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Podcast | 21 Minutes

Why Latin is the Key to Education | Hettie Weber

Hettie Weber Written by Hettie Weber
Why Latin is the Key to Education | Hettie Weber

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Can learning Latin be an engaging and fun subject for young learners? How does it help students read advanced books at young ages? All this and more as we interview Hettie Weber, one of the amazing Latin teachers at Veritas Scholars Academy!

Episode Transcription

Note: This transcription may vary from the words used in the original episode for better readability.

Marlin Detweiler:

Hello again. Thank you for joining us for another episode of Veritas Vox, the voice of classical Christian education. Today we have with us none other than one of our veteran teachers for our online school, Veritas Scholars Academy. Her name is Hettie Weber. Hettie, welcome.

Hettie Weber:

Thank you! Thank you. I'm glad to be here. Thanks for this opportunity, Marlin.

Marlin Detweiler:

It's so nice to have you here. Hettie lives in Colonial Williamsburg, and I understand your husband is retired Navy. Tell us a little bit about yourself growing up. Your family, educational background and career, that sort of thing.

Hettie Weber:

Okay, great. Thanks. I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, which is a wonderful city full of culture and history and delicious food. So I grew up in a great food environment with a very loving family and went to public school. I didn't go to private school or classical school, but I did take Latin in high school.

My mother wanted me to take Latin. I don't know why, but I think it was a providential God thing that I got introduced to Latin at a relatively young age when it wasn't as prevalent as it even is now. I don't think back in that time. But so I graduated from high school, I went to college at the University of Colorado, but then transferred to Texas A&M, where I graduated with a degree in history and I met my husband soon thereafter. He was commissioned into the Navy and so we got married pretty young and moved all over the place. We've lived in many different places like Georgia, California, England and Ohio and just all kinds of places you wouldn't expect a Navy person to live.

Marlin Detweiler:

I don't know what the Navy does in Ohio!

Hettie Weber:

He's in the supply community. So kind of more on the business side. So we did a lot of education and things. And anyway, we've had a wonderful experience with the Navy and it's been just amazing. We've had three children and settled here in Williamsburg, Virginia. I began teaching – I started out homeschooling. We moved here to Virginia pretty like after ten years of moving around and we've been settled here pretty much ever since we've been here since 2004.

We've been pretty settled for a long time and he retired in 2020. So we were able to have that really kind of a stable family, but still have the Navy military experience, which was really wonderful. God's been so good to us.

We had to move to Virginia in 2004 and I started kind of homeschooling. I didn't really know much about homeschooling, but I didn't want to put our children in public school and I didn't know how many more times we were going to move. So I didn't want to keep putting them in and out of different schools. So I started homeschooling and I hate to say I was not good at homeschooling my children myself at home. All three are really young together and a very resistant oldest child to learning. And I was like, this just is not working. And so I started going to the library and researching and came upon that book, The Well Trained Mind, which you're probably familiar with. I'd never heard of classical school, but that's a big thing that's introduced in that book.

So I started looking at classical schools and found a small classical school nearby and was hired to teach history there. And my three children went to school there, and it was so fun. We went to school together every day and just loved it. Actually, the person who hired me was Laurie Rogers, who now works here as well at our school at Veritas. So that's a really fun fact. And so she kind of mentored me, and then I ended up taking over teaching Latin. When our Latin teacher left and our Latin teacher also came here, Marcia – you may remember Marcia from a long time ago, but she was a Latin teacher here as well. And anyway, so that's how I came to be here at Veritas.

Marlin Detweiler:

Now, how long have you been teaching at Veritas?

Hettie Weber:

I have been teaching here since 2011. I've been teaching in classical schools since 2007.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, that's wonderful. So you have seen a lot of the growth. And of course, I would guess in 2011 that, we have maybe 40 or 50 teachers?

Hettie Weber:

Yes, we had many fewer teachers, and we were on the Wemba, if you remember Wemba.

