Posted in Inclusive Language, social justice

Writing and Talking About Non-Binary People in Latin

I was asked recently what to do about those who identify themselves to us as non-binary people as we work with them both speaking and writing in Latin. Whether it’s our aim or not, I find increasingly that students want to talk and write about themselves both in class and outside of class. I am delighted at how often students tell me that they text each other in Latin, routinely.  I’ve seen some conversations in various places about this aspect of inclusive language in Latin.  I don’t recall any sort of firm conclusion about what to do in a language where nouns and adjectives are all grammatically labelled “masculine, feminine, or neuter.”

I see some immediate considerations to ponder about the language and about what we do with all this in a classroom.

  1. Grammar. Most of us have learned our grammar, even our Latin grammar, in English, and the English meaning of things has warped our sense of it all. For example. What do we all think id means in Latin?  It, right? Except that’s the English equivalent we give to it, and in English, it is specifically an unknown thing and almost always a non-human thing. It seems insulting to reference a human being as “it.”  And it is.  But does id really mean exactly what it does? Id, like illud, hoc, and istud all reference a noun that is neither masculine nor feminine. A flumen is not an unknown thing but is neither masculine nor feminine by category. A human corpus and cor and cerebrum are all facets of being human, but none of them are masculine or feminine by category.
  2. Gender. Of words. We’ve probably all made some sort of statement (or heard it made which means we carry it around with us) that when we talk about the gender of a noun, we are not talking about human sexuality. It’s just a grammar category. And that’s true, when it is, but at times it is directly referencing human sexual identification. The issue of the gender of words in Latin is that it DOES reference human sexuality when those words are human identifiers and the rest of the time it most often does not reference human sexuality. There is nothing particularly manly about a flos or womanly about virtus but flower is by category masculine and courage by category is feminine. However, a mulier is feminine and references human sexuality as is vir masculine doing the same. There are many Latin words that reference human beings who are men and boys and those words are categorized as masculine and many more that reference women and girls which are categorized as feminine. Every once in a while a word referencing human beings comes along like infans and it is categorized as being either masculine or feminine because the world view of the people speaking this language included that babies could be either masculine or feminine. In addition to that cultural expectation are words (often adjectives) that are meant to describe all human beings or a group of human beings of different genders. The grammarians taught us that those are always masculine. That’s called patriarchy, and that’s another blog post.
  3. Neuter. This is really a wonderful word which often makes me wonder if the cultural experience of those speaking Latin historically didn’t somehow anticipate what human beings already knew about themselves on some level: that we are way more complex than any attempt to categorize us into just two options. Again, problematically, we reduce neuter to “neuter” in English which means no reference to sex–as in neutered, having sexual organs removed. But, that’s not what neuter means.  It means neither, as in neither masculine or feminine. That strikes me as a powerful idea to bring to the forefront if we want to talk about non-binary human beings.

I teach with Comprehensible Input as my framework, so I have absolutely no problem giving students English (or other L1) equivalents when I am introducing new words to them in Latin.  I do think, though, that we can do a better job of fleshing out the possibilities when we give them L1 equivalents. Take, for example, the word carmen. It’s easy to say that this word means song and move on with our story or reading. But, carmen is a much richer and more mysterious word than “song.” It can mean song.  And poem.  And incantation (yes, Hermione, as in a magical spell). And prayer. It’s worth the time, in my opinion, when we introduce a word so rich in meaning that we take some time to help our students sit with the possibilities.  How is it that the same word can mean song, poem, magical spell, and prayer? Are those things related?  Would they have been for Romans?  Could they be now? Then, a little more musing about what kinds of contexts might evoke any one of those meanings and then we can go back to our story or reading.

So, Sam is in your Latin class, and at some point early on, Sam let’s you know that they identify as non-binary. Sam let’s you know that their pronouns are they/them. Sam also wants to know how that works in Latin. I can imagine several responses which, for me, teaching in 2020, would be unacceptable.

Possible Responses:

  1. Sorry. Latin just doesn’t have any pronouns that will work like that.  I mean, there are words used for “they” but they require a plural verb and you would just be confusing people all the time.
  2. I see on my roster that your given name is Samantha (or Samuel), and so we will just use feminine (or masculine) pronouns for you in Latin.
  3. Most of the time in class when I’m speaking Latin, I refer to you all as a group of discipuli and that’s always going to be masculine, so no worries.

The problem with these responses is that while they feature something that grammars support, they are the kinds of responses that place grammar rules over people. That’s always a problem, as I see it, since grammar rules are meant to aid in communication and understanding of language. These sorts of responses turn what are nothing more than observations about patterns of language into restrictions about how human beings can communicate or need to communicate in order to be well heard, well understood and well received.

What can we come up with?

I will share here my thoughts about how we might respond to Sam and what patterns of language we might use when speaking or writing about non-binary human beings. I am not setting up rules but rather sharing an idea about how to respond to real people who do show up in my (and our) Latin classes. Because of a modern culture that is becoming increasingly more accepting of the complexity and variety of human genders and gender identities, students are also going to be more likely to tell us these things about themselves. They have always been in our classrooms, but they have not always been free to think aloud about themselves, much less willing or able to share such information with their teachers and classmates.  We are there now, and Sam wants to know how to refer to themself in Latin.

I am looking to the idea of nouns and adjectives being neither masculine or feminine, i.e. neuter as a way of expression in Latin. Here is how I imagine doing it whether I am having a conversation in class (one ONLY in which Sam has been very open with not only me but the class about identifying as non-binary) or with a character in a story that I create as a representation of someone who identifies as non-binary. Turning to the categorization of neuter beautifully comes with the idea of neither this nor that–in other words, neuter exists to defy binary categories. Immediately, in Latin, that means that we might use adjectives in the neuter, neuter pronouns and neuter participles in place of first and second declension nouns where that makes sense. Consider something like this:

Comites, apud nos est Sam, et Sam iam nobis dixit id nec masculinum nec femininum esse, certe? Sam est discens bonum et vult Latine de se dicere. Lingua Latina, vocabula habemus vocata feminina, masculina et neutra. Possumus Sam describere vocabulis neutris.  Exempli gratia Sam est altum statura. Sam est intelligens. Sam picturas pulchras pingit (I chose to write this rather than Sam est pictor/artifex qui . . . ). 

