Ask Andrew: July 1st

Jul 1, 2011
From the editor: Welcome to the second edition of our “Ask Andrew” column. To submit your own “Ask Andrew” question please click here. ____________________________________________________________________________ From Debbie in Ada, Michigan Andrew, Several classical schools use the Charlotte Mason teaching model in a "formal" school setting. As I understand it, "homework" is frowned upon using Mason's model. How can a school cover the information needed (remember this is a "formal school not a homeschool)and not have homework? Hi Debbie. I can't speak for the school you are referring to, but the Charlotte Mason approach is extraordinarily efficient at helping children learn and remember what they have learned. Perhaps the school is able to provide specific assignments that reinforce what was learned during the day. I will say this, and it seems important to me. Charlotte Mason isn't all that committed to "covering information" as she is thinking about living ideas. The paradox is that when you focus on living ideas, students learn the information a lot more solidly and permanently. Focusing on information, on the other hand, only helps with the living ideas if the teacher leads the students to see them. In other words, living ideas spread their life to the information when they are given the lead. Information severed from the living ideas is dead. From Tim in Birmingham, AL Modern foreign language educators favor "new methods" of teaching students to use language for communication, both oral and written. The old methods emphasized grammar rules and vocabulary decontextualized from actual communication. As classical education is the epitome of the old methods, I'm curious if it included instruction in foreign languages other than classical languages, and if so, how successful their methods were. Could a classically trained person go to, say, France and just start chatting up the French? Tim, Intriguing question. It would depend on the era, I suppose. Queen Elizabeth knew something like seven languages. After Philip Sidney it was "the thing" to go on the continental tour where young men fresh out of college would speak French and Italian with the French and Italians. So classical education is certainly not opposed to learning modern languages. The other part of the discussion is how to teach languages. The reason for the "old methods" was because their purpose transcended the "practical" end of learning a language for the more transcendent ends of learning to reason,  learning "Language," and disciplining the mind and will. Modern methods are geared to how we supposedly learned our first language, which I consider madness. Do you really want to go through that agony again? They are also oriented toward more of a stimulus-response approach to language learning, as opposed to the application of reason and the will. As a result, people learn how to order a cigarette in a German restaurant pretty easily, but they don't peer into the nature of language and they don't tend to discipline their minds and wills as much. Your point about decontextualized grammar is also important. It's true that that is what the old methods do, just as sit ups decontextualize core strength from skiing. But woe to the skier without core strength. By learning grammar as an idea, the student is actually given a short cut to the heart of the language. It's like learning phonics in spelling. Once you get the form, you can exercise your reason and gain the ability to read, write, and speak the language. In fact, you raise the ceiling of your potential by learning it that way. Plus, you learn the principles that will help you learn any language, you practice thinking in ways that will help you with any problem if you note how you do it, and you discipline your soul on the path to virtue. That's why it's not enough to study Latin or Greek. You also need to study them classically.  
David Kern

David Kern

David is director of our multimedia initiatives (podcast host, web-content manager, magazine editor, etc). He often writes about film, television, books, and other culture-related topics, and has been published by Christ and Pop Culture, Think Christian, Relevant, and elsewhere.  David and his wife, Bethany, have three young boys and they live in Concord, NC. 

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Intriguing. So, would you recommend, generally, the practice of beginning Latin around third grade as a study as most of the classical curriculums suggest? We will be beginning in our home Latin for Children with my third grader next year, but I just finished reading _Poetic Knowledge_, where Taylor recommends students learning Latin by a teacher speaking it to them rather than through decontextualized study.

I plan on teaching grammar exclusively through Latin and incidentally through writing (I don't know Latin, but my grammar is strong, and I've heard LfC is strong on grammar), and consider Latin a mental, logical discipline like math, but with language instead of numbers. My son loves words, but isn't so strong with math, so I think Latin study might work those logic muscles and possibly benefit his math ability indirectly.

It sounds like you're supporting this practice, but after reading Poetic Knowledge I was less sure about my resolve. Since I can't give my children Latin in the way Taylor recommends, I was still planning on going forward with my LfC plan. But it sounds here like you think the study, the dissection even, of language study is good. Is that right?

Dr. T's approach seems to require that you know Latin well enough to present it artistically. The best way to learn it would be to live in it as a very young child (from birth) like you learn your first language. But because we learn it older, the best way is to learn it in as many ways as possible, but with a very strong, logical/grammatical structure ordering all the studies. I don't find the practical use of a language serves much purpose, and it can be a distraction from learning it "theoretically" if it is attended to beyond a certain trivial level.

I do, however, recommend memorizing and listening to Latin passages that students don't understand. In our disrespect for the soul we would now say that it "wires the mind."

Thank you!

I just bought a used copy of Lingua Angelica to supplement just by listening to it in the car or while we work, and I was thinking maybe we'd get a CD of Christmas music in Latin this coming season.

As a Charlotte Mason homeschooler for almost 18 years and a Spanish teacher/tutor since 2005, you have hit on two of my favorite subjects.

I prefer a comibination of methods beginning with TPR (total physical response), where I use commands and gestures to help students feel comfortable with the target language from the start. To that I add some Francois Gouin, which extends a set of actions (usage of verbs) while conjugating in each person, starting in the 1st person singular format and moving naturally through the other grammar structures. Next, I add useful and practical phrases (not "it's been raining for three days" or "my umbrella is broken" as I learned in college German classes :-). Then, I do like to inform and teach grammar charts of verbs, but I do it quickly and encourage the students to copy the chart. After that, I use the verb in practical sentences and in question and answer format, but I draw each student in with extra personalization from their own life, be it a favorite hobby or pet. I like to get them conversing in the target language and participating right from day one.

As we move into second and third semesters of the language, I begin reading mini-novels with the students right away and ask them questions (in Spanish) to draw out narrations from them (also in Spanish). I like to include whole chapters from the bible by second year, and begin appropriate foreign films at the end of year one. My Spanish III class read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis aloud in Spanish, and we took our time. Could my slower students keep up with every grammatical structure? Not at the level of my two best students, but I will always believe in the efficacy of reading aloud and narration to reinforce pracitce and usage of grammatical structures and vocabulary. This was a rewarding stretch we were able to make as a group this year.

I had also added hymns, worship songs, and some quality pop songs in the mixture with my classes, taught from my home these past few years, but taught in a co-op setting three years prior. I have preferred teaching from home as there are fewer issues with time, both on a weekly basis and by having more weeks in the scheduled schoolyear.

I've dabbled with Latin over the decades with my own children and in co-op settings, and it has been a different approach and outcome with each and every student, I am sad to say. My passion definitely lies elsewhere ;-).


Kim in N. TX