Friday, January 10, 2020

Prepared For Adventure

Aeneas Fleeing From Troy, Pompeo Batoni, 18th century

Undique convenere, animis opibusque parati,
In quascumque velim pelago deducere terras.  Aeneid II.799-800

These lines from the second book of Vergil's Aeneid describe the refugees fleeing from Troy to Aeneas with the hope that he could lead them to safety and a new land.  The lines are literally translated as "They assembled from all quarters, prepared in mind and in resources, for whatever lands I would wish to lead them on the sea."  This is the perfect description of the ideal classroom.

Make no mistake, a teacher is a leader.  The Greek word from which we derive "pedagogy" is paidagogos, which is a leader of children, and whether you understand education as a leading from the darkness of ignorance or a leading into the light of knowledge, it is an enterprise that requires leadership, and it is the teacher who serves that chief function.

Yet notice in these lines from the Aeneid that the people have come to Aeneas animis opibusque parati, prepared in mind and in resources for whatever lay ahead.  We often focus on the student preparation of bringing materials to class, notebooks and writing instruments and such, but too rarely do we even consider the preparation they need in their minds and spirits.  

I have written before about the quality of being docile, which is far more than merely being quiet and demure, but is the disposition of mind and spirit that makes it possible to learn.  How, then, do we help our children develop that essential disposition so that when they enter the classroom, they are actually prepared for the adventure of education?

First, they must eat well and sleep well.  A body that is malnourished or deprived of sleep will not be able to sustain the rigors of the educational journey, and if there is one of these two essentials that we tend to neglect, it is sleep.  Young people must get uninterrupted rest, which means no phone or computer activity once the lights have gone out.

Young people, and indeed all of us, are imitative creatures.  If the adults in their lives are curious, they will learn to be curious, too.  Share with the young people in your life the questions that you ask about the world around you.  Invite them into your speculations and discussions.  Soon, they will be asking questions of their own, perhaps questions you have never considered.

Read.  Read to children when they are young.  Read with them as they grow older.  Share with them the books you are currently reading.  Express to them your excitement over an article you have read or a book you hope to get.  They will value what those around them value, and if it is nothing more than a steady diet of electronic entertainment, we should not expect them to become the deep, reflective people they have the ability to be.

When children come to class prepared in both mind and resources, there is no telling to what lands they can travel and what they will discover along the way.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

A Valediction

I recently came across some items from high school, including pictures...yikes!...and found my high school commencement program, which included my valedictory address.  Although I had always remembered the lines from Pope with which I had begun, I did not remember my own words.  Reading them now, with nearly three decades of teaching experience, I saw several things that struck me in that youthful speech, which ran as follows.

"So pleas'd at first the tow'ring Alps we try,
Mount o'er the vales, and seem to tread the sky.
Th' eternal snows appear already past,
And the first clouds and mountains seem the last:
But, those attain'd, we tremble to survey
The growing labours of the lengthen'd way,
Th' increasing prospect tires our wand'ring eyes.
Hills peep o'er hills, and Alps on Alps arise!"

     These words, which were written in 1711 by Alexander Pope in his Essay on Criticism, have a special meaning for us tonight.   When we began our educational careers twelve years ago, the world was new to us, and we were eager to learn about it.  We came across both sad and joyous occasions.  As our bodies grew and horizons expanded, we looked to our high school graduation as the culmination of our work and determination.  This was to be the top of the mountain we had been climbing for twelve years.
     Now that we have reached the top of our mountain, we look out and see that there are more hills to climb.  We have not so much ended a journey as we have embarked on a new one.
     We have learned many lessons throughout the years.  Many have been taught to us in classrooms, while others have been taught to us by living life.  Let us take these lessons--the ones that have brought us here tonight--wherever we go and apply them as we make and attain our goals.
     Let us also remember and thank those who have taught, guided, and befriended us along the way:  God, family, teachers, and friends.  Without them, our journey here would have been impossible.
     May God bless us in all that we do.

As I looked back at my own words, I could not help analyzing them for style.  I'm a Latin teacher...what else would you expect?  The first thing that struck me was my penchant for pairs.  "The world was new..., and we were eager...."  "...both sad and joyous...."  "As our bodies grew and horizons expanded...."  Absent was what has become my fondness for threes, apposition, and asyndeton.  Yet two aspects of that youthful speech have remained in much of my writing and speaking throughout the years, the grounding my thoughts in the writings of others and a deep sense of connection with people.

