Education: Latin, SAT and Homework

Stressed with the books? Image from

I’ve haven’t written much here in a while. There are two reasons for that: 1) I’ve taken to tutoring part-time, which is very rewarding and demanding in its own way. So I don’t have quite as much time for blogging. 2) The time I do spend writing has been on other projects, which maybe one day will be ready to show.

I have however, written a few blogs for NovaStarPrep, the tutoring company that I work for. If you’re interested, here are two of them:

How much homework is good?

Per Psychology Today, the average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s. Too much homework contributes to overload in high schoolers and disengages students.  But that doesn’t mean we throw out homework entirely; its benefit is the creation and sustainment of discipline, of study habits that produce consistency in skill building. Consistency leads to mastery of subject matter and confidence in the student.

Preparing for the SAT is like training for a marathon

Like a runner training for a marathon, a good coach will assess your strengths and weaknesses, creating a plan and goals which build where you need it and push you to excel where you’re already strong.

Also like a marathon, the athlete’s own dedication matters too. Tutoring is not a super-soldier serum, but it can help you achieve your personal best.


Then, there is my defense of Latin, a little essay that I am proud of in its own right. Here is a big excerpt.

Latin: A Ghost Among Us

Today even, Latin provides the names of most of the body parts of anatomy and physiology that medical science relies upon. Cardiologists, heart doctors, for instance, do not take their name from the germanic “herz,” but from the Latin “cors.” “Ology” is further derived from the Greek “to study.” The name of the “respiratory” system comes from the Latin “spire,” which means “to breath.” Ironically, the word “doctor” itself comes from the Latin verb “to teach,” which is why the title overlaps with academic doctors of philosophy (Ph.D.s). The Latin word for doctor was, suitably, “medicus.”

This fascinating article (←Click on link) gives an overview of the development of medical language and how it has been handed down through cultures as one of the few subject matters that has survived societal rises and falls, giving it a unique linguistic inheritance. The Latin names themselves are still useful for medical students and for patients who wish to understand what type of doctor they are seeing when they visit a “podiatrist.”

  1. Latin is the language of the West

The works of past have formed us more than we tend to realize: Virgil, Cicero, Caesar, Marcus Aurelius, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas.

The names of the ancient writers, emperors and medieval theologians are largely forgotten, but their influence is indelible. Through language, they gave shape to the philosophical, cultural, theological, and literary debates that drove the great conversations of West Civilization, that have filtered down into today. Latin is one of the great languages of our ancestors and the study of it brings access, awareness and awe at the great novel of history, the most recent lines of which we are writing today–but never in a vacuum, always as continuous with all the previous chapters, whether we see it or not.”

Full article — with introduction– here.

So there are some recent musings. More soon–maybe 😉

So–Would you study Latin based on this? Is there still value in language learning for English speakers? Why or why not? 

How much homework is good? Why are high schoolers so stressed?

Did you ever take the SAT? What do you think of its place in college admissions?


Thought of the Day: Cheating = Narcissism + Self-Hatred

Cheating is when we try to take credit for the achievements of another person whether by looking at his or her answers on a test or by scamming taxes or unethical business practices.

I’d like to focus on academic cheating for this thought even though it applies to other scenarios.

I know the urge; we all do.

Cheating seems like it will help us; it promises to deliver the high letter grade that we feel we deserve but without the ability required to earn it on our own. Maybe we don’t have time to study or master the skill; maybe events beyond our circumstances made it impossible for us to study; maybe despite our best efforts, we don’t have the skill level to pull it off and we think that we really, really need the outcome–such as a high GPA in order to get into college.

Here’s the two-fold problem though: 1) narcissism – inappropriate love of self that puts oneself over and above all others in level of importance. Narcissism is what leads to the thought that we somehow deserve the good outcome even though we did not or cannot earn it on our own.

That is a huge problem because it is an affront to justice and truth. It prevents the people who did earn it from having their rightful place. For instance, if Todd (random example) cheats like mad and earns a place in the top 10% of his class, he probably displaced other students who should have been there because they actually performed better.

And as for truth, to receive credit for something we did not do is like replacing the siding on a house filled with termites. It may look nice for a little while, but the home is not truly whole, and it is unfit to live in. Continue reading

David Brooks on Wisdom

In a recent column, David Brooks gently criticizes a new school’s approach to education that aims to respond to the out-of-date nature of many classrooms, but in the process throws out most of the good that schools do.

