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"I Like this Class, But…": Creating Meaningful Cultural Connections in the Latin Classroom

Ellen Sassenberg

Century High School, Rochester, MN

Latin teachers all have conditioned and well-practiced responses to the question asked by students and parents alike: “why study Latin?” It would not be unusual to hear responses like you will score higher on your ACT or SAT,” or you will get into a more prestigious college or university,” or perhaps even because you will be among the elite who study this language.” When examined closely, however, each of these responses is problematically laden with evidence of systemic racism and white supremacy within our contemporary structure of education. One of the many embedded elements of these repressive systems is the notion of and preference for the idea of individualism (Dismantling Racism Workbook, 2016). This implicit bias towards individualism also resides in the idea that traditional strategies of classroom management have been derived from an individualistic psychological orientation (Lotan 2006). 

By contrast, our Black and Brown students come to us from collectivistic home cultures. The home cultures that represent a collectivistic orientation may include Mexican, Japanese, Mexican American, West African, and Kenyan, among many others (Rothstein-Fisch 2008). Students of color who attend majority White schools already find themselves in the position of code switching throughout the academic day. By the time a Black or Brown student reaches a third or fourth year of Latin, where the canonical texts frequently glorify a genocide of tribally organized Gallic people or a man who is a fugitive by fate to be the sole founder of a legendary people, the already thin strand of relatability for that student is stretched even further. From that perspective, it is not unreasonable for our Black and Brown students to self-select out of the advanced Latin classroom. 

However, when instructional decisions, both in classroom management and course content, are intentionally made to embrace a collectivistic model, or even one that is purposeful in orchestrating an intersection between the individualistic and collectivistic, the resulting buy-in, engagement, and retention of all students improves. Further, the selection of primary source materials that more accurately represent the values of a collectivistic home culture or are intentionally taught from that perspective can especially benefit our students of color. 

Session/Panel Title

Race Classics and the Latin Classroom

Session/Paper Number

83.5

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