Why Latin?

Published 8:31 am Friday, September 23, 2016

By George Pulchinski

Pacelli Latin teacher

Pacelli Catholic Schools has embarked on a Classical approach to education. It is a system that has been gaining momentum since an essay entitled “The Lost Tools of Learning” was published in 1948 by Dorothy L. Sayers, who, although not being an educator, was a smart and observant person. The Classical approach is being installed across the country. Two examples are Saint Benedict Catholic School in Richmond, Virginia, and Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School in Denver, Colorado. It also inspired Laura Berquist, who was instrumental in founding Thomas Aquinas College in southern California; she also developed a homeschooling curriculum called “Mother of Divine Grace,” and is brilliant in the ways of classical education.

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Classical education is a teaching system based on more than 2,000 years of experience. While we cannot go back in time, we can return to a way of teaching that was successful for many centuries, perhaps including some minor revisions for the twenty-first century. Classical education is meant to help students learn how to think, rather than merely teaching “subjects.” The method of teaching can be broken into two divisions: Trivium – grammar, logic, and rhetoric, and the Quadrivium – arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. As seen, the classical method can stimulate and exercise both sides of the brain – both the logical and the creative – which allows for greater development of the intellect.

For our purpose here, we are focusing on the Trivium, especially the grammar area. This leads right to Latin. What is there about Latin that makes it a perfect fit for classical learning? For one thing, Latin helps students acquire the building blocks of English and develop a more extensive vocabulary and a better command of English grammar, leading to more effective reading, writing, and speaking. This is because Latin exposes students to the word roots, prefixes, and suffixes that constitute 60% of the English language. Latin also is the source for English vocabulary in many important areas such as law, medicine, science, philosophy, politics, and theology. And because Latin nouns change their endings according to the function they are performing in a sentence, students are able to better understand how languages work.

Latin also provides a foundation for quickly and easily learning other languages because it is the basis for five other major languages (and 20 minor ones), including Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Italian, which are spoken by people in more than 50 countries. When students have a strong Latin background, they already know 80 percent of each of these other languages. In an increasingly global society, the ability to pick up new languages is a tremendous asset.

The emphasis on Latin, therefore, should begin at an early age, at a time when inflected speech seems no more astonishing than any other phenomenon in an astonishing world. That is why Pacelli Catholic Schools are taking Latin to the elementary level on a simplified fashion in its beginning stages. It is hoped that presenting Latin from the first grade on up will help the students learn faster and move ahead of their non-classical peers in most subjects, as has been seen in the school systems mentioned previously in this article.

In summary, even though the Classical Catholic education is in its beginning stages at Austin’s Pacelli Catholic Schools, results appear favorable as there seems to be an enthusiastic response from the students and parents of students enrolled in the Latin I class and the Latin II classes at Pacelli this year; enthusiasm on the elementary level also has been overwhelming, and we hope this bodes well for the future of Latin at the Pacelli Catholic Schools.

If you are interested in learning more about Pacelli Catholic Schools visit our website at www.pacellischools.org, email admin@pacellischools.org or call 507-437-3278.