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Latin Curricula and High School Credits

A Question and Answer Session with Mary Harrington

July 2002

The following is a question and answer session that appeared on HomeschoolChristian.com's message boards. Mary Harrington, co-author of Latin In The Christian Trivium, has taught Latin for over fifteen years at various levels, from middle school-aged homeschoolers to community college classes. A mother of eleven, she homeschooled her last four children, including in-depth study in Latin. The two boys were accepted at the Naval Academy, having scored 1400 on their SATs. Doug is now studying to become a forensic chemist for the CIA or FBI; David is in flight school in Texas. The oldest daughter recently graduated from college majoring in astrophysics. Mary firmly believes their grounding in Latin greatly contributed to their high test scores. The youngest daughter has her AA degree majoring in music, graduating with honors.

Mary taught at a large Christian high school. Now she tutors online and continues working on Latin in the Christian Trivium. She also enjoys her grown children and grandchildren.

Latin In The Christian Trivium is her first book. It grew from Gail's and her frustration trying to teach Christian students, yet having to explain the secular viewpoint during the lessons presented in modern textbooks.

Rhonda: What is the difference in the Trivium Latin and other Christian Latin programs?

Mary Harrington: As you know, the trivium is a three step program for learning, which we like to call "data input," "processing," and "data output." Actually, the formal names are the Grammar stage, Dialectic, and Rhetoric. Our curriculum begins in the Late Grammar stage, about eleven years old (or can be begun later), when a student still is able to memorize easily. Our vocabulary then, is fairly large, which poses no difficulty for the young student.

By Volume Two, we introduce more Bible doctrine, as the student begins to mature into the Dialectic (Logic) stage. The student can dig more deeply into Scripture and examine the words like "blessed" to see exactly what they mean.

Volume Three assumes more maturity on the student's part, and requires him to process and analyze information. He will write a journal, do reports (one is a term paper), and learn about Biblical principles such as gnosticism.

Volume 4 is mostly Bible translation and commentary.

By the way, what DOES "blessed" mean? Does it mean someone who is blessed has a halo? No! The Latin word for "blessed" is "beatus" which means "happy" or "blessed." Isn't that a great way to understand what the Beatitudes are all about?

Stephanie: I took Latin in high school, and it helped my vocabulary greatly, but it did nothing for my English grammar. Can it help with grammar?

Mary Harrington: You know, it may or may not help your grammar. It sort of depends on the point at which you are beginning your study. Our own children used Rod and Staff English books, so their English grammar was probably already adequate, but I wanted them to have the reinforcement that a study of Latin would give them.

The reason I chose to teach my children Latin was because I think it is easier to learn a structure (like grammar) from OUTSIDE the language, rather than from inside the language. Objectivity seems to help clear up any confusion as you get to the more complicated grammatical terms.

For example, some students get confused when learning present active participles and perfect passive participles, such as, "The man singing is my friend," or "The song having been sung in Latin seemed very beautiful."

However, in Latin, there are definite forms and endings so they learn to recognize these different grammatical structures.

The man singing is my friend. Vir cantans est meus amicus.

The song having been sung in Latin seemed very beautiful. Carmen cantatum Latina lingua visum est pulcherrimum.

I believe that learning any language other than English will help grammar, but we chose Latin primarily for vocabulary building and word formation. We wrote our book the way we did to include Bible study, history, culture, logical thinking skills, geography, ethics, and discipline.

Allie: I never studied a language [including English] but want my sons to know Latin. My oldest just turned 10..is it too young to start? Also, I slept through grammar classes. Will Latin be too difficult for me?

Mary Harrington: Your son who is ten can learn it, I'm sure, but you didn't say how old your other sons are. Right now I am tutoring a boy who is 11, on the Internet. He does very well. Or, you could begin with Latina Christiana, which is geared for the younger student, and then move on to a course like ours when the youngest is eleven or twelve.

Now, for YOU! I think you would really get a lot out of Latin. You are older now, and you would really enjoy learning about the root meanings of words, the culture of the Romans and why people even study it, as well as the grammar. Why not YOU study a high school level course (maybe ours??) and then when they are older, teach them?

