Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Centurion Recruits For the Legion

What can I say?  I love Latin and all things ancient Roman, so what could be more fun than to dress up as a centurion and recruit for one of Caesar's legions?

In 2011 I was fortunate to receive the Lilly Endowment's Teacher Creativity Fellowship, which allowed me to research and purchase authentic reproduction Roman armor.  You can read more about that on my Roman Personas website, but the primary result was bringing to life Gaius Crastinus, first-rank centurion of Legion X, which fought under Julius Caesar.  Although he died at the battle of Pharsalus in 49 B.C., Crastinus has been recruiting at middle schools and high school throughout the Midwest for the past few years, and recently he spoke to a group of sixth graders at Scottsburg Middle School.

I met sixth grade social studies teacher Ken Bracey when I visited SMS in several months ago.  He had some ancient artifacts in his room that caught my eye, and I mentioned my work as a re-enactor. When I received an email invitation from him to speak to 200 sixth grade students, I passed the word on to Crastinus, who made immediate plans for the Roman army to visit Scott County, Indiana.

Caesar himself would have been proud that day.  The sixth graders of SMS were perhaps the most attentive audience I have ever seen.  Despite sitting on the floor for a 40-minute presentation, their attention was riveted on what was happening on stage.


After learning about the training regimen of the Roman army, the rewards and the pay, and how to utilize the weapons that conquered the known world, it was time for some practice.  Crastinus asked the students questions, and there was a flurry of hands to answer each one.  (One a side note, I must confess that without my glasses, I do not see much at all.  Calling on students in a setting like this mostly involves pointing in the general direction of motion and calling out, "Yes!  You there!")

Eight students were selected in all, and when they were on stage, Crastinus presented them with a spear, sword, helmet, or shield.  That's pilum, gladius, galea, or scutum for you Latin-speakers!  He then put them through the paces of forming a battle line and following basic directions.

When it all was over, Ken and his colleague Martha Clapp were brave enough to take a picture with Centurion Crastinus, who was a bit puzzled over what was happening.  Someone stood in front of them holding what looked like a wax tablet. In fact the device was even called a tablet, yet the person merely tapped it with her finger rather than using a bone stylus to scratch on its surface.

Ken later shared with me the single best comment I have ever received after a reenactment.  One of his students came up to him and asked, "Is he really a real soldier?"  I am glad that for one young man I seemed so, and it was truly a thrill for me to be among such excited and eager young learners.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Swimming In the Deep End

The deep end of the pool has many advantages.  You can usually dive in without breaking your neck.  You can float more easily.  You can do twists and turns and more easily let your imagination take you into the realms of Atlantis or whatever other fantasy you wish to play out.

It is the end of the semester for my A.P. Latin students, and while I am sure the activity we have pursued for the past three days has been useful in preparing for their final, it has, more importantly, given them a chance to swim in the deep end.  We have been exploring various translations of Vergil's epic poem, the Aeneid.  They range from the 17th century version of Dryden to the 2009 rendering by Sarah Ruden, the first complete translation made by a woman.  Some translations are prose, others are poetry.

On the first day of this exercise, the class picked a passage they had read from Book I, another from Book II, and a third from Book IV.  They chose translations from one of our shelves, or in the case of one young lady, on her Nook, and their task was to analyze each of the three passages for grammatical changes.  Was a word plural in the original, but singular in the translation?  They then shared their findings, and we discussed why a translator may have made those changes.

The second day saw them doing the same thing, but with the focus on content.  Had the translator added, subtracted, or changed anything of significance apart from the grammar?  This led to a discussion of what changes were legitimate and what effect they had on understanding the Aeneid.

Today was our final round of this work.  The students worked in small groups, and each group chose its own passage, one we had read in Latin but that had not been discussed the other two days.  The students then read the translations of their passages and shared the translations with each other so that each member of each group could read all the translations within the group.  Their task this time was more personal.  They simply had to pick the translation they liked best.

As their time of reading and reflection drew to a close, I put three questions on the board.  "Why do you prefer one translation and not another?"  "What criteria are you using to choose?"  "What are you looking for?"

I did not give these questions until the end because I wanted them to be free to engage with the texts however they chose and then to reflect on the process.  Not surprisingly, their answers were intriguing.

We began with the last question, and most said they were looking for a translation that was readable and understandable, one without archaic English.  As Matthias put it in his own inimitable way, "I want a median between the vulgate and what is dripping with exaggeration."  Another student said, "Yeah, what he said, only in normal language."

When we moved to discussing how they made their choice of favorite once they had read several different translations, the emphasis still seemed to be on readability, but Ayrrana said something different.  She said that she focused on word choice and whether or not a translator used a word that was too big or too small for the passage.  If the translator used "run" where "dashed" would have seemed better to her, she rejected the translation as being too small.

