Skip To Main Content

Why Latin?

Why Latin?

September 24, 2020 by Herron-Riverside High School

Sixty years ago, Latin was still a subject common to many American high schools and grammar schools. It had been the cornerstone of western education for centuries, and many students began studying Latin as early as the 2nd or 3rd grade. By the mid- to late-1960s, with trends and attitudes shifting away from “traditional” educational models, Latin saw a slow decline and all but disappeared from public school curricula. It persisted in private and parochial schools, but the Catholic Church’s decision in 1966 to remove Latin from its masses further lessened its importance. The common mantra became, “Why should we study a dead language?”

In the last 20 years, there has been a nation-wide resurgence of Latin in both public and private curricula. This new interest in the language was primarily sparked by falling standardized test scores, but it has become something more in recent years. Latin and Greek supply roughly 70 percent of English vocabulary, and even a passing knowledge of Latin gives a student a marked advantage on the verbal portions of standardized tests. However, it is the logical and mental discipline that is required to master Latin that most benefits students. The step-by-step process of analysis that is required to decipher virtually every word of written Latin and the predictability and patterns inherent within the grammar are tools that, through constant application in the Latin classroom, strengthen a student’s cognitive processes and critical thinking skills. 

In essence, the four-year Latin sequence at Herron-Riverside High School serves as an intensive course in logic and logical processes, thereby creating a graduate who is much stronger in critical thinking and the ability for tackling more complex questions posed in a college classroom. In recent years the Roman and Greek culture taught in the Latin classrooms has evolved. We must prepare today’s students for their place on an increasingly global stage. 

As Americans come into more frequent and meaningful daily contact with individuals from other countries or cultures, there arises a need to understand not only where many of these cultures began, but also gain an appreciation for our own cultural roots. Since so many aspects of western culture are derived exclusively from their classical counterparts, to study Greek and Roman culture is to study our own beginnings. The roots of modern disciplines and cultural areas such as literature, art, law, politics, medicine, the sciences, and history are found in the classical tradition, and Latin itself is the basis for French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian. 

Latin, then, is a true gateway to many different areas of study, and it makes perfect sense that it was once such a cornerstone of a traditional education. The study of the ancients and their language should be (and, happily, it is at Herron-Riverside High School) a foundation for all elements of a secondary education. Our Latin department tirelessly pursues these goals every day, and we firmly believe in Latin’s irreplaceable role within the framework and curriculum of a classical education.