Friday, May 13, 2011

Why we need to learn Latin

The Devil Knows Latin: Why America Needs the Classical TraditionThe Devil Knows Latin: Why America Needs the Classical Tradition by E. Christian Kopff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In his introduction, University of Colorado Classics Professor Kopff, relates the source of his book's title. The late Fr. Ronald Knox, when asked to perform a baptism in the vernacular, responded: "The baby does not understand English and the Devil knows Latin."

The professor recommends the study of classical literature in their original language (likely Latin or Greek). He convinced me by page 26, that we should be learning Latin and that it was by no means a dead language. He tells us, "...of the 100 most commonly used words in English, only 10 or so come from Latin. Of all the English words, however--over a million in the latest dictionaries--more than half are of Latin origin, and those of Greek origin take up much of what remains."

The book is divided into three sections. The first section details the reasons we need to study the classics. The classics are narratives that tell a story and the story relates to who we are as human beings in the Western tradition. Learning the stories of our civilization helps us to put all the pieces of our education together. We begin to understand why we have the history we have and the underlying causes of world events throughout our history. We begin to understand how language, science, math, art and music fit into this enormous puzzle. We begin to understand the part religion, and Christianity in particular, plays. In short, our lives make more sense when we understand how all the pieces fit together and how we fit into the story.

The first section has other great insights as well. For example, the idea that tradition limits our creativity and advancement, he puts to rest. He points out "...languages are traditions learned by each generation from the preceding one and then taught to the next." Likewise, religion, science and history, are all built upon traditions. Prof. Kopff points out the beginning of science was in the sixth century B.C., when a man named Thales first proposed the world was "...a rational system, comprehensible to human minds," without relying on ancient gods for explanation. That the world is a rational system is itself a profound idea and one that we too often take for granted today. So, the first assumption in science is that the Universe is ordered and the second is that it is logical. These two ideas go back to the sixth century B.C. The third assumption of science is that the Universe is mathematical. This goes back to Pythagoras, who lived at the end of the sixth century B.C. Thus began the tradition of science.

The chapter of the first section outlines the need for the classics and the liberal arts in our grammar schools, high schools and universities. Kopff recommends children in the early years start out learning the three R's, followed by Latin, Greek and mathematics. The other subjects he recommends: history, mythology, English vocabulary and syntax and basics of government, can be taught in relation to the first subjects.

The second section discusses widely varying authors, philologists and philosophers. It was with this section that I found the most difficulty following the thread that links them all together. I felt rather like I'd stumbled into one of his classroom lectures by mistake. I was unprepared and unfamiliar with most of the names he was discussing so intimately. His somewhat frequent references to President Bill Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky scandal were rather amusing though dated. I wondered what the good professor would have to say about our present state of affairs.

The third section discusses popular culture--specifically movies--and how the ones that are most meaningful get their inspiration or find their source in some of the great classics of ancient Greece and Rome. Once again I found myself stumbling along with many of his stories since I haven't seen most of the movies he discusses and those I had seen, I wasn't always as thrilled about them as he was. For example, he thought Disney's "The Lion King" had "character and maturity." I prefer "Beauty and the Beast" for a moral tale of redemption and sacrifice.

The book reads like a collection of lectures put together to make a book. If I had been in his class and read the reading list before attending his lectures, maybe I would've better understood some of his points. Although I liked the book, it's probably not one I'd recommend to homeschoolers who want to know why they should study the classics. Leigh Bortins' book, "The Core," does a much better job of that.

The appendix, aptly entitled, "Doing it on Your Own," would be a great booklet for homeschoolers, especially if it were combined with the first section of the book. Prof. Kopff lists his suggestions for Latin curriculum to do at home, as well as Greek, along with some primary sources that would be good for beginning Latin and Greek students to read in the original.

View all my reviews

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Gloomy Day Ranting

I was going to write a witty and wonderful book review today, but my heart just isn't in it. Perhaps it's because we're into day two of the Great Deluge. We desert-dwellers who worship the sun don't do very well when our 70 and 80-degree dry sunny days are interrupted by two days of torrential downpours of rain then snow then rain then snow. It really contributes to a generally gloomy feeling.

What I really wanted to vent about is the gloomy state of our local public education system. Before I begin my diatribe, let me preface it by saying, yes, I know there are excellent teachers in the public schools. I'm not blaming the teachers who actually care about the students and the education they receive. Sadly, I'm convinced most of the teachers today really don't care about the quality of education in the schools and the main reason they don't care is because they aren't even aware of the severe deficit in knowledge that has occurred in the United States in the past 60 years or so. They can't possibly know because they didn't receive a well-rounded education themselves. And the reason they didn't receive a well-rounded education is because their teachers hadn't received a well-rounded education.