Marlin Detweiler:

Different world! Well, as you came into teaching at Veritas, you came from teaching in a local what we sometimes call bricks and mortar school. The school where you go there, kids are in the classroom with you and now you're teaching in a very different environment. Tell us what it's been like for you, especially in the early years. How would you compare teaching online versus teaching in a classroom, in a physical classroom?

Hettie Weber:

The commute is great, obviously! The commute amazing and you only need to worry about the top half of your clothing when you go to work!

Marlin Detweiler:

As long as you're careful!

Hettie Weber:

Careful about not standing, of course, I’m teasing about that.

So we think back to the early times. So it's so funny. First of all, my first year I was still teaching at Calvary Classical School, and then I had picked up a couple of classes here at Veritas Scholars Academy. And so because my kids were in school there, I would teach in my car sometimes originally because we didn't we didn't do webcams as much back then.

So I would teach them my car. I could go to McDonald's and find the wifi and teach in my car. And so I found it to be very freeing in that way. And I could be where I needed to be. And then the students have just always been so wonderful. And the parents here are great. They're great in other schools, too.

But I have found that the culture at our school is just very positive. Even with students or families who struggle, I feel like there's always a way to bring out a positive end result. I don't really know exactly why that is. Maybe it's just our school culture, but I just find I'm not anxious here. I don't have any problems with my students' behavior or anything like that. And so I feel much more calm working online myself. And then I just feel also that I'm able to monitor my students' progress more easily online. And we use a lot of polling so I can see where they're at and I can almost get to know them better in a way.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, it What would you say are some of the myths that you've heard people say about online education that you can dispel for us?

Hettie Weber:

Myths about online education?

Marlin Detweiler:

For example, you just said that there's a sense in which you can monitor student progress better online than you can in person. What other things like that where might people think, “We just can't do that if you're online,” that you really can, and people don't realize because they haven't if they haven't experienced it.

Hettie Weber:

I hear a lot about the socialization of students, like them not knowing each other. And I find these students – and I teach young children, I teach in third, fourth, fifth grade – to be extremely well-adjusted, outgoing, and very socialized. They love talking to each other. They love sharing their interest.

I have a lot who show interest in Legos and different book series and little toys that I've never heard of that they'll show me. And so I do make an effort in my classes to give some a little bit of social time. Not a lot, but maybe just at the very beginning or the very end, where I’d ask what's going on at home or what did you do over the weekend?

And certain ones love to share. So we have that aspect. And then also just hearing from them, just the things that they do, they're all very involved in different activities. And mentally, they have good, happy lives.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, that's wonderful. I have been amazed at how strong the friendships are that are built completely online. I've said this many times before, but students sometimes come to the End of Year Gathering to celebrate the end of the school year in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and meet in person their best friends. And it is so true, and it is just amazing how those things develop in ways that we never even fathomed when we were their age.

Hettie Weber:

Yes, exactly. And so I think it's all very positive. And I still seriously never come across any negative. I'm sure there are some here and there, but I personally see that the parents are very happy. They love the education their children are receiving. And it is important, of course, that a parent be involved. So that is one place, and not all parents are able to do that, and they're not all able to be there. And everybody can be there to help their children, to figure these things out and to navigate their day successfully. So that is an important aspect.

Marlin Detweiler:

You have been teaching for more than a dozen years online with us. What all have you taught online with us?

Hettie Weber:

I have taught in the Latin program, Grammar Latin three, four, and five. So that's basically third, fourth and fifth grade land and land transition one. And then I've taught Latin one, which was more of a high school Latin, and I've also done an independent study on Latin transition to like I had a just one student in that like independent.

Marlin Detweiler:

You’ve taught things other than Latin, too haven’t you?

Hettie Weber:

Yes. And I teach Memory Period. Now that's for the really little ones. And Memory Period is just so fun. We kind of go through all of our different subjects and learn all the jingles and chants and songs, and that's a really fun class for younger students. And then I did teach history for a while, but then we went to more of a different format for history in the younger years.

