Interview with Martin Cothran on Common Core at CiRCE Institute

MartinCothranYou have written and spoken quite a bit in opposition to Common Core, especially the science standards it promotes. Why is this so important to you?

The Common Core standards are important because of the number of children that will be affected by national standards which are eliminating content knowledge and trying to replace it with amorphous “critical thinking skills.” I’m obviously not against critical thinking skills, since that’s what the liberal arts are. The trouble is that public school policy-makers have no clue what constitute critical thinking skills. It’s a nice-sounding phrase that has no definitive meaning. The lack of content knowledge will further corrupt the process of passing our culture down to the next generation, which is the most important educational goal.

Read the rest here.

Defending the Poor Shakespeare

Modern literature studies always raise the question “Who was Shakespeare?” Some claim he was the Earl of Oxford using a pseudonym while others say he was a man from a poor background in Stratford-upon-Avon who actually had the name of Shakespeare.

Whatever side of the discussion one takes, this article’s defense of the poor Shakespeare through classical education should cause one to think (see the second section, ‘Snobbery’). It is true that in his era, the small town grammar school would have given him the tools he needed to write such masterful plays. By the age of eight, all the school children would have been speaking Latin–a skill that would open them the doors of Roman literature. Once those doors were open, nothing would have stood in the way of a boy who thirsted for wisdom and knowledge. If his desire was strong enough, he would have been able to educate himself to a level that surpassed even that of the aristocracy.

Why does our modern educational system insist on keeping those doors closed to all?

Defending Latin in Public Schools

I just found this article about Latin “not being dead yet.” It is a great apology for Latin–it points out that it should be for everyone, not just for the “smart kids.”

It covers just about every reason why one should learn Latin. What astounds me is that a journalist can understand and present the argument so clearly while the educational establishment continues to ignore it.

Latin should be required in all schools. Read the article to find out why.

Learn English Through Latin

It is amazing how many people are now defending learning Latin in school. This blog post points out its fantastic benefits in learning English grammar and vocabulary. I found it to be very well written and to the point. Honestly, even though I work day in and day out promoting Latin, it nearly knocked my socks off with its straight-forwardness. It is well worth the read.

But Latin teaches something much greater than the English language when a student learns it early: critical thinking skills. The effort a student must put into analyzing grammar forms and then synthesizing them into a translation forces that student to start thinking in an organized, systematic way.

Modern languages like Spanish or Portuguese just don’t do the job. Since their nouns and adjectives are not declined as they are in Latin, the student misses the whole exercise of learning the parts of a sentence–and consequently miss the majority of the critical thinking development.

What other benefits do you see to learning Latin?

Education and Politics

In the midst of a recent conversation, a logical syllogism started to form in my mind:


1. Modern progressive education teaches students what to think and not how to think.

Modern political discussion is rife with people who spout ideas without reasoning.

Therefore, modern progressive education has lead to the polarization in today’s politics.

2. Classical education teaches students how to think.

People who know how to think will have reasonable political discussions.

Therefore, to help society have better political discussions, students should be taught with a classical education.


Is this argument flawless? Post your comments below!


An Interesting Way to Practice Latin

Whether or not you have a passion for Latin, you’re inevitably struck when you hear about a radio news program broadcasting in the ancient tongue.

While the Classical Core Curriculum is not designed to teach the students to speak Latin, it will definitely prepare them to understand these fun podcasts.

You may ask what the advantage is of such news programs. If it were nothing more than sparking the students’ interest, it would be enough. But it is also keeping the importance of Latin in society’s sight. Vivat Latina!

Latin helps boost scores on the SAT

We have always said that Latin boosts students’ scores on the SAT. However, concrete data has never been provided. Here is an article that gives average scores for the SAT, not only of Latin students versus the average, but also compared to students of Spanish and French. The stats are about a third of the way down.

Sapientia et Virtus

Our motto is “Sapientia et Virtus” which means “Wisdom and Virtue”. Why?

