Last summer, I received some complaints about my online classes.
There were basically three:
- I complained about Henle Latin.
- I skipped some of the small grammatical points in the book.
- My classes are too long.
The author of the email wanted to know if the complaints were justified.
Here is my reply:
First of all, yes. I have heard some of the complaints. In twenty years I have heard a dozen, or so, similar complaints in the live classroom. In twenty years, I have received two or three emails. I have responded to those complaints on my blog. I went looking for them just now, but couldn’t find them. As best I can remember, I think there are two posts. Searching for two posts among 1,340 felt too needle in a haystackish. I gave up.
By contrast, I receive laudatory emails all the time. There are hundreds of them. I get them every week. During certain seasons of the year, I receive them every day. I collect many of them and post them here: https://dwanethomas.com/testimonials/. Spend some time scrolling through that page. I don’t have time to make that stuff up.
You are correct. I am no big fan of the Henle Latin series. Homeschooling children is already a tough enough task. Generally, the task is handed to the moms. Then someone thought it would be a good idea to add an arcane Latin book to the task. This is handed to moms who usually do not know Latin. It reminds me of Pharoah’s command in Egypt.
“Make bricks. Oh, you think that’s tough? Fine. Make bricks without straw.”
It feels similar.
“Homeschool your kids. Keep them out of the arms of the state-worshipping public schools (which I am, oh so in favor of). Oh, you think that’s tough? Fine. Now add one of the toughest Latin books out there.”
If I have fostered a complaining spirit, then shame on me. I am sure I have. I do not want to do this and I will be very careful in the future. Your email was a good reminder. I will take extreme care in the future.
That said, I will not be a complicit mouthpiece for Henle Latin. The series is not bad per se. And, I don’t know that I despise it. It’s just not effective. It doesn’t really work. In fact, it seems to have the opposite effect. I have seen the emails. Hundreds of them. Every. Single. Week. Generally, they go something like this. “My kids were excited about learning Latin. Now, thanks to Henle Latin, they hate it. Can you help us?”
By the way, it is ineffective for a simple reason. It does not teach students enough. Here is what I mean:
- First Year Latin by Robert Henle teaches students 497 words.
- Visual Latin. teaches students about 1,200 words.
- Lingua Latina by Hans Ørberg teaches students around 2,000 words.
It’s just a numbers game. In a race, First Year Latin comes in dead last.
Not only that, the book is strangely violent. Students are asked to translate sentences like “There were dead bodies floating in the river.” Students are taught the Latin words for slaughter, sword, murder, afraid, bad, burn, cry, do harm to, fight, kill, ravage, put to flight, suffer, violently, and lay waste. They never learn words like cat, dog, house, tree, sister, lake, table, hat, feather, or flower. I have four daughters. I don’t really want them learning a language by translating sentences with dead bodies floating around.
Most Latin programs spread Latin out over four, five, or six years. I have seen Latin spread out over ten years. This I find infuriating. The opportunity cost is extreme. We are not doing our students a service at all when we do this. I grew up in Europe with kids who spoke three or four languages. In ten years, students could learn three modern languages. Instead, we have them banging their heads against ineffective Latin textbooks. After ten years, they can’t speak Latin. I’ve seen it. Many times. It hurts. I hate it for my students.
I have a different approach. C.S. Lewis once said that all of Latin grammar could be learned in two years. That is exactly my approach.
Visual Latin can be completed in two years. By the end of the second year, students will be able to read the New Testament gospels in Latin (with the help of a dictionary, or course).
I teach the online Latin classes with the same approach. Three semesters into Lingua Latina students will be able to read the New Testament gospels in Latin.
I even take the same approach with the online Henle Latin classes. I teach First Year Latin by Robert Henle, in… the first year. That’s right. We read the entire book in the first year.
I have one supreme goal. I want students reading in Latin as soon as possible. As soon as we hit that goal, I encourage them to tackle a modern language like Italian, French, or Spanish.
Why, you may be wondering, do I even teach Henle Latin? It’s simple. I am doing it to help people like you. I am doing this so that you do not have to teach it.
You said that you had heard my classes were too long. Probably true. Each class is an hour long. Honestly, I am just trying to make sure people get enough value. I am also trying to make sure you parents can satisfy the state’s accreditation requirements. As for wasted time, nope. I doubt it. I have spent the last ten to fifteen years getting up at 4 AM in order to build the life I now have. I don’t waste time. Not sure what people are referring to there.
I hope I have answered your questions. Feel free to contact me again if you have more.
Hope you are having a great day!