I love his summary of the learning process: Life skills are important and relating goes hand in hand with knowledge, but fact acquisition matters too:

If we want to produce wise people, what are the stages that produce it? First, there is basic factual acquisition. You have to know what a neutron or a gene is, that the Civil War came before the Progressive Era. Research shows that students with a concrete level of core knowledge are better at remembering advanced facts and concepts as they go along.

Second, there is pattern formation, linking facts together in meaningful ways. This can be done by a good lecturer, through class discussion, through unconscious processing or by going over and over a challenging text until it clicks in your head.

Third, there is mental reformation. At some point while studying a field, the student realizes she has learned a new language and way of seeing — how to think like a mathematician or a poet or a physicist.

At this point information has become knowledge. It is alive. It can be manipulated and rearranged. At this point a student has the mental content and architecture to innovate, to come up with new theses, challenge others’ theses and be challenged in turn.

Finally after living with this sort of knowledge for years, exposing it to the rigors of reality, wisdom dawns. Wisdom is a hard-earned intuitive awareness of how things will flow. Wisdom is playful. The wise person loves to share, and cajole and guide and wonder at what she doesn’t know.

This is so true. From my own limited experience, memorizing facts–if they really sink in–is actually hugely helpful and provides the legos with which to build a wall of understanding. Without the basics building block, there is nothing to build; there is no water to turn the water wheels of the mind.

Schools are certainly not perfect, and we shouldn’t think we can’t improve them. Rote learning has its drawbacks, as does sitting in a seat all day. But basic fact acquisition will always be a key first step to deep learning and critical thinking. No reform effort should ever forget that (including Common Core!)

One more from The Once and Future King

When young Arthur is sad that his best friend is being knighted and is no longer much interested in him:

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of lesser minds. There is only one thing for it then–to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you.” (Once and Future King by T.H.White, p. 183)

This resonated so deeply with me. To figure out why the world wags and what wags it is one of my biggest motivators; it’s why I write this blog where I publish fewer posts than I have readers. But it helps me keep track of my thoughts, and I like that.

What motivates you? What drives you? Please someone say “love.” It’s a biggie. I chose not to explore that line here in this post, but it’s enormous.

I don’t know what I’m doing

Tonight I went to the First Things lecture on “The New Intolerance.” The talk was decent. The socializing was fun, which is saying a lot coming from an introvert. I saw old professors and friends and just generally chatted–which is almost shocking for me. I enjoyed dressing up, going out to a new place, hearing an intelligent talk and seeing some old buddies. I don’t get to do things like that very often.

And the reason I don’t do things like that often is because I love being a mother, and my two little ones (2 years and 6 months) need me– a lot of me. Especially because I am committed to Attachment Parenting; we breastfeed, co-sleep, babywear and the whole nine yards. And I love it. I can feel the ways that my children have transformed and are transforming my soul. I know that in many ways they force me to give up worldly striving, success, vainglory, etc.


There is still a part of me that is interested in intellectual pursuits, in reading informed essays and books (and fantastical ones), in writing my take on things, and most importantly constructing an ever-growing, encompassing understanding of world (or worldview). This last one is key–I must assimilate and learn and learn and learn. Mostly I learn that underneath every rock I turn over, there is another mountain of rocks. I know I’ll never get to the bottom, but I feel compelled to try anyway.

And there is vanity in it too. I admit that I like the image that goes along with writing and studying. Yes, I like looking smart. And it’s hard for me to admit that but it’s true. This prideful, vain and ultimately sinful manifestation of “scholarlyness” is something I need to be on guard against.

Thing is, it’s vanity because I’m no world class philosopher. I know that. I’m just little old me, and I spend most of my time changing diapers, making food and feeding hungry mouths and playing.

But somehow, no matter how half-hearted, lame, dumb or vain my attempts at understanding the world are, there is value in it for me. Because when I don’t do it, when I don’t read, write and seek new information and ideas, my world starts to shrink. My mind literally feels smaller, less adept, and more fearful of the unfamiliar. It’s a terrible feeling.

So I don’t know what I’m doing. I know that most of my time is and should be spent mothering. I know I’m not a genius. I know I have temptations to vanity. But I also know that I must learn and produce my own work in order to process the world, to be happy, and to be the mother that I am called to be.

I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know how to structure my time around these two ends of motherhood and scholarship, which don’t always come together easily. But I have to try, I think.

Advice and personal testimonials are welcome.