Christine Hahn, “Latin in the Homeschooling Community,” in Teaching Classical Languages 4, no. 1 (Fall 2012): 26-51. [Available Here]
Hahn is a homeschooling mother and owner of Latin for Homeschoolers, an online tutoring service.
To date there has been very little research on the very popular form of homeschooling known as classical education. Peter Leithart has explained the growth of the classical movement at the macro level. Anthony and Burroughs have provided a careful study of four families associated with one classical cooperative. Hahn’s study here goes well beyond anything that has been published in the past, giving us our first quantitative look at classical homeschoolers.
Classical homeschoolers are essentially families that incorporate Latin language instruction into their homeschooling. Most of them have been influenced to do this by several contemporary writers who in one way or another were inspired by Dorothy Sayers’ seminal essay “The Lost Tools of Learning.” Sayers advocated teaching children according to a developmental model she built off of the medieval trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric.
Hahn created an online survey and succeeded in convincing 349 homeschooling parents to fill it out. She is very clear that this is by no means a representative sample of all homeschoolers or even of all classical homeschoolers. But it is a large sample and it provides by far the best information anyone has yet compiled about these families.
She found that classical homeschoolers, like homeschoolers more generally, tend to have large families. The average number of children per household in the sample was 3.21 (compared to a national average of 1.86). Almost a third of respondents had four or more children. 62.5% of the respondents identified as using a “Classical Christian” approach, while 33% said they used a “Classical (secular)” approach. 29.3% received some form of Latin instruction in a cooperative of some sort, and 5.2% claimed to be unschoolers.
Three fourths of the children of respondents had started studying Latin by the 5th grade, most commonly in 3rd, and 60% of these children continued their study of Latin for at least 3 years (30% for five or more years). Hahn found a significant drop after five years and infers that for many of these families older children either stop studying Latin or move out of homeschooling entirely. She also found that most classically-educating parents “have had little, if any, formal Latin training” themselves, (p. 29) though it is the parent in most cases who provides almost all of the Latin instruction.
Hahn reports the results of an open-ended question asking families which Latin curricula they use and how they feel about it. The results here reveal an astonishing variety of options, though publishers Memoria, Cambridge University, and Classical Academic are the clear favorites.
Most interestingly, Hahn found that the motivations of most of these parents were what she calls “utilitarian.” The vast majority of parents have embraced the classical model not so that their children can become classicists, fluent in Latin and conversant with Latin literature and history. Instead, they think that Latin is going to help their children excel in English grammar, vocabulary, critical thinking, and to a lesser extent, with learning modern languages and science/medicine terminology. Whether Christian or secular these parents have clearly come to decide that the classical model is going to help their children become successful in a worldly sense. Latin for them is just a means, not an end.
This is a wonderful study to have. Hahn does a fine job of laying out what her study finds, admitting its limitations, and avoiding any urge her own positionality might have inspired in her to slide into advocacy. Most helpful in my view is the empirical validation of a suspicion I’ve long had that this movement is really more about the aspirations of the parents involved for their children’s financial futures than about the popularity of Latin itself. Hahn did not provide data about family income, but my guess would be that these families are on average more well-to-do than the homeschooling population at large, and that they are using classical education the same way other families use SAT tutoring, science and math camps, and other academic embellishments to give their children a leg up in the college application process. Latin still carries, if ever so slightly, the connotation of aristocratic refinement, and many if not most of the families engaged in this form of homeschooling want that.