When many people speak about classical education, they focus on the superior academics found at a classical school. This is true, but classical education is not just about information. It educates the mind in a deep way, not just filling it up to repeat it on exams, but leading it to wisdom.

But there is more than just the mind–classical education also trains the soul. We always advocate teacher-directed classrooms to help foster discipline and self-control. The literature classical students read teaches them about virtue and vice.

That’s our motto in a nutshell. Just thought you should know.

Docere, Delectare, Movere

The motto of Highlands Latin School is “Docere, Delectare, Movere,” or “To Teach, To Delight, To Move.” That school, where the Classical Core Curriculum is developed, believes that the key to teaching is making sure that the students enjoy learning.

But a distinction has to be made: the students are to delight in learning not because they are having fun but because they are taught to enjoy the pursuit of truth. At Highlands Latin School you will typically see students sitting quietly at their desks (which are in straight rows facing the teacher), working away or paying attention to the lecture. Almost every child on the planet will tell you there are more enjoyable things they could be doing–and most teachers would tell you their are more engaging ways to teach–but in general the students do not complain or dread the school day.

The teachers take advantage of the occasional game or activity, but most class time is dedicated to serious intellectual pursuit. And yet you can see the children’s eyes light up when they can answer a question correctly or when something becomes clear for them. “Man by nature desires to know” as Aristotle would say, and Highlands uses that innate desire to foster a love for learning. Challenging the students to learn, keeping the bar high, motivates students more deeply than “fun” activities. Teaching truth, goodness, and beauty is the key to delighting in learning.

Learning Virtue

by Paul Schaeffer

In elementary school I learned the story of Cincinnatus from the book Famous Men of Rome. When I try to recall the stories I learned that year, he is the first one to come to mind. Romulus and Remus came second, followed by Horatius. So I had to ask myself, “Why would Cincinnatus come even before the founders of Rome?”

The answer was simple: because Cincinnatus embodied all that was noble in Roman culture. He was a man of simple taste. Though he was from a noble family and a man of great renown, he lived on a small farm outside the city. When the Roman army found itself in dire need, the Senate thought it appropriate to name Cincinnatus dictator for a period of six months. They found him plowing in his field and asked him to take control of the situation. By the end of the day, Cincinnatus had raised a new army and marched to the rescue of the regular Roman soldiers. He immediately defeated Rome’s enemies and marched back in triumph.

This story sounds like all the other stories of Rome’s greatness, but what really stuck with me was what Cincinnatus did after coming back to Rome. He had the right to hold on to his dictatorship for six months. And yet, within a few days of returning home, he renounced his office, gave the power back to the Senate, and returned to his farm. I recall my teacher emphasizing this point: a noble, upright person should not have an inordinate desire for power, but serve his community in the office that they entrust to him. Since Cincinnatus had done his duty, it was right for him to give up his office once he returned home.

I tell this story to show how classical education can affect a student. After almost 20 years, I still remember that lesson about virtue. Not only do I remember it, but I also let it influence what I do. After all, isn’t classical education about teaching students how to think and what to do?

Latin inspired the standard for all poetry

by Charles Moore

A great explanation and defense of Latin poetry. Read it here.

The Science of Teaching Science

by Paul Schaeffer

My high school chemistry teacher’s favorite word was “wonder.” Nothing was done in class because some outside power required us to do it. After a while, we all knew that we learned what we did because it was worth knowing–and that’s why we wanted to learn it. The first day of class he taught us to use our sense of wonder in our observations.

“When you observe something, use all five of your senses,” he said. “Look at it, touch it, smell it, taste it, drop it on the floor to hear what it sounds like.”

We followed his counsels to the letter. Any chemical substance he gave us, we observed completely. We began to wonder!

The bad news was that occasionally he would let us taste a substance that was not conducive to our health (to put it euphemistically) . He did not want to shield us from real-life experiences, but taught us what unrestrained wonder could lead to. I no longer remember what chemical it was, but one day he passed out a white powder that we were to observe. We all dutifully tasted it (among our other observations). He continued with the lesson and our tongues started to go numb. Ten minutes later, he stopped in the middle of his lecture and said, “By now your tongues should be numb. I will be passing out some vinegar now which will act as an antidote.” And then there we were, all drinking small portions of vinegar to get our tongues working again! He had a deeper point: the pursuit of knowledge can be arduous and even dangerous.