My senior English teacher, Mr. John Richardson, introduced me to British poetry, which, especially the works of Alexander Pope, captivated my heart and mind.  Pope's words in his Essay on Criticism were particularly appropriate for graduating seniors, and my use of them reveals my core philosophy of education.  Education is, at its most fundamental level, understanding that this is that.  It is, in essence, the making of a connection, and applied education is making use of that connection.  Pope poetically expressed an idea, and my 18-year-old self said, "This is that.  What we graduates are experiencing is what he has described."  I then made use of that connection as the basis for my valedictory remarks.

For me, however, it goes even deeper than that.  It is not enough that I alone make a connection or even that I use that connection in further work.  I am keenly aware of the connections among people, and this produces two effects.  The first is gratitude.  I genuinely love giving credit where credit is due.  The second is my passion to connect people, both with each other and with connections of understanding that I have discovered, and this forms the essence of what I do as a teacher.  Nothing thrills me more than to connect students with authors and ideas, with programs of study and scholars in the field, with universities and career paths.  Side note...did you see what I did with the grouping of three and asyndeton in that last sentence?  But I digress.

In that teenage speech lie the seeds of what I do and how I do it, but there is something more.  It was my first significant speech in front of large audience.  Our graduating class was listed at 455, and with guests at commencement it would be safe to assume the audience numbered around 1500.  I was a shy young man, and the thought of delivering a memorized speech in front of such a crowd was daunting, so I memorized a couple of other passages from which I drew strength as I practiced my speech at home.  "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," Philippians 4:13, "and the peace of God that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus," Philippians 4:7.  And He is still guarding my heart and mind, giving me peace, and strengthening me as I continue to climb the hills and Alps of the lengthened way. is one of those old pics from high school. Here I am with my grandma at her house.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Vivit Lingua Latina

Miss Ranck at the time she was my teacher

I don't know whether this person looks frightening to you, but she made me so nervous I nearly quit Latin.  Since I met my wife in a collegiate Latin class and have taught the language for nearly three decades, I am glad I did not, but I was certainly tempted after the first day in Miss Alice Ranck's Latin II class at New Albany High School.

When I was a freshman, which in our school district meant the last grade of junior high, I signed up to take German for the highly academic reason that this was the language my friends were taking.  Because the class was filled, the assistant principal called my parents and said he wanted to enroll me in Latin, for, in his words, he wanted me "to experience Alice Ranck."  It would mean walking across the athletic fields to the high school each day, since Latin was not offered at Hazelwood Junior High, but he assured us the effort would be worth it.

As it turned out, my Latin I teacher was Joyce Woller, a very nice lady, and I enjoyed the language enough to continue it the following year as a sophomore at the high school.  Nothing could have prepared me for that first day.  Oh, Miss Woller had done a fine job of grounding us in the basics of Latin grammar, but what neither she nor anyone else could have prepared us to handle was the force of nature that was Miss Ranck.  She talked so fast!  It was like taking a sip from a fire hose!  I thought I would never be able to keep up, and when I told my parents, they asked if I thought I should drop the class.  I decided to stay with it, and my life has never been the same.

Miss Ranck had a white bumpersticker on her chalkboard from the American Classical League that read in purple letters, Vivit Lingua Latina, and indeed the Latin language continued to live through her instruction.  There was, of course, the grammatical instruction, which, after decades of my own teaching, I can assure you was as sound as could be.  Much of my own instruction, from style to curriculum arrangement, stems from her.  There was also the historical and the mythological material, and again I find phrases about Caesar and Cicero echoing from her classroom in my own.

Then there was the fun.  We had an annual Roman banquet, complete with Roman dress and high school students reclining on their elbows in the school gym to eat Roman food.  There was Latin Club, with its "pound party" fundraisers in which students brought in a pound of food for auction.  And there was certamen.  This is an academic competition that sees students playing in teams to answer questions about the language, history, and culture of Greco-Roman antiquity.  Miss Ranck took us to play certamen (pronounced care-TAH-mun) in far off Muncie and Terre Haute, and my mom often drove, following her little, blue Volkswagen Rabbit in the wee, dark hours of a Hoosier Saturday morning.