Marlin Detweiler:

That's very good. Now let's talk a little bit about Latin. There are a variety of reasons that people will give for this, and there are a lot of people who'll be listening to you that may still think in spite of the fact that there's been a real resurgence in the understanding and application for teaching Latin. But there's still a lot of people out there who don't know the answer to this question.

So why do we teach Latin? Why is it important for students to learn Latin?

Hettie Weber:

Okay, so we teach Latin, especially in that we start with Latin with young children. And this is very common. I would say pretty much all classical schools would think that's an important thing to do. Latin is a wonderful foundation to play for a student's whole education. It's almost like a good thing for the whole child. It's almost like vegetables and fruit.

Marlin Detweiler:

Latin is vegetables! I've not heard that thought. I love it.

Hettie Weber:

Yes, I like displaying that wonderful foundation for good. If you're thinking about your body, having good health with good meat, fruit, and vegetables, I feel like for your mind, Latin is like that. It lays a wonderful foundation for a lot of English grammar comprehension, literacy and many, many other things. It kind of connects all of our subjects together in a way you can always find some connection back to Latin, in my opinion.

From what I've seen, even just with science, the classification system is all in Latin, and that's a worldwide classification system for scientists. So then everybody in the science community knows what we're talking about to different languages, mathematics, rectangle triangles. Those words all connect back to Latin and even the word calculus. That word means pebble in Latin. They used to use pebbles and things and rocks for weights and measuring way back when.

I can find connections pretty much in any subject back to Latin. And so that really is also just at the very base of things. There's no better way of learning English grammar than learning Latin.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, you've covered a lot of different things. One of the things that I have said has resonated with me for the time that I've been involved in classical education, which is now over 30 years, is the idea that Latin is a tool of leverage for mastering language and learning language. Mastering language is one of the most significant things that we do in education. If we have mastered language, we are prepared in a lot of different ways to do a lot of different things. It's essential for an educated person to have mastered language, and Latin makes it easier to do. Does that resonate with you as well?

Hettie Weber:

It definitely does. I think that you just reminded me of my mom once. Now this has a different connection to a different language, but she learned a different language in her older years. It wasn't Latin, it was a different language. But she didn't know -she didn't realize until she was studying that language how much she didn't know about English grammar.

So Latin, since it doesn't change, it's just it's so comforting. It doesn't change so much, as our world changes all the time. But Latin is eternal. A lot of people love to say Latin is dead. Latin is eternal and very solid and yet it's very influential over our culture, our history, and our language. And so what better way to kind of solidify what we know than learning Latin? Did I answer your question?

Marlin Detweiler:

You did right there. How would you address the mother or the family that says, “Well, I'm going to teach my children Spanish instead of Latin in grammar school. That way they'll be able to speak two languages, and they'll be they'll have the practical aspect of conversational elements and communication because of Spanish.”

What would you say to them if they decided that they were going to choose Spanish for those reasons rather than Latin as well as an additional language, so to speak?

Hettie Weber:

I would say that even one year or two years of Latin would help them learn Spanish so much better because Latin is the mother of Spanish, French, Portuguese, Romanian, and Italian. Rome, after all.

So they would learn those languages so much better. Latin also gives a wonderful foundation for learning other languages. Because it's such a building block method of doing things. For children, it's much easier to learn Latin, because Spanish is still changing and evolving. Plus, which Spanish are you going to teach? Spanish from Spain? Which one? There are so many different varieties.

Marlin Detweiler:

Isn't it also true that it's misunderstanding the reason for Latin? When you started out talking about Latin, you talked about how it connects to the sciences and how it connects. It has cultural context, it has literary context, it has all these kinds of things. And if we're learning to speak Spanish, we're learning it primarily to be able to converse in Spanish.

Hettie Weber:

Right.

