My daughter texted me the other day from UT-Austin with this question: “Should I take Latin or stick with Spanish”? She’s a sophomore psychology major who wants to be an FBI agent some day, and after a few moments of wrestling with my classically-cursed conscience, I texted back that Spanish would be the more useful choice at this point in her studies.
I know. Hold on. Get the last phrase of that last sentence: “…at this point in her studies.” It’s all about foundations. Latin lays an excellent linguistic and cultural foundation for students in their grade-school years. It provides firsthand access to the treasures of Western Civilization like nothing else, except the Bible. Studying Latin makes kids smarter, better students, and much more organized thinkers—the academic literature bears this out. And, frankly, for many students, Latin is really fun.
And for students who catch the classical bug and go on to major or minor in classics in college, of course Latin (and Greek) are obvious choices. But for my daughter, Classical Dad’s advice is to not start over in an ancient language, and to keep forging ahead in the modern language that is spoken in the United States more commonly than any other, save English—at least for now.
Honestly, I’m kind of proud that she asked the question. It’s some small evidence that all of these years of hearing me talk about the value of classical studies—languages, literature, history, theology—have made an impression on her. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she believes in the importance of knowing our civilization roots.
Back to our world—PreK-12. While classical education might not be super-relevant for an FBI-bound college student, it is the most relevant approach to education for anyone not yet in college. Why?
Because it works. Done well, classical content and a classroom environment that encourages conversation about that content shapes students in all of the ways we want Christian kids to be shaped.
Ethics and morality. A classical approach to teaching requires students engage deeply rooted notions of objective truth, goodness, and beauty; none of which are taken seriously these days, to which our society’s sad condition testifies. Starting with the Bible and God’s law as the foundational premise for determining right and wrong; proceeding through the ancient philosophers and artists, most of whom believed intuitively in absolute values; on to the early, medieval and reformational church; the study of Western civilization is a clinic in ascertaining good and bad, justice and injustice, truth and falsehood.
Careful consideration. Learning to think long and hard about something important cannot be over-valued. But the pace of modern life, the pace of modern education, disinclines students from this skill. We want to know the quick, correct, up-to-date answers. Wrestling with a conundrum, teasing out a paradox, thinking up analogies—these are pre-modern exercises that give a classically trained student the leg up when she encounters the seriousness of real life.
Effective communication. I’ve seen senior presentations in non-classical schools, and I have seen classical Christian students deliver senior thesis presentations, and they are worlds—galaxies—apart. The typical capstone vanity project—Look, I’ve learned to unicycle!—pales in comparison to the rhetorical gravitas of students who have lived with a topic for a year or more, fashioned an argument, and delivered a compelling case that matters to the world and to God’s kingdom. Watch video below for a few samples of the depth of topics from CCA's 2019 seniors:
I could go on, and I probably will later in the year, but one more thing about how well classical education works. A ton of reporting has been done over the past ten years about the opportunities for liberal arts and even classics majors on Wall Street (Google “Wall Street wants classics majors”). But way back in the early 2000s, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about why financial services firms wanted Latin majors. They tended to be more ethical, they could patiently solve complex problems, and they knew how to talk and write clearly. Oh, and they knew how to learn new things really fast.
So, to my daughter—stick with what you’re doing. To every fourteen-year-old I know—learn classically!