Learning Latin

28 Mar

No, I am not teaching Latin in my classroom, although we have had brief lessons on Spanish and Irish as part of our social studies dealing with other countries. My students will probably have no occasion to visit Ireland or Mexico, but neither will they use Algebra, Geometry, Statistics or a study on matter or plant tropisms. But we study them anyway as part of our regular curriculum instead of life skills. It’s a NCLB thing. And it’s fun.

No, this is about my son, Thomas, and his own adventures. My wife, Jane, got the idea before Christmas of perhaps homeschooling our boys and giving them a more classical education. She was mainly thinking of doing this with my youngest, Percy, who is at that age where he is keen to learn almost anything. Thomas, OTOH, is more of a challenge. He rather dislikes school and homework and schoolwork and all the stuff that goes with it. Which is to say, he is a lot like his father. But that in no way means that he dislikes learning.

This was recently demonstrated when Jane bought the student and teacher editions of Song School Latin as she was looking at classical education materials. In the end, she decided to make this material available to the boys and supplement what they were learning in school. So she is homeschooling in a way, just not in a conventional way. And she spends a lot of time with Percy, teaching and working with him. But it was Thomas who picked up on this particular subject. In the space of about 2 months, he has memorized the book and the CD that goes with it. He can translate any of the 100 words contained therein. And he did it without writing in the workbook. He read the workbook, but the CDs with the chants and songs were what really helped crystallize it for him. And he did it all pretty much for the fun of it. There are 30 lessons, each supposedly good for about a week. He did the whole course in less than 60 days. And he knows how to use the words properly in the correct context. All without being explicitly taught by a live teacher.

The difference, of course, is motivation. The boy is intrinsically motivated to learn language and languages. Even though he didn’t talk until he was 3, he was reading well before that. And he has always gravitated toward other languages and cultures. He’s currently a bit obsessed with Japanese and always eating with chopsticks. We haven’t said much about this obsession as it does have a side benefit of slowing down his eating so he is not inhaling his food as much. He hasn’t mastered the shovel-method of using chopsticks and we haven’t really taught him just because we’re okay with slowing him down. If he’s hungry enough, he will grab a spoon or fork after laboring with the chopsticks for awhile. The chopsticks, for him, make good, cheap and functional reinforcers!

But back to the Latin, it has been an education for me to witness the power of simple motivation. So often teachers and parents try to drill content into a kids’ head when altering the presentation can make all the difference. Making it fun seems to make all the difference, and Latin itself has side benefits in the way of new vocabulary and grammar. It is not something that most kids would just glom onto and I’d bet that if the school system made in mandatory, Thomas would not have touched it with a 10 foot pole. But since it is just for fun and is totally outside of what is going on in school, he’s more inclined to just go for it.

Compared to Percy, Thomas is a total challenge in the classroom setting. Learning how to reach and engage students like him is what the profession is all about. Watching the boy learn a year’s worth if Latin in 60 days has been quite an education. But he still can’t tie his own shoes. He still hasn’t learn how to dry himself after taking a shower.

This really is the challenge of high functioning autism/aspergers. They can be absolutely brilliant in so many instances but nearly hopelessly helpless in some of the most basic aspects of life!

3 Responses to “Learning Latin”

  1. Kate Olson at 6:59 am #

    The first paragraph you wrote here hit me like a freight train – the insanity of standards for SpEd classrooms never ceases to amaze me…..and kudos to your son for picking up Latin so quickly and independently!

  2. Daniel Dage at 5:06 pm #

    Thanks for visiting and thanks for the shout-out, Kate! Yeah, it is really wild. Genrally, when someone sees my lesson plans, they react with either terrible shock and horror or they are very pleased and absolutely think they are the greatest. Generally, the ones who know the most about teaching my students are the most horrified. Those most removed are the most delighted. To put it another way, those who have drunk the most NCLB/testing/standards-based kool-aid are happiest, and those are the ones who are evaluating me and my performance. But I slip in s fair amount of nonstandards-based life skills insubordination when I can!


  1. Wise Words — Kate Says -

    […] wise words from a very wise SpEd teacher (Daniel Dage): No, I am not teaching Latin in my classroom, although we have had brief lessons on […]

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