Latin’s Dark History With Light-Skinned Learners

Rereading John Bracey’s post got me thinking again…

I used to work at a school that prided itself on being “part of a multicultural community,” but that tends to be the type of thing you find written on a school’s website that’s just for show, or to check a box for NEASC accreditation. I can say that it certainly wasn’t obvious from my Latin classes. In fact, if I didn’t have to walk down a different hallway to use the restroom, I wouldn’t have known that there were so many students of color in the school! I’ve asked myself, just as John put it, “why were so few black and brown students in my Latin classes?”

With a student body of 39% non-white, you would expect there to be more than one student of color in the AP Latin course, but no, there was only one. In contrast, I had 4 non-white students in Latin I—a number that was closer to representing the rest of the school, though nowhere close to the school-wide demographics. This, of course, is representative of the low retention rates we expect in traditionally exclusive programs, but what exactly causes students of color to drop out in the first place? John was looking into why they don’t sign up initially, but there’s also the matter of why the ones who DO sign up don’t continue. The latter issue probably has to do with the same reasons all students drop traditional language classes after 2 or 3 years, namely, the unbalanced and no longer supported practice of explicit grammar instruction and, expectations of hyper-accurate translations, but there’s not enough data to look at because of the the former issue.

The data we do have, though, shows that something remarkable happens to level the playing field when we base our programs on acquisition, so I encourage everyone to think about improving access to Latin via inclusive practices, and eliminate the ones that lead to exclusivity. Yet, what will it take to enact change? I, for one, even voiced my concerns about the exclusivity of the Latin program at that school I was teaching at, but others didn’t want to face the issue. A cowardly move, perhaps, and uncomfortable at the very least, but no one said that fighting discrimination was going to be easy!

So, what are you doing to help, how have you made inclusiveness part of the conversation in your department/school, and what advice do you have for others looking to make a difference? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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