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Marginalized: Black Students and Latin in Independent Schools

Runako Taylor

The Brearley School, New York, NY

In independent schools, the stakes for black students are high. For many, their choice of school is part of an effort to transcend socio-economic and cultural barriers. As a result, they want more in return for the time, energy and resources spent on getting into an independent school (Ghartey, 2018). For black students in these privileged environments, it is easy to overlook the “Why Study Latin?” pamphlet in favor of other exciting electives and extracurriculars. Even a pitch for Latin at curriculum evening or mini-lessons can’t compete with the concerted efforts to leverage educational opportunities into gains. Even though teachers across the country are increasing the number and diversity of students by using methods like Active Latin, the independent school Latin teacher has a bigger obstacle to enrolling and retaining black students (Stringer, 2019). In New York City, black students make up 7.2 % of all students in K-12, or about 2, 863 enrolled across 67 independent schools (NAIS-GISNY, 2019). The representation of black students in independent school is small and the chance they take on an elite school is not always successful (Ohikaure, 2013). These numbers are beyond the control of Latin teachers and any strategy to increase enrollment must make peace with these numbers and seek to understand the circumstances in which black students find themselves.

This paper will give an overview of the challenges facing black students in independent schools. In particular, it will look at aspects of their personal lives, academic acculturation, and higher education prospects, which often dictate their choice in secondary school (Listening to Students of Color, 2003). Latin teachers must be voices of reason, especially behind the scenes, in order to help shift the narrative of what success looks like (Svrluga, 2020). They should also leverage the robust networks of alum, parents and donors to help course correct these notions of success.

Most teachers will agree that translation and grammar classes do little to keep any student interested in Latin. But the use of Active Latin, technology and best practice in pedagogy are not always enough to keep a black student in the Latin classroom at an independent school. These environments are not just competitive for the students but also for the courses that promise success. At private schools, Latin teachers have a responsibility to show all students at their school that the Latin classroom can also promise success, and this is the first step to changing the narrative for black students.

Session/Panel Title

Race Classics and the Latin Classroom

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