Marlin Detweiler:

It’s a good thing, but it's not nearly as core as what Latin does to shaping the brain or thinking all these things. It's really confusing the issue in my thinking that we're learning Latin for a very different reason than simply learning a second language.

Hettie Weber:

Exactly. Another thing just to build on that is when you're learning Latin, like let's say we learn, I don't know, let me think of a word here – let's learn parterre, which means father. The word parterre in Latin means father. And so you can think all the way already about different derivatives, English words that would relate back to parterre like paternal and the word patriarchy means country or fatherland.

So you can see the relationship between fatherland and father. So patriotic patriotism. All of these words in English have their roots in Latin. So when you go to learn Spanish, after you've learned Latin, you're going to see some similar connections in Spanish. But Spanish, you know, again, you're going to learn in Latin, very simple grammar to build on as well.

For example, amo. That's the word that we that means I love. That is the conjugation of the word I love and that will teach a student first, second, third person, singular, plural and present tense. So they're going to learn all of those grammar terms, all of those things just from learning one chant, which is fun. Students love to chant and sing, and I won't sing for you, but there's a song that goes with that.

Marlin Detweiler:

Ah trust me, I know!

Hettie Weber:

I'm sure you do.

Marlin Detweiler:

It is truly amazing what learning Latin does in terms of vocabulary. People look at our reading list and say, “How can a student read that in fourth grade or in seventh grade?” And the answer is quite simple. They've taken the Latin. Because of their background in Latin, and what it's done to their vocabulary, it was done to their understanding of grammar. They are simply able to read bigger, more sophisticated things sooner. And it just leverages education in ways that make people say, “How in the world can kids do that?” But they do.

Hettie Weber:

It is amazing. And like you mentioned before, like I think he used the word tool, but we use Latin as a tool to train the mind. Of course, it teaches you about grammar and vocabulary and all these different connections we can make. But there's something about learning Latin itself that helps your mind to think better.

I would compare it to learning an instrument. I remember when I was in high school, they did some study with all the students who had taken an instrument and then how that related to their learning abilities. And there was a definite connection there. So Latin provides a similar and better foundation for training and a tool for training the mind.

There's something about the way the language is built. Of course, it's our language, you know, Western civilization is built on Roman times. And that was their language. A huge influence on our language. So learning all of that, I think there's just something intrinsic since we have developed out of that. There's something that does make sense about Latin to English speakers and then speakers of the romance languages.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, and the other thing, maybe this was the case for you and your high school experience when you took Latin. When I was in high school, our school still taught Latin. And I remember some of the kids who took Latin tended to be those who came from families who had a little bit more of an appreciation of what had been in the past.

That was not the case in my family. And I didn't understand that. With a name like Detwiler, you would understand I'd probably taken German, and I did. And it was helpful and really did serve its purpose. But if we think about taking Latin as an alternative to taking a modern foreign language in high school, we once again missed the point.

The point of taking Latin is to help shape the mind. And it was always the case hundreds of years ago and is now becoming the case again with the classically educated that we're teaching Latin when it matters most in grammar school, and you're really at the core of it.

I'd be curious if you have some stories or experiences where you've seen students benefit from that or maybe even some funny anecdotal things that have happened in your many classes. Goodness, you've probably had thousands of students now that have been through your classes. What are some great stories that stick to you you enjoyed telling when given a chance?

Hettie Weber:

Well, one just comes to mind specifically, and this was a long time ago, but I believe it was a Latin I class. It might have even been a Latin I. It might have been a Latin transition. I can't remember. I feel like the student was a little older than fifth grade.

We went through the whole class and we were coming to the end of the course. An international student from Singapore stayed back one day to talk to me after class and she asked a question. She said, “Why do we why do people take Latin?” Typical of what we're talking about here. Why? Why take Latin. And I thought, “Oh no, the student doesn't like Latin.” And I'm thinking, I'm going to work up into my spiel of how Latin so important and don't give up. And anyway, I would say the whole what we've been talking about, it lays its great foundation and trains your mind. It's a chance to think in steps. It helps your mind to think better, and you'll learn more and you'll have connections to science and all these things we've been talking about, connections to history, the Roman Empire, all of that. And I go on and on. It probably went on for a couple of minutes, and then there's like this pause, and she goes, “Well, what if I just like it? What if I just want to study it because I like it?”