The good news was that our sense of wonder, with his support, continued beyond physical observation. We learned about the pre-Socratic philosophers and the difficulties they encountered. We followed the quest of the Greeks to figure out what was the underlying substance of the entire world. We drank at the fountain of Socrates’ wisdom and continued into the world of Plato’s forms. All this time we were dying to know what really made up our world. And then we met Aristotle. We picked up his book Physics and struggled to follow his strict logic. We expected him to posit one underlying substance for everything as his predecessors had done. But no, he taught us that everything in this world is made up of matter and form.

The course did not stop there–we continued to learn about the development of the periodic table of the elements as well as different chemical properties. But we knew what the world was really made of. We understood from the beginning that the periodic table was a method of discovery and manipulation, not a philosophical interpretation of existence. So while we needed to understand modern chemistry, it was grounded in a classical understanding of the world. We were not stuck manipulating formulas for days on end, but rather our wonder drove us to think about reality more deeply and still drives me every single day.

Rhetoric: Much More Than Public Speaking

by Paul Schaeffer

Current educational trends either ignore public speaking all together or attempt to teach it by making the student do it repetitively. However, this approach does not seem to be working. Look at the people who make their living by speaking to the public: talk show hosts try to persuade their listeners by shouting more than their opponent while others bore their audiences to death with long, drawn-out monologues. The fruits of our education beg us to find out what current trends miss.

Aristotle defines rhetoric as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” Observation is active by its very nature. It requires processing and analysis. So then it must be concluded that rhetoric is not about flailing your hands as you speak, nor is it just a wild attempt at public speaking. It is a deliberate effort to decide which method would be most apt to convince your audience of your point. It is therefore a conscious process (something largely ignored in modern public speaking classes). In classical rhetoric, there are three methods of persuasion: ethos, logos, and pathos. Ethos is the quality the speaker holds as a respectable person. Because he is good, we listen to him. Logos is persuading by means of logical argument. Because it makes sense, we agree with it. Pathos is using the audience’s emotions to convince them of your point. Because we feel attracted to it, we like it.

While the speaker must take these aspects into account, it is very advantageous for the audience to be aware of the art of rhetoric. A listener equipped to “observe in any given case the available means of persuasion” will be able to glean the truth or falsity of arguments based on ethos, logos, or pathos. Whether or not a student will ever be in a situation where he needs to speak to a large group of people, it is worth teaching him rhetoric. It will make him a better speaker and a better listener.

How knowing Latin helped one reporter get the scoop of a lifetime

“Qui res mundi vellet scire linguam Latinam cognosciat.”

If you don’t know what that means, then join all the reporters who missed one of the greatest journalistic scoops of the 21st century.

When Pope Benedict XVI recently abdicated the papacy, he did it in a speech that was supposed to be about the canonization of three saints. But all of a sudden, he began almost whispering in Latin.

Giovanna Chirri, the Vatican reporter for ANSA, the leading news wire service in Italy, was covering the regularly scheduled speech. She immediately realized what the Pope was saying.

She knew Latin.

She quickly called Vatican spokesman Frederico Lombardi to confirm what she thought she had heard: that Benedict was going to do something that no pope had done for 717 years: voluntarily step down from his office. But Lombardi could not be reached.

Chirri then reported to her editor at the ANSA News agency that the Pope had just announced his abdication. But the editor got cold feet, and a heated argument ensued between the reporter and her editor, the editor doubting her story, and Chirri insisting that her Latin was good enough to understand what the Pope had said.

At 11:46 a.m. GMT, ANSA sent out the alert to a surprised world. Chirri had scooped the rest of the press corp because she knew Latin.

Oh, and that Latin sentence above? It means, “He who wants to know what’s happening in the world should know Latin.”

via Blogger

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