On the other side of AP Latin

This week my oldest takes her AP Latin exam. Hitting milestones like these tends to make me reflective, and I thought I would look back on her four years of Latin study and pick out what she has gained from it.

When I started her on the Latin journey, it was mostly based on faith and hope that a return to past traditions would yield higher results. Now that I have seen it first hand, I can say why (I think) it makes you smarter. 1. Students have to work really hard to pick the right English words to translate Latin to English. This is because one Latin word can mean several different English words. Nuance plays an important role, and I have seen first-hand how my daughter is a better writer as she deliberates over her word choices. She critically thinks about how whole passages are written and what the author is trying to make you believe. 2. Latin word order is entirely different than English, and endings of the words indicate the part of speech. This means that a student has to analyze each word in the Latin sentence and determine the grammatical structure and work to put the words into correct English word order. 3. Preparing for the AP Latin exam involves huge amounts of literary analysis skills. My daughter has learned to dig for meaning through verb tense choices, word choices, sentence structure and more. This is done through reading The Aeneid, and analyzing the meter and the Latin words chosen to create and convey meaning. Then Caesar’s De Bello Gallico is also studied and analyzed. Students have to work really hard to access and understand the works in English. Reading the Latin and translating is such a high-level educational experience. 4. Her vocabulary is off the charts. She tested above 1700 Lexile level on her virtual schools reading tests since she was in Latin 2 in 7th grade. 5. Latin requires extreme attention to detail. This is the area of Latin where my daughter struggles the most. I think this is likely due to a combination of her youth and her personality. I have been very impressed with how she has grown and improved in her ability to pay attention and notice minor details. 6. Learning Latin takes loads of grit. Latin can sometimes be tedious and dull, and sometimes really interesting. There are a lot of highs and lows in it–at least if my kid is anything to go by. She has both hated it and loved it at different times. Persevering through the subject has given her strength of character and a myriad of academic skills.

These skills have transferred to other disciplines and subjects. My daughter took AP US Government in 8th grade through an online school. She had to write a media guide where she analyzed news articles and looked for bias. She had to write multiple essays for the class. Her teacher said he had never seen another student like her and that, “Her powers of analysis [were] off the charts.” It is entirely attributed to her Latin preparation and whatever natural talent she was born with, but the way her mind was trained was through the Latin. I don’t know if all of my kids (or anyone else) will get the same results, but my current plan is to put all of my children through Latin because I didn’t do anything else to explicitly train her to analyze or process information (besides allowing her to read extensively). 

All told, DD will have finished 7 AP classes and tests by the end of this week. (Over the course of grades 7-9.) Her most difficult classes have always been her Latin classes, and by comparison everything else has been very doable for her. I am extremely satisfied with what she has gained through her Latin study, and she will be continuing on with Latin 5 in her 10th grade year. She will also be adding Greek because she is interested in learning another classical language, and also because we love this quote from Winston Churchill, “I would make them all learn English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honor, and Greek as a treat.”

Classical Education With a Twist

I have always been attracted to classical education.  I think it started when I was first learning about how my public education was really inadequate.  I was friends with a family that decided that the local schools (which I attended) were not sufficient, and so they researched and set up a charter school that followed the Core Knowledge Sequence.  The sequence introduced me to the idea of learning a comprehensive, interdisciplinary world and US history, classical literature, and mostly just the idea that there are standards of education floating out in the world somewhere that were higher and better than anything that I had experienced in every subject.  Core Knowledge brought the idea that there is a shared cultural literacy that our civilization is built on, and that this education is the key to equality and success in our society.

Fast forward several years.  I now had married into the family that set up the charter school and I had two kids.  I planned on enrolling my kids in a school with the CK sequence or finding some sort of supplementation when I visited my aunt in Washington, D.C.  She was homeschooling her large family, in spite of the schools around that were using the core knowledge sequence.  I was confused as to why she would go through all that work when she actually lived in a district that had “the best” plan available.  I said something that indicated what I was thinking, and her reply was, “I homeschool because I have a curriculum I like better.”

I tucked that thought in the back of my mind and held onto it.  I started researching homeschooling forums and sites and realized that there are several educational philosophies in the world and that homeschooling gave you the freedom to do what you loved from any of them.  I love that you can totally customize each child’s educational experience.

So here are some of the additional sources that have informed my homeschooling choices:

Charlotte Mason  I really love her whole approach to education.  I have tried to incorporate character education, nature studies/journaling, living books, and feasting on a wide and varied educational banquet.  I regularly refresh myself on her philosophy and try to bring it into my personal curriculum choices.  I do not follow everything she recommends to the letter, but I let her philosophy raise the way I bring in other ideas to a higher level. For example, I don’t use exclusively living books.  I think encyclopedias and textbooks have value (and my kids LOVE reading them), and should be incorporated so that children can later go to college and not be completely stymied by all the texts they will wade through in college.  I also teach grammar earlier.  These are just two examples, but I feel like it is really freeing to take what you love and leave what you don’t.

The Well-Trained Mind  I love the way this book breaks down education throughout the entirety of a child’s time at home.  I regularly reference this text to see what kind of subjects are recommended and when to add them into my child’s life.  I use this source very loosely.  I use it as a yardstick to make sure I am meeting or exceeding the goals.  I feel like the suggestions are too incremental and time-consuming.  If I were to follow this exactly, we wouldn’t be able to feast on as many subjects.

Memoria Press  I use the accelerated curriculum guide as another yardstick to measure educational progress.  I also buy some of their subject material, but I don’t use them exclusively, and frequently I don’t follow the things I do buy exhaustively.

Homeschool Buyers Co-op  I regularly peruse the subject offerings here because I have found new subject areas that were not suggested in any of my previous sources.  For example, I saw several technology classes that were not even on my radar, and so I started looking into programming and computer science courses.  It was then that I realized that if I didn’t change course drastically, I was in danger of only producing classics majors (and while I love the subject material, it doesn’t really do much in the way of supporting a family).  I decided to ramp up my STEM curriculum choices because of the offerings on this site.

These are the sites that are my jumping off point for developing my curriculum outline.  I am always on the lookout for other sources and ideas as well.  I have decided that there is no one right approach, and no source has all of the answers.  I find that by keeping an open mind, our educational journey has led us to exciting places.  We are currently enjoying unit studies with a fun co-op in our area.  I never subscribed to unit studies, but in a group setting it has been really fun.  We have been able to take a morning off our normal track and go explore with a large group of other kids.  Unit studies provide a great group activity, and work well with field trips and other local opportunities.  This has been a departure from every philosophy that I have ever used, but we have really enjoyed ourselves.

So when I am asked what homeschool philosophy I subscribe to, I just say “classical education with a twist” because we use it as our backbone, but we depart regularly.  Good luck finding your personal educational style, and have fun twisting it around to make it your own.