To be fair, this is all a nice description of a good teacher, perhaps even one above average, but it does not explain why this woman from Fountain City, Indiana, should have become a legend.  It does not give a hint why she was named 1982-1983 Secondary Teacher of the Year by the Classical Association of the Middle West and South.  It does not explain why she was the 1985 Teacher of the Year for the New Albany-Floyd County Community School Corporation and a candidate for Indiana Teacher of the Year.  It does not give even the slightest clue why hundreds of her former students have joined a Facebook group in her honor, have traveled over the years to visit her, and have shared with her weddings, births, and graduations that they have celebrated.  Perhaps those students took to heart the wisdom of Miss Ranck's favorite Roman author Cicero, who in his essay on friendship, wrote, "Qui esset tantus fructus in prosperis rebus, nisi haberes qui illis aeque ac tu ipse gauderet?" (De Amicitia, 22)  "How great would be the enjoyment in good times if you did not have someone who would rejoice in them as much as you?"

Miss Ranck at her induction into the New Albany High School Hall of Fame

Here at last we come to the heart of what made Miss Ranck a beloved figure in the lives of her students.  It is simply that, heart.  When she was inducted into the New Albany High School Hall of Fame in 2008, she said in her acceptance remarks, "It is our responsibility as educators to provide a sound education based on ethical principles.  Innate within every human being is first the desire to be noticed and to be loved, then comes the need to be taught to learn how to learn.  It is the role of the teacher to notice and yes, to love the student so much that he is ready to learn, and in turn develop all of his potential.  What better way for a teen-ager to learn to live honorably and well than to read from the literary masterpieces of Cicero."

Miss Ranck noticed her students.  Whether they were in her Latin class or not, all the children at New Albany High School were her students, and she greeted them warmly each day.  Those who had the good fortune to be her students were blessed by her demanding love, a love that would not tolerate anything less than a student's best.  And when in the course of human nature a student came ill prepared to class, that student heard the familiar refrain, "Preparation will cure what ails you!"

She inspired at least three of her students to become Latin teachers, and all of us have had long careers.  Drawing from my own experience, let's do a little math.  From middle school to high school to undergraduate levels of Latin and Classics, I estimate that I have taught around three thousand students.  During that time I have supervised eleven student teachers, nine of whom went on to teach Latin.  Now consider that Miss Ranck's other two students who became Latin teachers had similar careers.  Do you see where this is going?  Add on others of her students who entered the teaching field, albeit not in Latin, and took her wisdom and caring to their students.  Add to that the rest of her students whose lives were enriched by their time with her and who were better employees, neighbors, husbands, wives, and parents because they entered the grand conversation with the greatest ancient authors, a conversation hosted by one who modeled what she taught.  Ask them.  They will tell you that this encomium is based in fact, not hyperbole, and you will come to see what truly makes a legend.

Miss Ranck's students who became Latin teachers
(L to R:  Steve Perkins, Alice Ranck Hettle, Steve Prince, Tim Harbison)

One of the happiest days of my high school life was Tuesday, April 29th, 1986.  Miss Ranck had loaned me one of her copies of New Latin Grammar by Charles Bennett, and in it I discovered something about the imperative plural of deponent verbs, those tricky words that have only passive forms and only active meanings.  I shared it with her, and she did something that made my day.  She gave me that copy of Bennett's Grammar and inscribed in the front a message that ended, "May the best of everything be yours in the future, Steve!  You've already earned it."  I can still remember walking to my next class without my feet touching the ground.

Miss Ranck more than earned the respect of the students, parents, and colleagues with whom she worked.  The Romans believed that a person's fama, that which was said about someone, was the most important thing, for it would live even after that person had passed from this life to the next.  If fama has that sort of lasting power, then Miss Ranck's must surely shine beyond that of most.  In fact, as Vergil wrote of Jupiter's intention for the Roman people in Aeneid 1, so it is with the fama, the legend, of Miss Ranck, or as many of her students called her, Miss Alice, even after she retired to marry her high school sweetheart and became Mrs. Alice Hettle.  It has nec metas, nec tempora, neither limits nor duration, and through the lives of her many students will stand sine fine, without limit.  Because this is true, we can all borrow words from Catullus in poem 101, "atque in perpetuum, Magistra, ave atque vale."  "And into eternity, O Teacher, hail and farewell."

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Vague, Sham, Redundant

Irvin Goldstein

Yesterday my sixth grade teacher Irvin Goldstein passed from this life to the next, and today Facebook has been filled with fond remembrances from former students.  He was one of the most influential teachers in my education, so it is natural to consider what words come to mind when thinking of him.  Several do, actually, and in this order.