I said, “That's okay too!” So that's another thing. I just wanted to point out to any parent who is hesitant that it's not just some arduous, terrible thing you're having to learn. It's fun. It's enjoyable for students.

I don't have too many specific stories because most of my students are really young, and when they get started and excited about something, they really want to talk about Legos and stuff because they think my friends are their pets, and they want to talk about their dogs and things like that. But they are just occasionally like, “That was so fun!”

We’ll be parsing something like what is the number and person of this verb, and we'll be parsing and they'll say, “That was so fun. I just love parsing!” Or some of them just love making the connections to derivatives, like with the English words that come from Latin, and they love thinking of words.

Sometimes another student who is particularly funny – It's like her third year, and she will always make some crazy word. Like I'll say, “What's a new word?” Let me just look for one. Like, I don't know, finio, what's a derivative from finio? And then they'll come up with some crazy word that's not a word. I'm like, “Well, that should be a word, right? That's just not an English word.”

Let's have fun with words. And I just think that's a big part of Latin, is having fun with words and just enjoying the subject.

Marlin Detweiler:

You've really captured the grammar school student, too, as we talk about grammar, logic and rhetoric, as stages of education. As they develop, we think of the grammar school student as “Make it fun and make it interesting, and they'll enjoy it regardless”. And you have captured that in your teaching. That's really cool. I interrupted you that you were finishing another thought.

Hettie Weber:

No, you didn't interrupt me. Now, I love that. And, you know, I've had students who are not as enthralled with Latin. But there are always the ones that are enthralled with it. And that's just really fun. And I always try to get the other ones to find something about it that they can appreciate.

I do make a big effort to remind my students that they're there for a purpose. It's purposeful, and I heard somebody I don't know if it was Doug Wilson, it was the best quote. And I've been looking for it, and I can't find it. So maybe you know what it was, but it was like “You may not remember any of the Latin you learned, but Latin will affect everything else you learn from that point on.”

Marlin Detweiler:

I believe that. And that sounds really good, but I can't help you with the quote. I'm sorry. I don't remember.

Hettie Weber:

I can't find I read that, and I thought, “Wow, that's a great thing to say.” So anyway. Yes. So those are my I love my little grammar school students. They're really fun, and we have a good time.

Marlin Detweiler:

You've been a real part of the institution that's being built, a key player. And I don't know of anything that's more significant than shaping young people than it is to help them continue to love the creativity that comes through education, especially in this core discipline of Latin, and you've been able to shape them. It's made a huge difference. Do you have any stories of students that came back to you recalling how much they appreciate what you did for them maybe ten years later?

Hettie Weber:

I do every once in a while, especially during Teacher Appreciation Week, which we have, is lovely. Our students give us wonderful letters during Teacher Appreciation Week. It's such a sweet time, but I always seem to have a couple that will talk about how they really enjoyed learning Latin and are still going to do other things now, but it really helped them. Or I’ll have an email every now and then from a student. Just “Remember me?!” like of course I do. And yeah, we have a great student body here.

Marlin Detweiler:

Doesn't feedback like that just make it all worthwhile?

Hettie Weber:

Definitely. I love it. I think it's great, we just have such a really lovely community here.

Marlin Detweiler:

Well, Hettie, thank you so much for what you do at Veritas, what you do in the lives of students. It is really thrilling to be able to work with you and to see the impact that you have on so many. I appreciate what you do.

Hettie Weber:

You're so kind. Thank you. I appreciate you, too.

Marlin Detweiler:

Well, thanks, folks. You have been with us talking Latin here at Veritas Vox, the voice of classical Christian education. Thank you for joining us.