How user friendly is the Latin in the Christian Trivium program? Is it idiot proof?! Since we are so new to this approach, a change to this program [from Artes Latinae] could probably be taken in stride, but, is a bright eight year old still below the required "level" for this?

Mary Harrington: Did you look at the sample pages on our Web page? Our business manager suggested that we allow people to buy the Teacher's Guide and look it over for two weeks. If you don't think it is the program you want, you can return it for full refund (if in resellable condition), except for shipping costs, within the two weeks.

Is it idiot proof? Yes, absolutely. We wrote it with the idiot in mind. [smiling] We mark each sentence so you can see WHY a word is in the dative case, for instance. We assume nothing. I was a teacher in a high school also, and tried to assume that the students knew nothing. They told me they learned better that way.

About the bright 8 year old... Are you going to teach your children, or do they study by themselves? If you teach them, she will do fine. My own daughter began at 8 with no problem, and another eight year old was in our class. At the same time, I was taking Latin at the local college, and the prof let me bring in our homeschool students to visit. He was amazed that the eight year olds could translate passages that the college age students struggled with!

Chris in NY: How would you give high school credit for your course?

Mary Harrington: While it is true that one volume of our course does not equal one year of high school Latin in a public school, three volumes of our course DOES equal three years of high school Latin.

The reason is that most Latin courses teach all the grammar in the first year, then they move on to Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic Wars the second year, and in the third year they study Roman poets and Cicero.

We decided, while teaching our children, to spread out the grammar to three years, so that they would retain it better, and in order to study the Bible themes, geography, history, culture, political science as they relate to Christianity.

Therefore, we have the standard vocabulary plus words that will be needed to translate much of Scripture. We translate a part of Caesar in Volume Three, and have directions for doing a term paper on Caesar. Volume Three also includes Cicero's First Oration against Cataline, with the historical background of that event.

My children received three years' high school credit for this course, and it was fully accepted by the U.S. Naval Academy, so I think it should be accepted at any other college. One of our customers gave her daughter the standard Latin exam after she studied one volume of our course, only. I was a little concerned, due to the layout of our program. But the girl passed with an above average score. So, it seems to be sufficient even though designed differently.

Charlotte: How much teaching time would I have to invest in teaching Latin in the Christian Trivium? I have eight children at home. Is there any point in introducing Latin to my daughter who is a senior?

Mary Harrington: Regarding Latin... when I had so many children, I had to really budget my time. I am not sure how much time you are able to devote to teaching, and how much of the time you need to have them work independently. If you were to teach them Latin with no extra help, it would take at least three hours a week of your time.

However, I think, if your older daughter is willing, you should ask her to teach the thirteen year old while she teaches herself, and you just teach the sixteen year old. That would only take an hour or so a week of your time. (Perhaps she could teach the sixteen year old, but in our family, that would have not worked out well.) Your seventeen year old daughter would learn so easily, and so well, if she were to teach another student at the same time she was learning. Docendo discitur. "We learn by teaching!" You could let her know that she can write me anytime with questions. Many of our customers do that frequently. (I really enjoy answering questions because of the years I spent as an AOL Latin tutor, helping in the AOL Homework Help Rooms.)

Later, the sixteen year old might be able to teach one of the younger children for you too!

When we were homeschooling, my son Douglas taught Stefanie, who was the baby of the family, all of her schoolwork, because I was very busy with our large family. One day, when she was thirteen, and all the others were grown, I finally had time to sit down alone with her and teach her! Guess what? She didn't really need my help. But, in the kindness of her heart, she "let" me teach her anyway! So, I say that to let you know something you already know; the older ones do teach the younger ones!

So, my conclusion is that you can do a difficult subject like this if you delegate.

AZKate: We have been working on the curriculum choices for our fourteen year old son, and I 'assumed' he'd take Spanish for his foreign language... last night he mentions he'd like to do Latin. I'm overwhelmed by the choices!

Mary Harrington: You remind me of myself when we began homeschooling. Harried! A wise friend told me that the Lord wouldn't give me more work to do than was possible. I felt so overwhelmed! I thought she must be wrong, but yet, what she said made sense.