Although "articulate" and "magnificent" may have described him, the others do not, so you may ask why they come to my mind.  Each week Mr. Goldstein put a new word on the chalkboard in addition to our regular spelling list.  For extra credit, we could list each word and its predecessors  on that week's test.  The first week the word was "vague," the second week "sham," and so forth, and I have remembered the first nine in order for nearly forty years.

It is not so much that I have a prodigious memory as much as the fact that nearly everything Mr. Goldstein did with his students was memorable.  He read to us each day after lunch, and I still recall the excitement of Black and Blue Magic and Mrs. Coverlet's Magicians and Escape From Warsaw, which whisked me away to another place that stayed with me so keenly that I checked it out of our local library and read it to my son when he was young.

And then there were the pickles.  Yes, we made pickles.  And root beer.  In Mr. Goldstein's room, science took on a practical flair, which made sense, given his passion for helping his students engage with the world around them.  For example, he took the entire class to his farm for a field trip and designed a camping program for fifth and sixth graders that lasted for years in our district.  I remember lying out under the stars one evening at Otter Creek Camp, and Mr. Goldstein walked by.  He saw my friend Phil and me gazing at the stars, and he said with a gentle laugh, "They almost seem to move, don't they?"

The two things that had the most significant effect on my education and general life, however, were his instruction in creative writing and his preparation for later stages of learning.  He regularly gave us writing prompts, and that was where I came alive.  I could not wait for the next writing assignment and began to fill notebooks outside class with my own stories.  It was in Mr. Goldstein's room that the writer in me was born.

As for sending us on to junior high and high school, no one could have prepared us better.  He treated us as young adults and held us to the highest standards.  He equipped us to take notes and organize our time and materials so that the transition to seventh grade and beyond was a smooth one.

My memories of Mr. Goldstein are vivid and far from vague, for when it came to teaching he was no sham, but the real deal.  I could go on and on, but at some point my stories would become redundant and my writing would become verbose instead of concise as Mr. Goldstein taught.  I hope that this meager eulogy has been articulate enough, however, to give some insight into a teacher who, while not particularly gregarious, was beloved by all, for never would he accept the mediocre or anything less than the best from his students.  He made us great, and in so doing was the living definition of magnificent.  Since experiencing sixth grade with Mr. Goldstein would make even the most taciturn loquacious in recalling precious memories, I will end with a simple shalom to one who will always be one of my best teachers.

Update:  One of my classmates shared this picture from our sixth grade class with Mr. Goldstein.

Mr. Goldstein is center left at the top next to our principal, Mr. Gene Miller.  Yours truly is the young man in the upper right corner.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

When A Student Asks A Question

Our district once allowed eighth grade students to begin their world language study at the high school.  Although that opportunity has been cut, we still have a few fifth year students who began their Latin studies earlier than most, and this allows them to explore areas of academic interest outside the traditional curricula in Latin I through IV.

One of those students recently asked me if I had any Plato in the room, and this confused me, since I had tasked them with deciding on something to read in Latin.  He went on to explain that he wanted a Latin translation of Plato, and I paused.  I could think of no Latin translations of Plato, despite that the ancient Romans certainly knew his works, and so I told my student I would have to get back with him.

During my prep period I did a bit of research and found an article that explained why I could think of no Latin versions of Plato.  In "Two Thousand Years of Latin Translation from the Greek,"* Dean Lockwood observed that not only was there little need for translation since most educated Romans knew Greek, but also the Romans went in more for imitation and adaptation than straight translation.  Plautus and Terence wrote their own plays, Cicero and Seneca developed their own philosophies, and Horace and Vergil composed their own poetry, and while all of these were heavily influenced by Greek originals, it was translation by way of adaptation rather than literal translation in which the Romans engaged.

This was interesting enough, and I quickly printed the article from JSTOR to share with the students later in the day, but I had also run across references to Renaissance Latin translations of Plato, and this made me curious to find a text online.  I soon found two sources for Marsilio Ficino's Platonis Opera Omnia, which was originally published in the 1480s.  These digitized copies, here and here, are from a 1557 edition, and the second allowed for the downloading of individual pages.

Republic, Book 7, Ficino translation

I quickly printed the first two pages of Republic, Book 7, which my students had read in translation during a Greek unit in Latin II, and at that point I began wishing the hours away until the last period of the day when I would see these students.  In the meantime, I asked my department chair if she would like to sit in on that period, for I would have something exciting to share.