Maybe I should first define what I mean by a well-rounded education and also let you know that I have not received a well-rounded education. The only reason I know I haven't received a well-rounded education is because I know I don't know much and I've read books by people who are much more knowledgeable than myself. So please keep that in mind when you read what I have to say. A well-rounded education consists of a basic foundation in the classical Western tradition of literature, history and mathematics, with a fundamental knowledge of at least one classical language (such as Latin or Greek) and at least one modern language (sign language doesn't count). An educated person understands the basics of logic and doesn't engage in illogical reasoning except for amusement. An educated person listens to the arguments of others (provided they are also logical) and can passionately argue a point without bashing the person with whom he (or she...see, I can be PC when I want to be) is arguing. (I know I'm missing a bunch of those elements in my own education, but I'm trying to continue learning. That's one of the perks of homeschooling your kids for a generation or get a second chance to learn the things you didn't learn the first time around!)

How many of today's teachers have received this type of education? Most of them, I suspect, were taught by progressive professors who dismissed classical Western thought as so much yesterday's garbage. Darwin, Mead, Freud, Kant, Rousseau...these are the thinkers for the 21st century. Oh, wait, not many of today's teachers had to read any of these people, I would venture to guess. Instead, commitment to diversity and teaching kids to save the rain forests, stop global warming and have safe sex are the top priorities. We've moved away from the idea that the past has something to teach us to the idea that we know best how to form the future in to our own image. Popular culture is our teacher now.

Kids today are crying out for attention (as I'm sure they have always done). But as our culture has taken away the standards of decency that for so long permeated all levels of society, young people have to resort to even more extreme methods to get our attention. I know kids who praise and admire kids (who are still children, by the way) who embrace an alternative lifestyle. The popular kids are those who change their hair color every week, pierce unusual body parts and talk freely of sex, drugs and booze.

The young men use young women for their own gratification and they have their own cars (or the free use of their parents' cars) despite not having a job of their own. These same young men either wear skin-tight jeans they must've bought in the little girls' section of the department store, or they wear jeans that are so loose the crotch is at their knees. I know they must put a lot of thought into their clothing because they always have some sort of plaid or interesting print boxer shorts they proudly display as their pants fall down below their butts. (I often wonder: Who buys these boxers? I've seen them in the stores and I always end up buying the white briefs that come in jumbo packs of 6 pairs for $7 or $8. Those designer boxers cost about that much for one pair! Are their moms buying those expensive boxers for their sons to flash around town? Or are the jobless sons saving all their non-hard-earned cash to buy them for themselves?)

These kids dismiss religion as old-fashioned and outmoded and instead cling to darkness in music, appearance and lifestyle. In some cases, the parents either approve or at least don't disapprove. The parents might own a medical marijuana dispensary or the kids might be products of broken families. The only stability in their lives are the teachers in the schools they attend, but all the teachers know how to do is instruct them on deconstructing traditional values and replacing them with feminist and socialist ideologies. The teachers make a show of telling the kids to question authority but by that they really only mean question someone else's authority.

I can't end a post on a gloomy note. No matter how bad it seems, we Christians know the battle has already been won for us. There's a song that I love that's played on the Christian radio station by a group called Tenth Avenue North. The song is called "Healing Begins," and for me, it's a song about the grace of confession. The reality is the grace of confession and the love of Christ conquers all sin and death. My favorite two lines in the song are: "Sparks will fly as grace collides/ With the dark inside of us." Grace is powerful. It collides with darkness. It makes sparks. It is a cleansing fire. It is light.

All parents are home educators to some degree or another. We all have influence over our children, whether we like it or not. They will see the good that we do as well as the bad. Parenting is perhaps the hardest job on earth. On a rainy day like today my thoughts are gloomy and my heart breaks for the kids who have no one to guide them in the way of the Good, the True and the Beautiful. But I know in the end the Light will win. Because the Darkness can not overcome it. Sparks will fly as grace collides.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

A Feminist Critique

Official Navy recruiting poster
I'm a recovering feminist. I used to subscribe to "Ms." magazine. I used to have a t-shirt emblazoned with the motto, "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle," and I actually believed it. I was going to have a career in the Navy and if I ever did get married (which I probably wouldn't) or have kids (which I probably wouldn't) I would have someone else do all the mindless domestic chores, the "woman's work," which the feminist movement told me was so demeaning to me. If I played my cards right, perhaps I could marry a docile man who would support my career and stay home to take care of the children that I probably wouldn't have.

Some who know me peripherally might think I'm still a feminist. Although I left the naval service a long time ago to become a stay-at-home mom, I recently earned my black belt in taekwondo. I'm an expert pistol shot (or used to be). I can hammer a nail straight. Yesterday I fixed a toilet.

I believe in the equal value of women in the workplace, government, and society; just laws that give equal protection to women; and instilling in our daughters the motivation and desire to succeed academically and professionally. I believe women are just as smart as men and are capable of handling stressful and difficult situations just as well as men.