In any language where we are trying to recognize what people tell us about their experience of themselves as people who are non-binary, we have to practice making choices about the language we use. Using neuter adjectives, participles and pronouns in Latin for such people is not standard Latin practice. I know that. It is also an idea that I am beginning to think about and experiment with. I am sure that there are road blocks I have not encountered that my offering here will not solve.  For example, I often use the word discipuli when referring to the class. I want to do better in general terms of not always referring to a mixed group with masculine terms, and it allows me to introduce them to comites which is common gendered and evokes the lovely idea of  travelling companions in the classroom. How, though, do I refer to one student who has made in known that they are non-binary? That’s when it occurred to me to use a present participle: discens, a learner. Smith and Hall’s lexicon acknowledges it as an alternative for discipulus, though it also acknowledges that it is not found in the nominative singular. That’s a line I am willing to cross since discens is a form that anyone reading Latin would recognize at the very least as “learning, one who learns.” I do think that it is a practice of taking advantage of neuter adjectives, pronouns and participles accomplishes two things at once:

  1. It tips its hat toward long standing features of the language (that there are words categorized as NEITHER masculine nor feminine)
  2. It is a way of honoring what students and colleagues who speak and write Latin tell us about themselves.

If you have come up with ways in Latin to represent people who are non-binary, I’d love to hear about them. You can post a comment to this blog (which only I will see), and if it generates enough discussion, I’ll write a follow up.

Bob Patrick

Posted in social justice

It’s After Midnight: Lines and Circles

There should be no doubt that we are living in a time, certainly in the US, but also in the world where human beings are more apt to draw lines as a way of being in the world. We draw lines between political parties and even within political parties. We say directly or indirectly are you with us or them?  Are you with me or against me? We say to those who have rattled us–you’ve stepped across the line. I’m deleting/blocking you.  We walk around with a boundary that we expected everyone to respect but which we never make known until the offense is committed. How dare you step across my line?

The drawing of a line has long been done with skin tones. I listened to an African American minister preaching recently (Pastor Voddie Bauchman). He passionately dispelled the notion that there was more than one race. He proclaimed that “there is only one race descended from Adam and Eve, and it is the human race.” He went on to articulate that our DNA is 99.8% the same across all human beings, and that skin color is a product of melanin reacting to environment.  He closed, humorously by saying: “And don’t you dare for one minute think that God loves me more just because I got more melanin than you!”  All of that to try and undo this horrible line that as been drawn around ethnicities and skin tones in order to elevate the lighter skin tone of Europeans as the right side of the line, and historically to draw the line between free and enslaved human beings in the US. The result of that line has created quite literally a nation, if not a world of trauma and trouble. We draw lines between genders and gender identities–the “right ones and the wrong” ones (and sometimes we even say those words!).  We draw red lines around neighborhoods where banks won’t lend money or won’t lend money at a good rate to People of Color. We draw lines around students, those who “can” and those who “can’t.”  We draw lines around our curricula using words for Honors on one side of the line and “regular” or some other designation on the other side of the line.

Line drawing is simple, and it is easy. Line drawing gives the drawer of the line the immediate sense of accomplishment, some sort of emotional safety and often mental superiority. So, it’s easy to see why we fall into this bad habit of creating binary thinking.  It’s easy to do and it has an immediate feel good. Never mind that it is also too often simplistic, not accounting for the complexities that are always associated with being human and living in and creating and maintaining communities. Too often (always?) line drawing results in disastrous, deadly and what we can call evil outcomes. That is because drawing a line too often reduces the complex to something it is not.

What, then, to do? Stop drawing lines? I would like to stop drawing lines, and I get suckered into line drawing like everyone else (remember, easy with feel good outcomes). I need an alternative. The more I reflect on it, the more I am convinced that we also have another kind of drawing that we use and have experience with.  The circle. Drawing circles in human relations is, I think, also a natural thing. We sit around tables to eat. We gather around campfires to stay warm, to roast good things to eat, to tell stories. We create reading circles both with little ones just learning to read and among ourselves which we call “book clubs.” Many of us set up our classrooms in some form of a circle because we know that it just changes the dynamics of the room. And that’s a good place to observe: when a classroom is set up with line drawing (straight rows in perfect angles) it’s largely about keeping control over those in the room and ease of things for the teacher. When a classroom is set up as a circle, it puts every student equidistant (mostly) from the action and gives them immediate access to what’s going on.  It also is messier to maintain and invites more noise than the straight line classroom.

Imagine this, if you will. (I wish I were capable of the graphics that I am asking you to imagine). You’ve drawn a line over some issue. Along comes someone who is with you on most things, but differs about one thing. After some consideration, you decided to bend the line just enough to include this person because largely they agree with you, and, over time, their differing idea becomes helpful. So, your line has a curve in it at one point. This happens several more times. Individuals come along, largely seeing things your way, but with some differences. Each time, even with a struggle, you relent and redraw the line to include them. After a while, you no longer have a straight line.  IN fact, if this keeps happening, you will end up with a circle.

My own experience is that inviting people into a circle, which means allowing them in (because I started out as a line drawer who has the power of allowing, right) with their differences, results in finding that all their experiences combined end up being far more like mine than not.  What goes around comes around. I thought you were so different, but you and I really are alike.

