Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Weds. with Words - A Latin teacher on Science

Last week, I chatted with a homeschool dad who really felt that history was extra - you can always pick that up later. I was a little shocked by his attitude. In part, because history is fundamental to what we are teaching here. However, after reflection this is the logical end to an analytical approach to the world.  The conviction that science is the future and is knowable, while history is really all opinion and doesn't offer much toward our practical formation is pretty common.  I used to think this way too.  I have been corrected.

This overreaching of science is not a new issue. I love the argument offered in Teaching High School Latin (1916) by Josiah Game.  He begins by arguing that science has yet to show the utility that it promises to the students. He is not arguing against science in all of its forms, just the push, in his era, towards lab sciences at the expense of the classical curriculum.  His argument

In the very nature of the case, the sciences are a utility only to those who work along applied lines, and thus keep step with advances and changing theories of authorities.  As a test of this statement, let the man who studied physics or chemistry thirty years ago compare his old text with a recent text on the subject.  His old text is out of date, utterly absurd, and even dangerous. The science of thirty years ago, twenty years ago or even ten is a "dead science", and no language ever looked so dead as does a "dead science"

He then shares about a time when German universities decided to allow students with technical training into the universities along with those who had received a classical training.
After ten years of experimenting, the entire faculty of professors, natural and physical sciences included, declared that in spite of the start gained in scientific study by the graduates of technical schools, they were speedily overtaken by the graduates of the classical institutions, and left in the rear.  
He's not against science as a subject, he just makes the point that
No one can pretend to have an education who does not know something of science, but he must be prepared to unlearn it every few years, in the very nature of the case.    
He also argues that the way science has to be approached in high school does not leave room for critical thought (do you remember high school lab experiments where you just followed the steps and hoped for the best).  Plus, most students lack the math to understand science, especially physics.  In this book he is making the case that Latin teaches more logical thinking than science can and in a way that is more accessible to youth.

If you want to read about teaching Latin -  he has that in there too.  He talks about issues with teaching Latin in his day and thoughts about what should be covered during each year of Latin.  He did develop a full curriculum in First Latin: A Lesson a Day a Year.  The great part of this resource is the "optional" lesson at the end of each day's work.  Most of them involve memorizing something in Latin, history tidbits and similar other extensions of the learning.  It does move at a pretty fast clip if you are new to this material but it is not overwhelming.

It is interesting to read the arguments from 100 years ago against letting classical education slip away.  We are reaping the "benefits" of that loss.


  1. Fascinating. I'm excited about Latin, but am having struggles from my children. I appreciate the encouragement to keep working at it.

  2. I find this interesting. In our house we are probably heavy on history and not enough on science. I would love to find a balance, but like you stated science is so overreaching that I find myself rebelling at it.

  3. Wow! Truly fascinating. I was not expecting such an interesting set of Words from a Latin program.

  4. Honestly, the first part of the book is a defense of Latin in the classroom and the second half is an outline of a Latin program. I love reading these older texts because they are written by an individual (or a few) who are truly trying to advance the best program that they can to assist others in learning a subject that they love. So different from textbooks today.