Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Latin-Centered Curriculum and CM education

Andrew Campbell's new book The Latin-Centered Curriculum has recently been creating a stir around the blogs and message boards I read. Yesterday I finally got round to checking out his website and reading the sample pages. Unfortunately I can't yet squeeze the book into my budget, but I am definitely bumping it well up my wishlist.

I am a Latin enthusiast. I think there are very good arguments for studying Latin as the backbone of language and grammar studies. From my British perspective I have always been somewhat baffled by the huge emphasis placed in American education on English grammar, which was only loosely taught here even in the days before education was dumbed down. I eventually realised that the reason for this is that the traditional British education system has always relied heavily on foreign languages for grammar study, and in particular the study of Latin. The most academic schools here, with selective entry for those eleven year olds who pass an aptitude test, are known (and have been known since the middle ages) as "grammar" schools, and that does not mean English grammar - it means Latin. In many areas grammar schools have now been phased out or turned into private schools, and those that do remain place less emphasis on Latin and the classics. Worse still, even where Latin is taught little emphasis is placed on the formal study of Latin grammar. The same applies to the study of modern foreign languages - lots of "understanding from context", little grammar. Cue a generation of grammatical illiterates (but that rant belongs on another soapbox. I digress ...).

The Latin centred curriculum [Aside: I just can't set aside years of British orthographical conditioning to add that extra "e" to "centred"] is a "classical" education in the way I have always understood it; an education based on the classical languages, beginning with Latin and adding Greek, leading to the reading of the ancient classics in the original. Charlotte Mason was not an enthusiast for this type of classical education, yet reading the online sample of Campbell's book I was struck by the similarities between the education he advocates and a CM style education. The section is titled multum non multa, meaning "not many, but much". At first sight this looks quite different to a CM style education. The Latin centred curriculum limits the number of academic disciplines, whereas CM advocated a broad curriculum covering a wide variety of subjects, ranging from the academic to the practical. However in other respects there is a great deal of overlap. For English and History the core readings required by the Latin centred curriculum "consist of a very few representative masterpieces that the student reads slowly and studies in depth". Charlote Mason also had her students read slowly through a small number of literary classics and "living books". Under both methods children's literature and historical fiction are extras, the icing on the cake to be read as part of the child's leisure time (the Parents' Union School schedules list them as "Evening and Holiday Reading"). Both methods put a heavy emphasis on linguistic study, though from a different perspective. Obviously the classical method focuses on the classical languages whereas Charlotte Mason gave a high priority to modern languages as well as Latin*. Students of her Parents' Union School studied French from the age of six, and by their teens they were learning four languages: French, German, Latin and Italian. A larger part of their school time was spent on language study than on any other subject. Finally, both educational methods eschew busy work and make it possible to complete the formal part of a student's education in a short time, leaving plenty of spare time to pursue the student's own interests and hobbies.

So I am intrigued. I have been thinking about the place of Latin in our schooling, and what I have read on the Latin-Centered Curriculum site has me feeling that a greater focus on Latin would fit well with our CM style education. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the book in the not too distant future.

* Although I have never seen any mention of Greek in anything I have read about CM education I spoke recently to someone who was in awe of the well-rounded education her mother received at a PNEU school - which included Greek.

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