When the last period of the day finally rolled around, I instructed the Latin III and IV students in what to work on and then met with the Latin V students and my department chair.  I was like a kid at Christmas!  We discussed the Lockwood article and why it made sense that the ancient Romans would not have produced a translation of Plato.  We then explored the Ficino translation, observing the difficulty of reading the typeface with its ligatures and abbreviations that were holdovers from calligraphy of the manuscript days, but noting also the relatively easy reading of the Latin itself.

In the end, the students decided to read some of the Roman philosophy of Seneca and Cicero because the typeface of modern editions is easier to see, but they agreed that it was fascinating to explore this Renaissance work and to marvel at what is available to us through digitized editions of works that would otherwise rarely see the light of day.

*Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 49 (1918), pp. 115-129 

Thursday, June 27, 2019

On Handwriting and More

"An Evaluation Of Two Methods Of Teaching Handwriting," a seminar report submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a Master's Degree in the Department of Education, July 28, 1964

Tucked away inside this Master's thesis from over a half century ago lies the kind of broad thinking that once characterized American education.  Make no mistake, the thesis is filled with the sort of data reporting one would expect after reading its title.  There are discussions of methods, reviews of relevant literature, and tables of results from a study conducted among fourth graders from February 12, 1964, to May 8, 1964, at Mt. Tabor Elementary School in New Albany, Indiana.  Yet on three pages in the middle of the thesis, its author looks up from her research to find a larger view

[L]anguage is the chief factor in the development of the human mind and civilization.  It is what chiefly raises man above animal.  The discovery of written language marked a great advance in the life of mankind since it made possible wider communication and more permanent records.  This, in turn, made possible the accumulation of knowledge and the growth of literature, history, and science.

The individual child profits from the possession of the reading matter which has thus been produced.  He also profits from his own acquisition of the ability to write.  It, of course, gives him a means of communicating in addition to oral speech, but this is not all.  In speech, the words disappear into thin air as they are spoken.  They make a momentary impression and then they are gone.  The form and structure of the sentences, paragraphs, and larger units cannot well be comprehended and criticized.  Their logic cannot readily be grasped or their fallacies noted.  They are heard one after the other, but they cannot be seen simultaneously so that their relation may be readily recognized.  Francis Bacon expressed something of this idea when he said, "Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man."  Writing, then, is not merely a utilitarian art; it is a vital factor in the child's intellectual growth.  (p. 34)

The author of this thesis, a 27 year old teacher in her fifth year of teaching, knew that the teaching of handwriting was about far more than skills training.  She understood it, rightly, as equipping children to take their place within the grand human story, one that involves not only their reading of literature, history, and science, but their contribution to such fields as well.

Yet even work within literature, history, and science can be little more than utilitarian endeavors, and this especially the case when such work is evaluated only for its immediate result.  The author of this thesis saw something deeper here, too.

Character development can be a by-product of every subject taught.  Habits of physical and mental self-control, promptness, industry, self-reliance, a sense of neatness, pride in work well-done, exactness, tenacity, and perseverance might all grow out of the teaching of handwriting.  (pp. 37-38)

Character development can be a by-product of every subject taught.  It can be, but it only will be when teachers and education leaders look up from the utilitarian and immediately practical, from the evaluation of charts and data, and from the narrow focus that is blinding too many of us.  It can be, but it only will be when we, like this young Master's student, who happens to be my mother, return to the broad thinking and larger view that helped American education produce some of the greatest thinkers, innovators, and leaders in history.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

School Is Not For Everyone

School is not for everyone, but education is.  There is your takeaway line to use on social media.

A colleague recently asked for my help in translating the Latin expression at the beginning of Silence Dogood's fourth letter, which she was using with her English class.  If the name Silence Dogood sounds odd, it was the pseudonym Benjamin Franklin used to publish a series of letters that exposed the follies and absurdities of contemporary New England life, and in the fourth letter, published May 14, 1722, he took aim at schooling.

Image result for benjamin franklin

[A]s I pass’d along, all Places resounded with the Fame of the Temple of Learning: Every Peasant, who had wherewithal, was preparing to send one of his Children at least to this famous Place; and in this Case most of them consulted their own Purses instead of their Childrens Capacities: So that I observed, a great many, yea, the most part of those who were travelling thither, were little better than Dunces and Blockheads. Alas! alas!