Both line drawing and circle drawing are things that we human beings do. I think that line drawing is really about emergencies, when we feel danger, fear, terror, when traumas are revisited. They work for the line drawer in creating a temporary experience of safety. Line drawing, however, over the long haul becomes a new form of trauma making. Circle drawing is the basis of creating community. It is challenged in the midst of a threat and may fall apart, but long term the circle is essential for human relations that are just, that respect the dignity of every person.

I belong to a community that likes the motto: No one is outside the circle of love. I have to tell you that some days I’m not so sure.  I “want” that to be true, but is it, really? I end up with something like this: We have created this circle over here. We’ve just opened it up and made a place for you.  Do you want to be in our circle?  If you do, we welcome you, and we are all willing to move and shift around so that you belong in the circle, too. Someone might say:  hell, no! I don’t want to be in your circle! And, I would have to respect their wishes. Unless, of course, I take that person’s choice as a threat somehow and I jump up out of my circle and draw a line and say–you can’t talk that way to us!  You aren’t welcome here! New, unnecessary line, new trauma, more troubles.

We have been drawing lines in human history and in this country for a long time.  It’s way past midnight on that score. Line drawing doesn’t work for the long haul.

Circles are really the way communities work best.  And they are messy.  They are constantly changing and re-configuring in order to make more room for others. They require work. They must be tended by everyone in them or they cease to be circles. I keep going back to pre-school and early grades circles. I think there are many reasons why teachers of very small children choose to put them in circles but at least one of them is this: it’s hard to lose a child when they are sitting in a circle.

It’s time to stop losing folks.

Bob Patrick

In the search for truth, may we be just; in the search for justice may we be loving; and in loving may we find peace. 

Elizabeth McMaster

Posted in social justice

It’s Way Past Midnight–What Kind of Community Do You Want?

What kind of community do you want? I am coming to think that this may be one of the most important questions that we can ask ourselves and discuss with each other.

As our nation is openly cracking apart on many sides (this has been happening for a while now) and it’s not clear if we will recover, what kind of national community do we want?

Our classics organizations are having to reexamine their very roots and core of meaning. That’s never easy, and doing something that plummets us so deep into the essence of an organization (yes, that’s a fancy word for community) makes it unclear whether we will come out the other side of that process renewed or finished. (One thing is clear to me. If we come out of the process unchanged, we will be finished.)

Our classrooms ought to be open invitation to all kinds of learners, but when that begins to happen to white teachers (the vast majority of us are white) we cannot demand that a cosmopolitan assembly of students in our classroom form an otherwise white community. That’s actually what we have done for generations, and it has created exclusive tiny enclaves of what students and white teachers studying “the classics.” What kind of community do we really want our classrooms to be?

These times are filled with fear, anger, sadness, depression and pains and wounds that we don’t even have words for. What kind of a community do you want?

We belong to many different communities all at once. Some are religious.  Some institutional and subsets of institutions. Some are professional. Some are built out of neighborhoods that we live in. I wouldn’t do the list justice if I tried to be exhaustive. You understand.  Each of us belongs to many different communities. As a teacher and as a professor who teaches teachers, I also want to be very clear that classrooms can be communities. I think they ought to be communities. Too many classrooms at various levels never become communities.  They begin and remain space for information exchange where the power sits in the hands, mind and mouth of one person. Creating community out of a classroom requires work. In fact, all communities that not only survive but thrive require work.

They require work either to create them or to renew them–like classical associations that have been in existence for generations, maybe even centuries. What ties all of this together is this: when we begin to talk about the kind of community we want, we begin to articulate what will become the guiding principles of such communities. Some communities may express their guiding principles with “rules.”  I would suggest that behind the rules are the implicit principles.  This is common in religious communities. For example: in this community we do not eat XYZ food.  Behind that rule is an implied principle: we don’t eat XYZ food in order to honor the sacred as we experience it in our midst. So, the guiding principle is “honoring the sacred as we experience it in our midst.” Once we see the principle behind the rule, we begin to see that communities of many kinds share some common principles. One religious community honors the sacred by not eating a certain food, another by offering prayers at a certain time of day, another by acts of compassion to others, and so on. The same can happen across other kinds of communities, but we have to ask the question, actively, out loud, regularly. What kind of community to do we want to be? However we answer those questions establishes in some way or another, directly or indirectly, a set of principles of community. Here’s the kick. We are answering that question whether we do it actively and out loud or not. We can (and do) gather in our communities silently and implicitly saying at every gathering–this is the kind of community we want. Over the years, I have cultivated in myself the practice of looking at any gathering I join, and I ask myself: is this the kind of community we want?  I see a sea of white faces, older faces, male faces.  Is this the kind of community we want? It’s certainly, right now, at this gathering, the kind of community we are silently proclaiming.

As any of us begin to describe that community we want, the principles will be articulated. Each person with a stake in a particular community who answers the question will add substance or nuance to those principles. If a beginning or renewing community takes careful note in these conversations they can have in hand, very quickly, the guiding principles of their community.

We who belong to the various communities of classicists can ask the question as a means of renewal. To be such an educated bunch, we have subscribed to and perpetuated some really ignorant and harmful stuff in our past around racism, gender and gender identity issues, ableism and socio-economics. After we own that past and offer sorrow for that past, what sort of community do we want to be? That strikes me as a most exciting, most important, most soul-supporting conversation that we could possibly have.

I invite you to ponder this question.  I invite the leaders of SCS, CAMWS, ACL, CAAS, and CANE as well as local and state associations to find a way to set up this conversation among your members. What kind of community do you want to be? Invite all the voices with interest to answer the question. Take copious and careful notes. Write a charter–a renewing charter for a new day in your organization.

For now, let’s be clear: it’s way past midnight on these issues. What sort of community do you want? I would love to hear how you answer the question, so I invite two kinds of responses here in the comment section of the blog. What kind of classroom community do you want?  What kind of classics organization community do you want?  You can answer either or both, just make it clear what you are answering. None of the comments will actually show up, but  I’ll gather all of them and offer a follow up post based on what you say while keeping your names anonymous. What kind of community do you want?

