Why Latin?

We get this question quite frequently in the office. While there are several varying opinions on which of the foundational languages are most important in the classical Christian environment, the overwhelming choice has been Latin. The most common concerns with Latin we hear are that it is a “dead” language, something students will never “really” use, and that Latin is too hard. In hopes of providing some clarity as to why CSW is committed to the instruction of Latin, I’ll try to address these three most frequent points of contention.

The idea that Latin is a “dead” language comes mostly from the very real fact that we no longer speak Latin to communicate with one another in our day-to-day interactions. So, why teach it? The easy rebuttal to that statement is the fact that we do indeed still use it. More than 60 percent of our common English language comes from Latin. Another 20 percent of our common borrowed words come from romance languages that developed directly from Latin. In total, of 80 percent of common everyday language is derived from Latin or Latin derivatives. A whopping 90 percent of higher professional vocabulary — medical, legal, and theologic — comes from Latin as well. I find G.K. Chesterton’s oft quoted quip, “Latin is not dead, it is IMMORTAL” summarizes much of the aforementioned.

The statement that Latin is “something students will never use” moves us into a new realm of thinking about Latin. The statement itself is based on the presupposition that students should only be taught “useful” information. That idea begs the question of what is “useful” and who decides?

The classical education model that CSW follows admits freely that great thinkers, such as our church fathers and America’s founding fathers, have been tested and tried and are more than qualified to lay the foundation of educational standards. The individuals who established our culture and our country were trained in the classical model and we strive to follow in their footsteps. We not only teach Latin to increase a student’s working vocabulary, enhance thinking skills and perfect English grammar; we teach Latin to ingrain the values and ideas paramount to our western civilization and involve our students in the “Great Conversation” — something we feel is much more valuable than simple usefulness.

The statement that Latin is hard and difficult is true. It is the vigor and laboriousness of Latin that make it one of the primary methods for training the mind. Our current culture has settled into a place of lethargy when it comes to rigor and training. We seek the “easy way out” as a pattern in our daily lives. Athletes use steroids to stimulate muscle growth. We read Cliff Notes instead of the actual literary work. We have conditioned or unconditioned our mind through abbreviated texting, Twitter and multimedia renditions of actual current events. We have lost our appetite to work hard. Latin trains our mind to think critically, systematically and creatively. What our world needs now more than ever are citizens who can think; citizens who are able to resist the urges of lethargy, identify fallacy, decipher propaganda, respond reasonably, and to defend the faith logically and hold to the ideals of a coming Kingdom.

I must admit that I did not receive Latin instruction during my early education. My family provided me with the best education they knew to be available and I am extremely grateful. I, in turn, desire to provide my children with the best education available as well. History proves that, contrary to the fad methodology of the last hundred years, classical instruction with Latin as a foundational component is the best western civilization has to offer. We must allow students to use their minds. We must make this training a challenge, constantly encouraging, and routinely correcting so our children may become, at least as Rudyard Kipling put it, “better men than we.”

~ Wade Ortego, head of school

References/ Further Reading:
Climbing Parnassus, Tracy Lee Simmons
The Devil Knows Latin, E. Christian Kopff