I will keep a secret the translations the students preferred and those they did not, although I will say that one made it on both lists!  What was important was how these young scholars grappled with the subtleties and art of professional translations.  They had a sufficient grasp of the original to be able to offer meaningful critiques.  This exploration opened them up to a wider range of work and also allowed them to put themselves into it, especially on the last day.

One student reads two handed!

Question:  What does swimming in the deep end look like in your subject?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Blackhawks Soaring

My visits to Indiana schools continued on Friday, December 6, with a stop at Sheridan Elementary School.  With me were Andy Bosk, Director of Career Connections at Indiana University School of Education, and Jeremy Moore, my good friend, North Central High School colleague, and thinking partner in all things educational. Our plan was to visit the second grade class of Nikki Davis, and we did, but we experienced so much more.

With me, L to R: Supt. Dr. Dave Mundy, Andy Bosk, Jeremy Moore, Principal Dean Welbaum, Nikki Davis

We were greeted by Dr. Dave Mundy, Sheridan Superintendent, who happened to be in the building; Mr. Dean Welbaum, SES principal; and Ms. Davis.  Naturally, we wanted a picture, and there was no one better to take it than one of our tour guides, 4th grader Brent and 5th grader Hannah.

With our tour guides Brent and Hannah

We were not expecting such hospitality!  These two extraordinary young people took us on a tour of their school, pointing out special areas and evidence of all the life and creativity that take place within the home of the Blackhawks.

We also had the opportunity to see the breadth of this great school district as French students from the high school led some of the students in an exploration of what Christmas means in France.

When we finally made it to Ms. Davis's class, we were in for the highlight of the day.  Her students were among the most enthusiastic learners I have ever seen, eager both to answer her questions and to involve us in their learning.

2nd graders show us their geoboards.

"Call me!  I know the answer!"

I am sometimes asked what I would teach if I could teach something other than Latin.  Usually that is a difficult question, for there is not much I enjoy more than the language and culture of the ancient Romans.  Yet if you had asked me that question on Friday, I think I would said I would like to teach at an elementary school.  The life, the enthusiasm, the curiosity, the desire to learn...this is the true heart of education.

One young man asked me to listen to him read one of his favorite books.  It was about wolves.

Students explain to me what is about to happen in their reading time.
For these and other pictures from our trips around central Indiana, please visit http://stevenrperkins.weebly.com/pictures.html.  

Rockin' Advanced Science

I continued my visits of Hoosier schools on Friday, December 6, by stopping in on Eric Rauch's A.P. Biology class at Westfield High School.  I was joined by Director of Career Connections at the Indiana University School of Education, Andy Bosk, and by my good friend, colleague, and thinking partner in all things educational, Jeremy Moore of North Central High School.  Where do I begin?

Mr. Rauch leads the class in a discussion before they start their lab.
Mr. Rauch started the class with a high-energy discussion to precede lab work, and at once it was clear we were in no ordinary class.  The students asked deep, meaningful questions, and within a few more minutes it became clear why.  They were embarking on lab work of their own design.  Their questions were inspired by things they truly wanted to know.

 And what did Mr. Rauch do during all this?  In addition to sharing enthusiastically the activities of his students (he was more a proud parent than a detached instructor), he made himself available to his students as a resource.

He did not need to hover over these students, micromanaging their every move.  He had already instructed them in what they needed, created an atmosphere of self-motivated learning, and was then able to observe and participate as the students needed.

The Westfield mascot is the shamrock, or the Rocks, as they like to be called.  It was clear to all of us that these students are already rockin' the world of science.  I can't wait to see what they will do next!

With me, L to R:  Jeremy Moore, Eric Rauch, Andy Bosk
For these and other pictures from our visits around central Indiana, please visit http://stevenrperkins.weebly.com/pictures.html.

A Noble Endeavor

On Friday, December 5, I visited three more Hoosier schools and was glad to be joined by Andy Bosk, Director of Career Connections for Indiana University School of Education.  Also joining me was my good friend, colleague, and thinking partner on all things educational, Jeremy Moore of North Central High School.

Our first stop was Noblesville High School to see the U.S. History class of Eric Gundersen.  A senior named Lauren, who is the daughter of friends of ours, had recommended I visit one of his classes.  I was eager to see the teacher who had inspired this young lady to pursue a political science major with a possible career in government.