Bob Patrick

In the search for truth, may we be just; in the search for justice may we be loving; and in loving may we find peace.  Elizabeth McMaster

Posted in social justice

It’s Way Past Midnight

The original post that appeared here was a call for better community among classicists and in particular, a call to the American Classical League to take certain measures that would help us all be better community.

As of today, the ACL has issued it’s Follow Up to its Call to Solidarity. This is a strong statement that will, if followed, satisfy what I was hoping for. Therefore, I have removed the original post, and I am grateful to all those who contributed to the end result in this statement.

Bob Patrick

 

 

Posted in social justice

Latin and “Western Civilization”

In one way or another, various organizations and associations of Classicists (teachers and researchers of Latin and Ancient Greek languages, literatures, cultures, and histories) are beginning to deal with issues of exclusion and elitism as they are expressed in a number of ways: racism, sexism, and ethnocentrism to name a top three. Some of this struggle has been brought on through unexpected eruptions at organizational meetings or by eruptions taking place after organizations attempt to make statements of inclusivity. Eruptions can be useful!

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that one of my working assumptions is that–like it or not (most of us don’t)–all organizations and systems in this American culture are infected and affected by white supremacy.  By white supremacy, I do not mean an avowed position claiming that so-called white people are superior to all others.  I am talking about an inherent institution in all of the social, political and economic systems of this country from its foundation which were for and by people of northern European origins. That institution of things for and by so called white people has been in place so long that we can now say without question that everyone here, of whatever skin tone or ancestry has been infected and affected by that privilege so established by and for so called white people.

While this includes all organizations and systems, I want to talk about Classical associations to which most of us who teach Latin belong.  They, too, were founded by and for so called white people–even if no one said it out loud or claimed it.  That’s how the insidious system of white privilege works. It’s been in place from such a beginning and for so long that it works in the silent background as the default setting of this thing called America (by which I mean this one spot in North America, the USA).

As I read and ponder the conversations that are erupting around all of this, there is a troubling phrase that I think we need to visit often so that we can begin to excavate what’s worth saving and what is not.  Western Civilization.  This epithet can go two different directions very easily, and they do not arrive at the same place.

Here is one version of western civilization: western civilization refers to the development of human people and societies that make up much of what was once the Roman Empire. This includes much of what is known today as Europe, northern parts of Africa, and parts of the Near East. This include the languages, literatures–Romance and otherwise, cultures, histories, political systems, geographies and the many ethnic groups that make up this region.  This western civilization includes the many religions, indigenous, monolithic, monotheistic, polytheistic, ancient and modernizing alike.  This “western civilization” is one civilization among many that were all developing human communities, histories, languages, literatures, religions,  and politics out of many ethnicities as well. It is not by any stretch the oldest of human civilizations. This version also acknowledges that this area once associated with the Roman empire continues to have influence through history by means of migration of peoples to other regions of the world, and that such migrations brought with them the good and the bad of the original areas. So, for example, the ancient Res Romana, thanks to Britain stretches out to places like Australia, the US, Canada and India, to name a few.

Here is another version of western civilization: this western civilization is the one we have in mind when we want to lift up some piece of the first sense of western civilization and make it superior. This happens when western civilization becomes the equivalent of northern Europe.  This happens when western civilization becomes Christianity.  This happens when western civilization becomes so called white people.  This happens when western civilization becomes the capitalism that emerges out of a Puritanical and then Victorian sense of hard work without the acknowledgement of social status that privileges that hard work. This happens when western civilization means Romance languages and Latin as somehow superior and eternal to others, Slavic, Germanic, Arabic, Celtic, et al. This happens when western civilization becomes the argument for and justification of human enslavement. This happens when western civilization presumes the second class status of women and, hence, the superiority of men to women. This happens whenever western civilization is spoken of with a sense, literal or otherwise, of divine destiny the latest of which is Make America Great Again.  This is just a starter list, and it’s what I’m good for right now.  I am sure there are other examples of this second version of western civilization, but since I, too, have been infected and affected by white supremacy, I can’t see the things that I cannot see. These are the things that I can see.

Why does this matter?  Latin teachers in general are constantly looking for ways to help others who are not Latin teachers understand why anyone would want or need or benefit from studying Latin. The connection of Latin to western civilization is a strong one, and it is one that I dare say most of us go to often.  I do.  I tell students and parents, colleagues and neighbors, total strangers at the grocery story–anyone who shows a slight interest–that Latin can be a benefit to any student who wants to learn it. Here’s my elevator speech:

I don’t care what your child wants to do in life beyond school–whether they want to do surgery or do hair, defend clients in court or repair car engines–all of their professional language, tools, and organizational language will be Latin based in an English speaking world. The more educated you become in English, the more Latin-based your English is.  A college graduate deals with an English that is about 75% Latin based. So, Latin is a good thing to have in your educational and work world. More philosophically, Latin connects so many dots in western civilization. 

That’s my elevator speech for “why study Latin.” I can break that down into another hour’s conversation if you persist with me. It’s much more than vocabulary, but it’s at least vocabulary, and its the vocabulary of western civilization.  But what we mean when we say western civilization is, in my opinion, a matter of life and death. I am intentional that what I mean by western civilization is that first version above–but I have been slow to realize that.  I live in a country and among cultures that sprang from and which are a part of western civilization in all its multi-cultural mix. But I also know that too many in my country think in terms of the second version of western civilization. Too many people try to finish my elevator speech for me:  oh, you must teach the young doctors and lawyers of tomorrow! Oh, you must teach all the “good kids.”  Oh, you get all “the smart ones” if you teach Latin. Oh, it must be nice teaching small classes of the super smart.  A sadder form of this second version shows up, too: why should my kid take Latin? That’s useless.  He’s not going to college (or not going to become an egg head, or a doctor, or a lawyer, etc).