I reflected in my Mind on the extream Folly of those Parents, who, blind to their Childrens Dulness, and insensible of the Solidity of their Skulls, because they think their Purses can afford it, will needs send them to the Temple of Learning, where, for want of a suitable Genius, they learn little more than how to carry themselves handsomely, and enter a Room genteely, (which might as well be acquir’d at a Dancing-School,) and from whence they return, after Abundance of Trouble and Charge, as great Blockheads as ever, only more proud and self-conceited.

That is rather strong stuff for our modern sensibilities that are so easily offended, yet he is right, and nothing much has changed in nearly three hundred years.  School is no more suited for everyone than is the varsity football team or the concert orchestra, but because we have made of the diploma and the degree objects of worship, Franklin was correct in labeling the school a "Temple of Learning," and no parents want their children left in the outer darkness where there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

What matters most, of course, and what people truly want is education, and education is attainable by any who want it from the company of those who know, and this need not always occur within a school.  In fact, because the minimum requirements are the desire to learn and a source of knowledge, education can be gained by a solitary person surrounded by the best minds of humanity as they have expressed themselves in books, and indeed this has been the way many have acquired their education across the centuries.  I would argue that the experience is better and more delightful and the resulting education deeper and richer when it takes place in a community of learners, but even this does not necessarily mean a school.

Take, for example, an observation by one of the fourth century Cappadocian church fathers, Gregory of Nyssa.  He notes that at that time, everyone was discussing matters of the deepest philosophy and theology everywhere.

"For all parts of the city are filled with such things, the alleys, the crossroads, the marketplaces, streets, the clothes merchants, the money lenders, and those who sell food.  If you should ask anyone the price, he would philosophize about the nature of the begotten and the unbegotten.  If you inquire about the cost and value of bread, he says that the Father is greater and the Son subject to Him.  If you say that the bathhouse is open, he states his opinion that the Son does not exist from things that already exist."  (De deitate Filii et Spiritus SanctiPatrologiae Graecae, tomus xlvi, page 558B, translation mine)

Image result for gregory of nyssa

To be fair, Gregory does not think terribly highly of this, but consider for a moment what he has described.  Normal people are discussing some pretty heady stuff in the midst of everyday life.  Yes, they had to have heard of such ideas somewhere, and that somewhere would have been the church, but these were not scholars at the academy.  They were regular, likely unschooled, folks.

The point is this.  Education is vital, for it equips a person to lead the richest possible life.  Certain topics, or certain levels within such topics, are best approached in a formal training environment like a school.  Yet not everything of value needs to be learned there nor is always learned best there.  Poetry, philosophy, theology, history, art, music, and the wonder of the sciences and mathematics, can be experienced and explored in other communities, even if that community is comprised of one living person and a great cloud of witnesses from across time in the pages of books.  While we would be, rightly, loath to call students today dunces and blockheads, we would do well to help our children find the environment where they can best attain a true education, recognizing that it may not be in a school.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Reading, Warfare, Students, and Love

This post is for me, although I hope others will read it as well.  It is for me because I want to chronicle one of the most wonderful events in my nearly three-decade career and it is for me because it will be filled with the names and personal stories I look forward to re-reading and remembering long after I have left my classroom for the final time.  If you do choose to read this, or even to skim over it, I think you will be amazed and inspired by what students can do and what education can look like when what matters most still matters.

In the spring of 1987, my Latin teacher Marcene (Holverson) Farley made me aware of scholarship opportunities from the Indiana Junior Classical League.  One of the applications required an essay based on a favorite Latin quotation, so I picked one by an author I had studied as a junior the previous year under Alice (Ranck) Hettle.  "Ceteros pudeat si qui ita se litteris abdiderunt ut nihil ex eis possint neque ad communem adferre fructum neque in aspectum lucemque proferre."  (Pro Archia, 12) "Let others be ashamed if they have so hidden themselves in literature that they can offer nothing from it for the common good or can bring forth nothing into the light to be seen." 

That line had stayed with me and came to mind again more than twenty years later when, as I was driving to school one morning in 2009, I had an idea.  I had read once about a group of college students reading Homer's Iliad aloud in Greek and getting pledges as a fundraiser.  Cicero's quotation and that article came rushing through my mind like two pieces of uranium-235 at Los Alamos, and the result was a powerful new idea.  What if high school students read aloud one of the Greco-Roman epic poems to raise money in an effort to fight poverty?