Me as a plebe (first year midshipman), c. 1981
But don't call me a feminist. Feminists are angry with men and believe the root of all evil in the world is caused by men. Feminists preach that women must be free from their biology and be like men in order to be valuable members of society. Feminists are so obsessed with being like men that they have euphemisms like "reproductive rights," which actually mean the opposite of what the words mean. They don't want the right to reproduce; they want the right to avoid reproduction. They assist men in being irresponsible for their behavior by giving them an easy way to avoid paternity.

The growing problem of pornography in our culture proves that women are still exploited and are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation than men. In feminism's refusal to acknowledge the differences between men and women, they have contributed to this problem.

Men are no longer expected to be the primary breadwinner in a family, since women are just as capable of bringing home a good salary as men. In fact, men have become the disposable part of a family today as many more women are choosing single motherhood to fulfill their need to become mothers without the burden of finding a suitable mate. (In some cases, there just aren't marriageable men around. As the ratio of women to men on college campuses nationwide nears the 60 to 40% ratio, fewer men are choosing higher education and are instead choosing to live in their parents' basements playing computer games.)

No wonder so many men are jumping on the feminism bandwagon.

My evolution from feminine mystique to feminist critique came to completion with Motherhood. I was determined to bring up my boys without gunplay or violence. Despite my navy experience as a 45-caliber pistol instructor, I didn't own a gun and didn't want them in my house...even play guns. Yet my little boys made guns out of everything. Sticks, Legos, toothbrushes. You name it, they shot, fired and exploded it.

It wasn't just the gunplay that confounded me. I began to notice they'd go into zombie mode whenever flickering images were near. They would throw hysterical tantrums when I'd shut off the television. They've outgrown the TV tantrum, but they're still prone to computer gaming addiction. This has never been a problem with the girls. They might spend hours on the computer, but it's because they're on Facebook chatting with friends, not playing computer games. Though not the stereotypical girly-girl frills and laces types, the girls are more relationship oriented than the boys. Friendships are critical to their well-being. They're more sensitive to the feelings of others. I didn't do anything nurture-wise to make my boys and girls behave differently. They're just wired that way. (Dare I say, God made them that way?) Scientific studies confirm what all mothers and teachers intuitively know: boys and girls are wired differently.

The Wall Street Journal published an article on May 4, 2011, which said the tears of men and women are profoundly different. A study on crying was conducted by Ad Vingerhoets, a professor of clinical psychology who focuses on stress and emotion at Tilburg University in the Netherlands.

It turns out women are biologically wired to shed more tears than men. Men have larger tear ducts, which means women's tear ducts fill up and spill over more quickly than men's. Testosterone can also help put the brakes on crying, which may be the reason older men tend to cry more often than younger men. Tears are full of hormones and proteins. One of the hormones in tears is prolactin, which is a lactation catalyst. Young women have 50% - 60% more prolactin in their bloodstream than young men do, which could also explain why women cry more often than men. In other words, it's not all social conditioning.

Dr. Vingerhoets conducted a project in 37 countries to compare the different rates of crying among men and women. Women in developed Western economies cry much more than men, and much more than women in societies where women have fewer rights, he says.

As to why women in developed countries cry more often than women who have fewer rights, my theory is that women who are infused with modern notions of feminism are so conflicted with competing roles of breadwinner, nurturer, and swimsuit model thinness that they cry more often. After all, modern feminism's mantra has always been that women can "have it all." Having it all has come with a price tag, which is the loss of true femininity, which values women for their femaleness, not for how much they can be like males.

During the five years I served as a naval officer I got married and had three children. I no longer wanted to be a career woman because I felt I wouldn't serve my kids well if I was serving my country. I wanted to give myself totally to my vocation as a mother. When I resigned my commission as a naval officer, I had to write a letter explaining my reasons. I remember writing something about having to make a choice between being a good naval officer or being a good mom. I knew there were lots of people who could fill my shoes as a naval officer but I was the only one who could be a mother to my children. It was an easy decision for me and one I've never regretted. We've since added seven more kids to our family and I've had the privilege of homeschooling them all. I never could have done that if I'd stayed in the navy. I'm thankful for the generosity and support of my dear husband whose tireless devotion to his family enables me to stay home and take care of the kids. In some ways, I feel like I really do have it all.

embracing true feminism

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Book review: "The Core"

A year ago I first heard about "Classical Conversations," a Protestant organization that promotes classical education among homeschoolers and has co-ops throughout the country. I looked into their program and was very excited about what I was reading. We decided not to participate, however, when it became apparent there were some anti-Catholic elements in the curriculum and Statement of Faith. While I can't recommend the group to Catholics, I can, however, strongly recommend The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education, by Leigh Bortins, the founder of Classical Conversations. You can read my book review here.