The sad reality of our classical associations’ histories is that they began in and are rooted in a time when the second version of western civilization was often written into the documents. If you look around at these gatherings today, the whiteness is overwhelming. The false and unproven claims that Latin is superior, eternal and somehow if young children are forced to memorize grammatical paradigms they will become critical thinkers pervade even today. Latin teachers too often are heard or read claiming that teaching certification programs are a waste of their time–implication being that Latin is so different and teaching students Latin so removed from the “trenches of public schools” that they cannot, could not, would not be bothered to join the club of learning how to teach better. Still some classics departments and departments of education practice cold war with one another. When we claim that Latin is different in any venue, we are sliding down into this second version of western civilization.  When we want to hail “the best of western civilization” we are promoting the second version since western civilization has had a minute or two of some really bad stercus.

Honestly, I don’t want to give up using the phrase “western civilization,” but if using it is going to leave those hearing and reading me to think that I am promoting a claim to superiority in the world, then I will stop using it.  That would be a shame. That could be one more nail driven into the coffin of Latin in our educational landscape. After all, billions of human beings live today in countries and cultures with ties to the ancient Res Romana. Finding ways to understand those ties can be meaningful and helpful in life. Latin helps to do that. The other nails, though, were driven there by our unwillingness or even just our sluggishness about addressing what white supremacy is doing in us, around us, and through the unexamined things we do.

Bob Patrick

Posted in social justice

Diversity vs. Multiculturalism

Prior to the last 29 years in which I have been a high school Latin teacher, I served 8 years as an ordained clergyman.  My entrance into Candler School of Theology at Emory University in 1981 introduced me to many things, but it signaled for me my entrance into a life long call to engage social justice issues.  Put as simply as I can, these “issues” are all those things about human life together that divide, hinder, prevent and obstruct every member of society from getting what they need to survive and thrive.  So, for this white man, that has meant being schooled in issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, poverty and wealth, education, religion, language and culture.  I continue to be schooled and to look for schooling–that is, for ways to understand better and embrace more deeply the wild and wonderful variety of life on this earth.

A few years ago, I was spending a Saturday morning involved in a training focused on racial and cultural issues created primarily for a white community grappling with its own experience of privilege and ignorance about other communities and how or whether we could envision something larger, something more genuine.

Other communities.  Something more genuine.

One of the facilitators at that training was a woman whom I’ve come to think of as one of my elders and mentors, Dr. Debra Greenwood.  She is an African American woman, a PhD in nursing, a business owner, a community leader, and wise woman whose voice of wisdom helps me see beyond my privilege and ignorance.  I remember little of the rest of the training that day, but at one point she asked us to stop using the word “diversity.”

What? What is wrong with the word diversity? Before I could even begin to parse the Latin roots in my head (diversitas = contradiction, difference; divertere = to part, to go different ways, to separate) she said this:  diversity focuses on differences, and while no one will deny that any group of people have differences, when in this culture built on white privilege we talk about diversity, we are invariably talking about–whether you are aware of it or not–the people who are different from the white starting place.  Diversity becomes a conversation about those people who are different by those who consider themselves “normal.”  That hit me like a kick in the stomach.  While I wanted to object, I knew in a deeper place that she was right. It was not just about what the word and its Latin roots mean.  It had as much if not more to do with our experience in this American culture that presumes the experience of white people, mostly white male people, mostly white, heterosexual, male people as the norm and everyone else as different and “less.”

I immediately wanted something to replace the word “diversity” as I continued to grapple with what she had just said to us (I continue to grapple with what that means). “What’s a better word when we want to talk about all this work we are doing,” I remember asking her.  She didn’t blink.  “Multi-cultural.”  That word begins in a different place. It’s beginning place is the acknowledgment that we all belong to human communities that are made up of many cultures, perspectives, orientations, formations and life experiences.  Multiculturalism also implies a future, maybe even a future hope–that what is “normal,” what is expected in human community is a wild and wonderful set of differences all of which can be celebrated by everyone even when they don’t belong to everyone, differences that don’t begin as cast off of some monolithic group.  Ultimately, diversity may be a thing we can talk about, but it can’t be our starting place, not while white supremacy is still at the core of every one of our institutions and organizations.

I found this expression of the two terms from the blog Hybrid Parenting:

Diversity is defined as the differences between people. Diversity can be real or perceived differences between people. These differences include but are not limited to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and socioeconomic status. In a diverse world, people acknowledge the differences that exist among individuals.

Multiculturalism is more complex than simply noticing the diversity or differences that exist in society. Multiculturalism focuses on being inclusiveness, understanding, respecting, and acknowledging unequal power in society. Furthermore, people are aware of the advantages or disadvantages of being a particular, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or socioeconomic status is society. In a multicultural world, people accept and embrace the differences of others into their lives.

My hope for myself is to replace the white privilege perspective that I have been formed in all my life with this ability to embrace the differences of others into my life.  Until that becomes my default, it is work, hard work which I owe to the world while I live in it.

Bob Patrick

Posted in cogen

That “Problem Class”–part 3 in a series

Things are beginning to happen because I have created a Cogen group for my “problem class.”  (You can read about it in two previous posts on this blog).   The happenings are slow, but significant.  Since I last posted, my regular Cogen meeting has been interrupted by holiday and inclement weather day, but we managed to re-schedule for another day.  Here is what has happened.

1. The Cogen group decided that having a “talking stick” would help focus the idea of there only being one mic in the room and help them not talk over each other. They agreed that they would like to take turns taking the stick home and cleaning it up and shaping it into their talking stick.

(Side note: the use of a talking stick comes out of indigenous peoples of the Americas.  Emdin coins the phrase–neoindigenous for those students of color who experience a disenfranchisement in all kinds of public spaces including schools. I brought up the idea of a talking stick, but what we are doing with it as a way of focusing respect for one another seems to be both a piece of the truth of the indigenous tradition and the empowerment of students in my classroom.)