Details quickly came together, and a student named Brent Eickhoff introduced me to Shirley Mullin, owner of Kids Ink Bookstore at 5619 North Illinois Street in Indianapolis. She agreed to host our event and dedicated space in her front window where the students could sit to read.  Zoe (Smith) Crafton, another student, designed a logo for us that we used on t-shirts for the readers and on a banner to advertise what we called Reading The War On Poverty, or RTWOP.

That first year saw Latin students from North Central High School reading aloud the entirety of Homer's Iliad in English translation.  With the money they raised and a donation from the bookstore from that day's sales, we were able to give more than $1000 to Shepherd Community Center, whose mission is to help break the cycle of poverty in Indianapolis.  The event was so successful that we wanted to do it again, and Shirley and her staff at Kids Ink were pleased to help.

The following year our Latin students read Homer's Odyssey, the year after that Vergil's Aeneid, and the fourth year started the cycle over with the Iliad.  Each year saw them raise more than $1000 for Shepherd, and RTWOP quickly became a flagship event in our Latin program.

In April of 2017, I was listening to students read the Aeneid in our ninth RTWOP and began thinking of what we could do to celebrate our tenth anniversary in 2018.  People had often asked if we would read one of the epics in its original language, so we decided to break our repeating three-year cycle to read the Aeneid again, but in Latin.  More ideas developed, and we decided that RTWOP 10 would feature
  • students reading in Latin
  • a microphone and speaker to project the reading outside the store
  • an invitation for alumni to participate with current students
  • a commemorative edition of the Aeneid to give each reader
  • the goal of raising $10,000
That last feature was by far the most ambitious, so we started a GoFundMe campaign to help.  Within minutes of launching it, we started receiving donations, and as the 2017-2018 school year progressed, we dared to hope we might actually reach our goal.

The next most ambitious part of RTWOP 10 was producing a commemorative edition of the Aeneid.  There are many editions available, but I wanted something special, something personal for the readers, and the only way to get that was to produce it myself.  I used a version that was in the public domain and formatted the text throughout the summer and fall of 2017 and the winter of 2018.  For the front cover I used a t-shirt design created by one of my students, Alexandria Ruschman, and included Zoe Crafton's original logo on the back along with our logo for North Central Latin, which had been designed years ago by my sister-in-law, Melanee (Stillions) Habig.  My son, Austin, helped with the cover design, and I added a preface that concluded, "I could say regarding my pride in all my students what Jupiter said in Aeneid I.278 of the achievements that would come from the Romans, 'His ego nec metas rerum nec tempora pono.'  I set neither limit nor time to it."


Far less daunting was assembling the readers.  RTWOP has become a much-anticipated event in our classes, and the reading times always fill up quickly.  I had established an alumni group on Facebook and through it was able to invite former students.  Twelve alumni eagerly signed up, and the remaining spots were filled with first- through fifth-year students.  A small army of fifty-nine readers would read in fifteen minute shifts for four hours on a Friday evening and eleven more on Saturday.  From the money they would raise, along with the GoFundMe contributions and a donation from Kids Ink, we hoped to reach our $10K goal.

One of my stock lines in class is, "But wait!  There's more!" and indeed there was.  Shirley at Kids Ink reached out to her business neighbors up and down Illinois Street, and many of them decided to help as well.   Secret Ingredient, The Flying Cupcake, Byrne's Pizza, Be The Boutique, Petite G Jewelers, Kincaid's Meat Market, and Illinois Street Food Emporium all joined Kids Ink in supporting RTWOP in a variety of ways.

And then there was the social media campaign.  For a full year there were Facebook and Instagram posts and tweets promoting what we were doing, and there were two, true highlights, but to understand why they were so special, you need to know something about me.  In the words of Joan Jett, "I love rock 'n' roll!"  In fact, I publish a blog called The Roman Rocker.  Classic rock, hard rock, and metal are what I love, so I was beyond thrilled when Michael Sweet, the lead singer of Stryper, tweeted about the project to nearly 76k followers and David Coverdale of Whitesnake, who has 218k followers, liked one of our tweets.