So, I will advise you the way she advised me. Stop! Take a deep breath; ask the Lord for guidance. Realize that you yourself do not have to do all the high school work. He has to do it!

Your older son can learn from books all by himself for some of his education. Ask him! You make a plan for him; get the right books, and then choose where you can work with him, where he can do it himself, or where he needs outside help. Some homeschooling parents can do it all, but our children needed to take chemistry and composition at the local college. I tried to steer away from those classes which were taught by atheists, but in our case, I knew many of their teachers myself, and I didn't feel that they would be exposed to too much bad information in the classes they took.

Regarding the Latin... what can I say? Naturally, I think our book is the best and is self-teaching for the older student. However, a bright student can learn from any Latin textbook. I really can't advise you on any other than our own; the only one I know well is Wheelock's First Year Latin, an excellent college level book. I feel that our book is written for the uninitiated and the Christian, but maybe some others are as well.

If you would like to order the Teacher's Guide, which has all the material enclosed, I would be happy to send it to you, with the understanding that you have two weeks to return it in resellable condition, and you would get a full refund less postage.

AZKate: A quote from your site..."A class session of Latin in the Christian Trivium has a teacher-led lecture time in which the student copies things from the text into a notebook and then completes study and drill sheets." How exactly would this be done by a student working on his own?

Mary Harrington: A younger student would need to be directed by a teacher/mom, but a student fifteen years old or older would not need such direction. All directions are written in the textbook. He or she can just DO what it says to do, knowing that if he doesn't understand something, he can e-mail me.

To do this properly, you should have the text, the study sheets packet, the CD. However, the course is complete in just the textbook, but we felt that most students need the practice given in the Study Sheets and Drill Sheets. The answer key in the Teacher's Guide is helpful, unless your student doesn't feel he needs it. He can always check with me to see if he got the answers correct.

AZKate: Someone told me that colleges do not accept Latin as your foreign language credit requirement because it is a dead language. Is that true?

Mary Harrington: I will check further, since I cannot be positive, but this is what I do know. The Naval Academy at Annapolis accepted it, and I would assume that their standards are quite rigid. The woman who has the Latin Teach site told me that most colleges do accept Latin today.

Would you please share your personal preferences for curricula?

Mary Harrington:

  • Bible: This is a matter of personal preference, so I won't give a recommendation other than to say we did read a chapter of Proverbs or Psalms aloud each day together plus other Bible lessons from our church.
  • Math: Yes, Saxon. I know there are others with more bells and whistles, and some which teach more theory, but I disagree that they need to learn so much theory before college. We credit (and we have communicated with them) Saxon Math for our children majoring in math and science and being well prepared for it.
  • English: Rod and Staff is superior.
  • History: Bob Jones. Even in the lower grades it is interesting and patriotic.
  • Science: Bob Jones. I think Abeka covers too much material in a year's text. We also used Backyard Scientist a lot. Another mom taught a class for 9th graders using Bob Jones Basic Science, and they made a notebook and did an experiment each week.
  • Latin. of course.
  • Reading: Early years we did McGuffey and also Abeka books. Later on, we used some Abeka, but I also read classics like The Red Badge of Courage and Little Women aloud to them. I had to keep a dictionary nearby for Louisa May Alcott- what a vocabulary! One of my grown sons said that he thinks you should all know that they need to read books about heroes, of all types.
  • Music and Art: The science lady also taught them (five students) music and art history, using Dr. Francis Schaeffer's How Should We then Live? as a guide. Each week, they did a hands-on art project beginning with clay pottery, and moving on through mosaics etc. They listened to classical music as they worked.

Many thanks to Mary Harrington for sharing her thoughts with us here at HomeschoolChristian.com!

Related HomeschoolChristian.com Resources

Review of Latin in the Christian Trivium
Latin Program Comparison Chart
HomeschoolChristian.com's Classical and Charlotte Mason Resource Section
HomeschoolChristian.com's Classical Language Resource Section

Sites of interest

National Committee for Latin and Greek