2. One student brought in a stick that everyone decided was too feeble and too scrawny to be a true talking stick.  She took the class rejection well.  Later that week, I found a substantial piece of fallen oak and brought it in for students to start cleaning up and turning into their talking stick. They embraced it, and it has surprised me how immediately each day students volunteer to take it home and work on it (that has meant stripping the bark and sanding it so far).

3. The Cogen members say that class is “vastly improved” over what we had before.  Their most recent report includes that people are more respectful and that they feel more like they belong to each other.

4. Recently, in the middle of a movie-talk, one of the Cogen members happened to be running the video (stop and start) for me–which by the way–he volunteered to do, something he never does.  He called for a “time-out.” I agreed and gave him the floor.  He was having what would become apparent soon a real insight into language.  This is a student in Latin 3.  In so many words, he questioned and then realized that people who speak other languages actually have experiences and thoughts just like he does in English.  Our movie talk included the word and experience of a “somnium.”  He found it hard to believe that ancient Romans actually had dreams because they didn’t know the English word “dream.”  Before I could respond to that he proclaimed:  Oh my God!  they had the word “somnium!”  That’s what they actually said about that experience.  It was a somnium!  (Latin teachers may be wondering what too him so long to realize this, but language learners wake up to the power and distinctions of language when they do–and not a minute before).  I was very grateful for this time-out moment.

5. In our last Cogen, I was able to recall this moment of his and notice that it happened during a movie talk when they were particularly focused on what was happening and our story in Latin.

6. We agreed to create a GroupMe so that we could communicate with each other outside of our meeting times.

7. I asked them if there was anyone in class that I should be concerned about.  They identified one student who is easily distracted, and they suggested that I try asking him privately what sort of things I could do to help him stay focused.

It’s still a messy class that happens and the end of the day.  I don’t find myself dreading it anymore.  I leave feeling like we are beginning to work together.  I really look forward to the Cogen.  I feel like I am forging some bonds with that small group that magically transfer to the class itself.

My only regret?  That I didn’t start the Cogen group earlier.

Bob Patrick

Posted in cogen

That “Problem” Class–Part 2 in a Series

“Thank you for reminding me–if you had not reminded me yesterday, I might not have made it this morning.  I didn’t feel like driving so early, but I came anyway.”

The first student came in 10 minutes early for our second Cogen meeting (which I described here, if you missed it) this morning. I already had the cinnamon rolls and double chocolate muffins and orange juice set out, John Legend playing on Pandora, and so I invited him in and we began chatting.  Soon the others arrived.  I thanked them for coming, and while they started eating, I reminded them of our rules:

  1. No one is special in this group–we all stand on equal footing.
  2. There’s only one mic.  We listen to each other and don’t talk over each other.
  3. We all take responsibility for any actions that we agree upon for the good of our class.

I asked them to tell me how their first suggestion–having a five minute check-in at the beginning of class with a vent or a brag–went this past week.  They told me that it was very positive–that it’s a friendly way of starting class, that while people come in scattered and separated, it served to pull us together as a group.  They said it helped “smooth out the week.”  I thanked them for the idea–it was totally theirs.  I told them that it had gone so well with their class that I had begun doing it in all my classes.  They seemed surprised and impressed that one of their ideas made it into all of my lesson plans.

They also told me these things:

There have been fewer times this week when you have had to call people down  (including mostly me).
Class has felt better.
I wasn’t angry to be here.
It has felt like home.

I will be honest to say–that last one landed deeply in me.  Class has felt like home. That’s what I really, really, really want.  I told them so, and thanked them for the feedback.

For this week’s discussion, I asked them if there were something that all five of us might agree that any one of us could do that would make class a more positive experience.  “That’s a tough one,” one of them said.  Then, almost immediately, they began talking about how much liked brain breaks.  I’ve made a concerted effort to collect and use some new ones this semester, and they noted which ones they like the best.  I asked them if Brain Breaks had any effect on the rest of their learning during the period.  They agreed that it did if for no other reason than it made them want to continue with whatever we were doing.

So, I shifted to Brain Breaks.  I told them that I had planned one brain break for each day, usually for right after our first activity.  Perhaps the thing they could do is to let me know if and when we needed a second one during the period.  They immediately thought that was a good idea.  I asked them whether that needed to happen out loud–meaning one of them would suggest out loud that maybe we needed a second brain break, or would it be better for them to communicate that silently to me with some sort of high sign.  They thought about that for a minute and then one said:  I think if we say it out loud, and you take the advice to do another brain break, that would come across a really cool to the class.  That would be positive.

Done!  Secretly, that’s what I was hoping they would say, but it needed to be their choice for their reasons.  We all agreed that that would begin today as something they took responsibility for in making our class more positive.

My sense of better and their sense of better

In reflecting over the last week and this morning’s second cogen meeting, I realize that my sense of class being better is different than the students.’  I did think that this class was going better because of the five minute check in–so much so that I instituted it in all my other classes.  Some part of me, though, still measures “better” by what makes me comfortable. That’s been the thorn in my whole teaching career. Those things, conditions, behaviors and outcomes that would have kept me comfortable have invariably not been the things that help students make progress in this language. This class still comes in at the end of the day–tired, rattled, anxious, depressed, mouthy, loud, and willing to stir each other up for no apparent reason. And, the five minute check in has curbed much of that and brought us together as a group of people trying to get things done. My cogen group helped me see this more clearly this morning and, hopefully, create some additional avenues for that reality to deepen.

