watching television by himself each day and only 30 minutes playing with his children, an outside observer would say that his favorite television shows are more important to him than his kids. And that observer would be correct.
Spending five hours a week on math and five hours a week on Latin communicates to the world and our children that the mastery of language is as valuable to us as the mastery of calculation and quantification—which is as it should be. These are the two sides of the liberal arts, and both are important.
We do not often think about what our actions are saying to those around us. But as the familiar trope goes, “Actions speak louder than words.”
Transitioning to Latin
When a parent or school decides to start teaching Latin and it hasn’t been a course of study before, a long dissertation about priorities will not normally resolve the scheduling problem. Regardless of how many subjects are being taught, the school day is always filled up with lessons, activities, and enrichment. Eking out 5 hours a week in this situation is a daunting task. Every teacher’s jaw drops when they are asked to find an hour a day! A myriad of solutions is always proposed: lengthen the school day, cut back on this or that subject, make it an after-school option, or scrap fine arts. And no one really likes any of these solutions.
Not only will learning
Latin bring academic strengths,
but it will also be an aid to discipline.
A revision of how much a student is expected to master in each subject in each grade is a good thing for a school to do every once in a while. Look at each subject, kindergarten through 8th grade, and see what topics are covered in each year.
If teachers are spending 6 hours a week on science in the 4th grade, is that time really necessary? Would it be more advantageous to restrict that to 2 or 3 hours and only cover insects instead of insects, plants, trees, mammals, and reptiles? Not only does it save time, it gives students the chance to go in depth on particular material.
And if teachers are spending 8 hours a week on grammar, spelling, and composition, again look at how much they are covering. Check for unnecessary duplication. Repetition is needed and good, but sometimes the repetition can be done in the context of other subjects. Equations worked out in science class reinforce the skills being learned in math class. Literature teachers can strengthen grammar and punctuation skills while the students answer study guide questions. Redundancy, rather than repetition, happens when teachers are unaware of what is happening in other grades.
And weigh what they are doing against the benefits of Latin: grammar instruction will be more concrete in Latin, so let’s assume some of that grammar time can be cut. Composition time will no longer be wasted explaining what a complete sentence is because the student will have mastered that in Latin.
It is hard to change a school schedule. There are a shocking number of pieces that have to fall into place for everything to flow smoothly. But the work is worthwhile to make Latin the core of your language arts program.
There is a great advantage to homeschooling because of the opportunity for each student to receive individual attention. The parent knows exactly where the child is in each subject, and how long the child needs to complete the work.
But still, re-evaluate. Not only will learning Latin bring academic strengths, but it will also be an aid to discipline. Having to sit down and memorize grammar forms and struggle through translation is not easy. By setting aside a specific amount of time each day for Latin, the stage is set for tremendous character building as the child grows.
When asking yourself, “How much can he do in a year?” look to the Classical Core Curriculum. The work has been done for you.
Regardless of how much time is dedicated to learning, it is never enough. The goal of a classical education is not merely academic knowledge—it is wisdom and virtue. We believe that Latin is key to both of these goals. Carve out some time this spring to examine what you have been doing and set your course to include the language study par excellence.
Originally published in The Classical Teacher Spring 2016 edition