ALL KINDS of Learners–Part 2

This is the second part of a 3 part series offered this week.

In yesterday’s post (which you can read here) I outlined what seems to me to be the perfect storm in our Latin teaching in the US.  Unwittingly, we do the very things that ensure Latin remains small and dying and prevent it from getting into the hands and minds of ALL KINDS OF LEARNERS.

In our current world of high tech and high stakes testing, even fewer of those elite learners are drawn to Latin and other languages.  In the 2016 report of the MLA, all languages taught in the US saw a drop in enrollments, but Latin and Ancient Greek were the highest losses.  We teachers, elite learners ourselves, no longer seem to be able to convince even other elite learners to follow us down the classics trail, and with our traditional methods, non-elite learners have “learned” that Latin is not for them. They learn that because our colleagues in our institutions all think that Latin is too hard for normal learners.  Even the cashiers at the grocery store, when they see my name tag comment with “oh, Latin is hard.”  They all know about the program we have helped perpetuate.  Latin is too hard for normal people, so normal students, much less students with learning disabilities, won’t consider Latin an option.

And yet, normal students, average learners, students who don’t love to read, who stop breathing at the mention of grammar, who come from a variety of home situations and an even larger variety of ethnic backgrounds are quite capable of acquiring a language, even Latin.  Latin is not different.  I am often amazed at the number of people who want to argue about that.  Once they’ve made their arguments, what they have actually argued is that Latin must be the focus of elite learning circles and that’s why it’s different.

Latin is a language.  It has a large body of literature which most of us agree (even when we agree on nothing else) is why learning Latin is worth the effort–to access that literature on its own terms.  If that is the case, do we not want ALL KINDS OF LEARNERS to access this rich literature?  If our answer is anything but yes, then we have to consider what it is that we are actually trying to protect.  I have never heard anyone admit that they don’t want all kinds of learners accessing Latin literature. I do often hear them resisting any change to how they understand teaching and learning Latin. As I listen to Latin teachers argue for not changing things, these are some of the things I hear them defending.

1)  The tradition of how we teach feels comfortable to us. The cadre of teachers who are ourselves elite learners is one that we enjoy belonging to. We don’t want to lose our membership in this comfortable and supportive circle of people who love what we love. I am very sympathetic to this need to belong and be supported. Taking the approaches that I have often have meant giving this up for myself, and that is painful.

2) It might be that we are hedging against the hard work we have to do to learn to teach Latin as a language in ways that work best.  There are best practices that work for Latin and for ALL KINDS OF LEARNERS.  A growing number of us have been sharing those for over a decade now, and we are clear that it’s hard work to make the shift from grammar-translation to comprehensible input.  Workshops are proliferating at various conferences in which we teach each others how to help ALL KINDS OF LEARNERS acquire Latin.  The result of that is a growing number of teachers stepping outside of the comfortable circle of elite learners, and they are all finding out how difficult this is.  Anyone who pretends that leaving grammar-translation behind for CI and other best practices is easy is not being honest.  It’s hard, and it can be scary.

3) It might be something more sinister–some notion that Latin belongs only to white, affluent people.  No one will admit that and way too many white people want to argue about this.  That very knee jerk reaction ought to give us pause, but it doesn’t yet. What if, in the recesses of our experiences, there is something of truth that needs the light of day shown on it? The truth is that NONE of us has escaped being infected and affected by the system of white supremacy. So, how do we bring that, unwittingly, to our classrooms?  I want to know.  I desperately need to know how I bring that infection and affect into my classroom because most of my students are of Color.  They suffer enough without having to suffer me in self-ignorance.

Part 3 will appear tomorrow.
Bob Patrick

 

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