Bob Patrick

Posted in Uncategorized

That “Problem” Class–Part 1 in a Series

It’s my 6th period class.  It’s Latin 3, and there are 33 of them in the room. This is after lunch for these students and the next to last period of the day.  I have taught many of them before. They represent the full spectrum of the demographics of the school.  Almost every day, it’s a struggle. I see us become our worse selves (I don’t think anyone has reached worst–yet).  What I struggle with is gaining and keeping their attention.  I know that they have at this point of the day little attention left to give.  They are also intelligent and creative people. They can also be aggressive and resistant on almost any issue.  They are beyond “sitting still and being quiet” and other traditional classroom conventions. Perhaps the better point is that some part of me still expect traditional conventions to be a given without having to cultivate any sense of common cultural meaning between me and them!

Last summer I bought and read Christopher Emdin’s book For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood . . . and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education (Beacon Press, 2016). I came back to school in the fall and convinced my 4 other Latin colleagues to read and study this book together as a professional learning project. I’ve been working for many years now on my own whiteness in an increasingly multi-cultural world. Emdin is challenging me with language and ideas that I would not easily have discovered on my own. (The enigma of white privilege: it not only elevates white people to access everything in the culture, but it insulates us against seeing that, much less knowing best how to deconstruct it). This blog series is about what I am learning as I put into practice Emdin’s”reality pedagogy.”

The first step is to form a cogen group.  Cogen is short for “cogenerative.” A cogen is formed with four students in the class who become my advisers who help me create a better class experience. Emdin says that the four students should represent the demographics in the room.  Per his instructions, I spent time pondering that and made a list of four students who filled that requirement.  Then, last week, I asked each of them if they would be willing to meet with me on Tuesday morning at 6:55 for a meeting that would last 15-20 minutes.  I needed their help.  I would bring snacks.  I assured them that they were not in trouble, and that this was a secret group–so not to tell others.  They agreed.

I went to the store the night before and bought cinnamon rolls and chocolate chip muffins.  Honestly, I worried that they would forget to come even though I personally reminded each of them on Monday.  I also (per Emdin’s suggestion) asked an Assistant Principal to stop by during the meeting to congratulate them on being chosen to be my advisers.

At 6:55 the first student arrived.  Within 3 minutes, all four were there, had taken some food and were gathered in the circle.  Emdin says that this first session has two goals: to establish the rules for the cogen and to let them have a positive experience of helping you with something.  That something should be simple, and one of his suggestions is “what is something I can do at the beginning or ending of class that will make our experience more positive?”

As one young man was entering, he asked me: so, Dr. Patrick, how is your morning so far? I told him that it was still pretty rough for me since it was so early.  He responded.  “Yeah.  I think that you never get to see us except on the bad side of the day.”  It was a simple but very revealing comment. He was calm, sleepy and thoughtful. I agreed with him and brought that observation into our short discussion.

While they enjoyed their food, I explained what a cogen was and that I appreciated their willingness to help me make our class a better class. I told them that our cogen group had three rules (straight from Emdin):

  • There is no special person in the group–especially me just because I am the teacher.  While I am the Latin expert and quite frankly the expert on teaching, I am not an expert on their experience or what it means to be a 16, 17 or 18 year old.  I am not an expert on what it means to learn in my class or what it means to be a student in this school.  We all bring some expertise to this, and that’s why I asked them to help.  None of us is special. All are important.
  • There is only one mic.  I had already begun using this idea and phrase in class to mean: when someone is talking we all agree to give them our full attention. It also means that everyone gets equal time.
  • We all agree to work on and take individual responsibility for the ideas that will make our class better.  We leave our meetings with an action plan, and we are all responsible.

They were in immediate agreement, and so we moved on to our one task for the day.  What can I do at the beginning or ending of our class to make class a better experience?  Immediately one student asked:  by better do you mean make everyone happy or do you mean dealing with individuals who may just not want to be in the room that day?  It was a great question and the short form of my response was that I’d like something that would work for both possibilities.  I did note that I always try to be aware of anyone who looks like they are in distress, and I do let individuals leave to take a break, go to a counselor, et al.

Here’s the plan they formulated which does, indeed, respond to both aspects of his question:

  • Begin class with 5 minutes of “check-in.”
  • Check-in can be something that you want to get off your chest.
  • Check-in can be a “brag about me” where you share something good that has happened to you.
  • They acknowledged that this is not enough time for 33 people to check in, but that it would begin to create the sense that this is safe place where what they are going through is important.

In the midst of this, the Assistant Principal arrived.  She joined our circle and congratulated them on being asked to be my advisers.  We did brief introductions and summarized what we were doing.  She was genuinely excited and asked to be kept apprised of how this was going.  She left, and we brought our time to an end.

This felt SO GOOD!  It was genuine interaction with students from the “problem” class. I will tell you that I have been ashamed of that fact.  I am a veteran teacher. I am confident about what I do and how I do it. Building trust and relationship with students is the core of what I do.  Yet, this class did not make that mark.  Often, it was just the opposite.  I attribute that to “the drift.”  You know the drift. It can be any myriad of things that allow us as teachers to slip away from what we know is solid work in human relationships. It can be the simple fact of aging! You will never be as close to their ages as you are this year. It can be other major things going on in your life. It can be the demoralization of bad state, district, school or department leadership. It can be problem parents. It can be the difference in cultures of being a white teacher among young people who are from many different cultural backgrounds. (I presume that the majority of teachers reading this will be white because 75% of all US teachers are white).This short little first cogen experience tapped into some common humanity that simply transcended all of that.

On the afternoon of this same day, the class came in.  Immediately the four students made eye and verbal contact with me that was friendly and familiar.  The connection was made.  I began class by introducing a new thing called check-in.  For five minutes anyone who wanted to vent or brag about themselves could.  Immediately two of the four in the cogen volunteered (took ownership) and several others in the class followed–both brags and vents.  It truly changed the atmosphere in the room to something much more positive than usual.  This is a good start.