When the weekend finally arrived for RTWOP 10, the students and I were quite excited.  The weather was beautiful, and blue sky, white clouds, and temperatures in the 70s guaranteed a lot of people would be out in the delightful neighborhood of Illinois Street.  From 4:00-8:00 p.m. on Friday, April 27, and from 9:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 28, current Latin students and alumni read the Aeneid aloud in Latin.  That ancient language was heard along Illinois Street as it was broadcast through our speaker, and people took notice.  Many customers came in, eager to learn more about the event, and almost all gave a donation.  When all was said and done, these Latin students and alumni had helped raise more than $12K for Shepherd Community Center, garnering the attention of the Indianapolis ABC affiliate, RTV6 as well.

Pride, joy, overwhelming satisfaction in the achievement of students...these come nowhere to close to describing how I felt and continue to feel.  Can you even imagine what it was like to see students using their learning to benefit others this way?  You can gain some sense of it from the pictures and videos that follow, but before I include those, I want to say a word about the alumni and others who dropped by.  In addition to my twelve former students who read, including three who had read in the inaugural event ten years before, other alumni stopped in just to say hi and to support what was going on.  With all of them it was a thrill beyond words to hear stories about what they had studied after high school, where they were working, and developments in their families.  Two of my former students had married each other, and two others are dating.  One is currently a Classical Studies major at my alma mater Indiana University.  She hopes to be the first woman to translate the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid into English.  And one young man was excited to tell me he had achieved his dream of joining his father as a firefighter with the Indianapolis Fire Department.

Along with these were Indiana Senior Classical League advisor Tony Martin, co-chair of the Indiana Junior Classical League Lisanne Pierson, and Latin teachers Kelly Williams-Ihlendorf of Bishop Chatard High School, Matt Hilton of Chatard, and Melissa Perkins of The Master's Study.  Their presence during the event along with messages of support from Jeremy Walker, IJCL co-chair, and many others meant all the world.

If you have read this far, you know two things.  You know both what amazing things students can do and are doing to use their education for the betterment of others and how incredibly proud I am of all of them.  Now treat yourself to some pictures and video from this amazing event, including the presentation of what we raised to the folks at Shepherd Community Center.

The Alumni

Brooke was of the readers in the first RTWOP and again in RTWOP 10.
She is in her fourth year of veterinary school at Purdue University. 

Brenda (left) studied film making and is making a documentary of RTWOP 10.
Sara (right) is an instructional aide at one of our elementary schools. 

Serenity (left) is currently studying at Butler University.
 Rachel is graduating from IUPUI with a degree in medical humanities

Eliot (left) is studying aquatic biology at Ball State University.
Hannah (right) is majoring in Classical Studies at Indiana University and hopes to be the first woman to translate all three Greek and Latin epics.

Ian (left) stopped by to support his former Latin Club, and we had fun reminiscing about a video he had made when he was a senior.
Greg (right) was one of early Latin students at North Central. His inquisitive mind had him asking me many questions ranging from German to the ancient city of Tyre! 

Jay and Lauren (Hill) left Latin, got married, and are now an engineer and science teacher.
Morgan (right) studied biology and came by to support her alma mater.

Ginny and Alex (left) are studying computers, and Ted (right) just achieved his dream of becoming a firefighter with the Indianapolis Fire Department.

Shanice wants to be an elementary teacher, and Brandon studied music education at Howard University.  They were among the original readers ten years ago, and Brandon even recreated the picture that has become the symbol of Reading The War On Poverty for a decade.


Current Students


Special note:  Nathan used to visit this bookstore when he was a boy and put his hand print on the wall when he was 5.




Matt Hilton and Tony Martin (left) are the Latin teacher at Bishop Chatard High School and the Indiana Senior Classical League Advisor.
Shirley Mullin (right) and her employees have graciously hosted us for ten years!
The plaque (left) we gave Kids Ink to thank them for their service.
My wife standing between Lisanne Pierson, Indiana Junior Classical Co-Chair, and me (right).  Melissa is a Latin teacher at The Master's Study.


  What does Latin sound like?  Listen as these students read Vergil's Aeneid in the original language.

And what did it look like to promote this project in the age of social media?  Check out our promotional videos, including one that sees me getting pied in the face by my students!

The Presentation

When all was said and done, North Central Latin students had helped raise $12,455.34 to help fight poverty in their city, which was even more than our giant check indicated thanks to additional donations.  Some of our club officers as well as Indiana Junior Classical League state officers who attend North Central presented the check to Steve DeBuhr and the good people at Shepherd Community Center on the last day of school, May 24, 2018.