I am an African-American man. I am also a Latin teacher. If you haven’t guessed already, I am John Bracey. As one of a tiny handful of people on planet earth who fit the previous description, other Latin teachers often ask why there aren’t more of me. This is a great question. Why do so few Latin students look like me? Why do so few black and brown students sign up for Latin? I have too many answers to this question to fit into a single post, so let’s focus on a single topic for now: The AP Latin Exam.
Standardized testing is a fundamentally racist practice. Standardized testing was born out of the eugenics movement as a way to create a pseudo-scientific measurement of intelligence and aptitude. These tests were carefully crafted to ensure that the highest scores would go to affluent Caucasians and the lowest scores to the lesser races. In the modern era of state-mandated standardized testing, not much has changed. Scores on these tests still correspond perfectly to family income and race, and not at all to teaching and/or learning. So what does this have to do with AP Latin?
The AP Latin Exam is a standardized test like any other. Unfortunately, there are Latin teachers around the country who feel a huge amount of external and/or internal pressure to produce high AP Latin scores. If the desire for high AP scores is allowed to become the focus of a Latin program, it can create a perverse incentive for teachers to “weed out” students who aren’t “AP material” at the earlier levels. Regardless of the intentions of individual teachers, alarmingly few black and brown students are deemed “AP Material”. These groups of students drop out of Latin as a result of “weeding” and eventually stop enrolling at all.
If we are serious about creating more inclusive Latin programs, we need to stop backward-designing from the AP test or any other standardized assessment. Teaching Latin to students in a way that allows EVERY single one of them to make progress and NOT FAIL, will alone lead to more diverse enrollment. Insisting that a 14 year old be able to complete a verb synopsis of a deponent verb because it will “help prepare them for AP” will ensure that our programs remain homogenous, small and endangered.