Bob Patrick

Posted in CI Mission

ALL KINDS of Learners–Part 3

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

Recently I was talking with a colleague and friend in the math department of my school about what  I’ve written in this blog series.  He remarked at one point:  “Oh, sure.  It’s like teaching math these days as if STILL only 1% of the student population is going to show up in our classes KNOWING that 100% of them have to take the math we are teaching.  And still that’s exactly what many do.” We are not alone in this struggle to teach for ALL KINDS OF LEARNERS.

There’s another force to contend with: the snare of local and state laws that require certain things of us in the way of testing that make some in our number feel that they cannot do anything but the traditional program. Here’s what we know: You simply cannot plan language acquisition on a calendar, e.g. will master the first two declensions and conjugations by the second week of October. Instead, what we typically do is write “will have been introduced to the first two declensions and conjugations by the second week of October” where “introduced to” becomes “I covered” and “you didn’t study hard enough.”  In these cases, the difficulty of what we can do becomes only more difficult, but I maintain that with enough collaboration and creativity, we can may ways to work around these institutional obstacles so that we fulfill the law but maintain good language acquisition practices.  I also readily acknowledge that there are some districts where the legal clamps in place will simply kill programs despite what the teacher may want to do.  That’s a justice issue of another kind.

We CAN teach Latin in a way that focuses on acquiring the language first.  When we do that, ALL KINDS OF LEARNERS will make progress.  All can be rather easily successful.  Down the road, we can teach them some grammar rules that will help them in their writing.  If we want them to read better, understand better, write better and speak better Latin, we can give them Latin that they can easily understand.  It’s that simple, and it’s that demanding.

Why is it demanding?  Our own reality stands in the way–besides the previously mentioned obstacles:

1. Most of us have not ever actually acquired the language that we “teach.” That’s not an accusation.  It’s an observation of fact. Most of us, because we are elite learners, did acquire the language to some minimal degree just by forcing ourselves to stick with the grammar program.  Even Stephen Krashen acknowledges that for the self-driven learner, a grammar program will yield up the occasional comprehensible input. When that happens, acquisition takes place.  But it’s not enough to make us feel confident in our use of Latin as a language of communication.  A well educated enthusiastic teacher told me once:  “I know how to form the imperative, but I have no idea what to do with it in the classroom.”  Making these changes can be personally terrifying.  It’s not what we thought we were signing up for.

2. We are learning to speak Latin years after we learned the grammar rules, and so we suffer under our own processes.  For us, the affective filter will always be a little too high, and our language monitors will always be on overkill.  I watch with sadness how we treat each other at times with the otherwise new, highly creative and incredibly fun wave of novellas that are coming out at our own hands.  The rush of Latin teachers to criticize the “Latinitas” they find or don’t find in these novellas is a painful demonstration of what “learning all your grammar first” can do to us. (NB I am not saying that Latinitas is something to be rejected.  I am noting how a concern for it diminishes creative efforts, creates animosity and obscures what could be collaboration–which is what happens when one’s monitor is over-developed.) Latin teachers have monitors on steroids, and it’s not healthy for us as a teaching community.

3. The Latin speaking immersion programs that have proliferated over the years (in which I have participated and from which I have benefited), actually work on a grammar-translation base and appeal to elite learners. That’s such an enigma.  We go to these events to become better hearers, readers and speakers of Latin (maybe better writers, too), and yet every immersion Latin program that I know of requires that participants “know all their grammar” as a pre-requisite for the program (though there are signs that some of that is beginning to change).  The implication is that you cannot understand, read, speak or write Latin unless you know all your grammar.  We KNOW that this is not how languages are acquired by normal human beings.

Here’s what we can do that will make a difference–invite all kinds of learners into our programs and help them be successful:

1. Make the delivery of understandable Latin–what we say to them, and the reading we put in front of them–our main focus.
2. Make sure that the content of that understandable Latin is compelling to them.  We must work hard to know our audiences.
3. Keep vocabulary for the four years or five years we teach them well contained, high frequency vocabulary, and use whatever grammar we need to create interesting conversations and readings.
4. Teach them the grammar they need when it arises in the early years, and more directly in the later years.
5. Never test them on the grammar that we are teaching them.  Grammar is only retained when used often, and that is the test.  Help them use grammar that they need to prepare their own writing and formal speaking.  If you are not having them do formal writing and speaking, then grammar is not much of an issue as long as we, the teachers and Latin experts in the room, are using good grammar.

I know that that last item will be difficult for many to swallow.  Passing a grammar test for any language proves nothing except that the test taker is good at cramming material before a test.  This is not a certamen contest.  This is not a contest at all.  This is about acquiring a language that is on the verge of disappearing from our schools entirely.  We don’t have time to play around with what works and what doesn’t.  We know that a grammar translation approach does not work to help ALL KINDS OF LEARNERS acquire the language.  The real justice issue, then, is how to move on from what we know, to what we need to do for the survival of the language and inclusion of ALL KINDS OF LEARNERS in our program.  It comes down to this:  if we don’t turn our attention to the kinds of learners we have never appealed to, what we do will disappear.  What we have to offer is good for all student’s, isn’t it?  And their presence in our programs will breathe new life into the very existence of our programs.

A few years ago after I made a presentation at the then APA on CI and TPRS in the Latin classroom, a former mentor of mine approached me with real interest in this work.  I made the remark that I felt that if we didn’t make these kinds of changes in the way we teach Latin–across the board–that fifty years from now, Latin might disappear from our cultural and academic landscape. He stepped back with a surprised look on his face.  “Fifty years?  We don’t have fifty years.  We are lucky if we have twenty.”

Mine is a plebeian appeal.  We know how human beings acquire language.  It requires understandable messages in the language about things that are compelling.  We are sitting on a literary treasury unlike any other in the world.  We can die with it in our elite learning circles, or we can make it available to ALL KINDS OF LEARNERS.  The ones who are not like us.  In ways that work for them.  There are several justice issues here: what’s good for Latin; what’s good for our culture; what’s good for normal learners.  Pick one if you must.  I propose that the solutions are the same for all.

Bob Patrick