A student in Mr. Gundersen's class shows us his presentation.
We arrived on the day when students in several U.S. History classes were presenting a project they had worked on throughout the semester.  Their task was to create a virtual museum on their school-issued iPads.  Exhibits in these museums included text, pictures, and animation.  In some of the rooms, such as Mr. Gundersen's and Ms. Leslie Ringle's, the students presented their work in a gallery walk that not only allowed the students in a given class to see the work of their peers, but also provided an opportunity for the students of the other history classes to visit as well.

Student in Ms. Ringle's class uses Aurasma to bring a presentation to life
Andy Bosk joins in the gallery walk

At the end of the block-schedule period, Mr. Gundersen's class spent some time debriefing and discussing the project.  The students offered suggestions for next year, since this was the first time these teachers had run this particular project.

Debriefing with Mr. Gundersen
This project brought together so many great aspects of education.  Students worked in groups with few guidelines. They were free to explore aspects of American history that were of interest to them and they had the opportunity to present their findings in a tech-savvy way.  Incorporating the gallery walk enabled everyone both to serve as curator and visitor in these virtual museums.  I can see why my young friend said I should visit this Mr. Gundersen's class.  Thanks, Lauren!

Next to me, L to R:  Eric Gundersen, Andy Bosk, Jeremy Moore

For more pictures from our visit, see http://stevenrperkins.weebly.com/pictures.html. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

International Education

Gaius Valerius Catullus, 84-54 B.C.

The Metropolitan School District of Washington Township, where I teach high school Latin, is a K-12 International Baccalaureate district.  Our district website states, "All three programs, PYP, MYP, and DP, focus on the development of the whole child, emphasizing intellectual, personal, emotional, and social growth through the study of languages, humanities, technologies, sciences, mathematics, and the arts. The approaches to teaching and learning are diverse and flexible allowing teachers to meet the individual needs of all students. Teachers stimulate curiosity and foster lifelong learning in all students."  As the name suggests, we have an international focus, and this can be seen in the seven languages we offer:  Latin, German, Hebrew, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese.

Our district recently received a lesson in international education that was not a welcome one.  A 2006 graduate of our school recently became the most recent victim of the savage and inhuman acts of ISIS.

The news came out on a Sunday, and the next day each of my classes spent a few minutes discussing it.  Why?  First of all, we are an International Baccalaureate school, and this is international news.  We rightly focus on the positive aspects of the different cultures and time periods we study, but we need to be reminded that not everything in the world is rosy.  The very cultures that we study are sources of great human achievement and brutal human atrocity.  This is part of the human story.

We also discussed this tragic event because it affected one of our own.  Certainly we have lost other current students and alumni over the years, and every death is a painful loss.  Yet our school's name was being used in international media, and we needed to have our own say.

It also fit within our curriculum, for I shared with each class part of a poem that the Latin III students read.  It is poem 101 by the Roman poet Catullus, and it was written about the death of his brother.  The line I shared was its famous last line, atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.  "And into eternity, brother, hail and farewell."  A key aspect of our Latin studies is exploring how ancient words apply in the world of today, and these poignant words spoke perfectly to the situation we were facing.

Finally, if none of the above had been true, we still should have taken a few moments to honor Peter Kassig.  Education is a most human enterprise, and as Donne reminds us, the loss of one touches us all.

John Donne, 1572-1631

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Poetry In Motion

The 2015 Indiana Teacher of the Year banquet was held on Friday evening, November 7.  In attendance were all the semifinalists and finalists, along with their colleagues, families, and friends.  A banquet hall was filled at north Indianapolis hotel, slides played throughout the evening highlighting the achievements of fine Hoosier educators, and the meal was top notch.

What made the evening special, of course, were the teachers, educational leaders like Tina Ahlgren and Matt Ehresman, top-2 finalists in the INTOY competition.

Tina Ahlren and her husband

Matt Ehresman and his wife
Conversations with teacher-leaders abounded, led often by INTOYs from other years.  As teacher after teacher was recognized, a growing wave of admiration for the dedicated men and women who daily lead our children filled the room.

And then it was time to hear from our 2015 INTOY, Kathy Nimmer.  As one who often gives public addresses, I could not help analyzing her style just a bit.  After all, when hundreds of people were riveted on her every word and many were dabbing their eyes, she had to be doing something right, and I am always eager to learn.

Kathy's delivery is one of poetry in motion.  It is not the thunderous poetry of Homer, but the gentle, bucolic poetry of Vergil in his early works.  She does not gesticulate wildly.  She does blast away with a stentorian voice.  She stands in a way that is stately as her hands brush a Braille text she clearly knows by heart.  Her voice is quiet.  It is her message that draws you in, and what a message it is.  Kathy's message, the one she shared Friday night and the one that is the centerpiece of her broader message, is one of overcoming, yet it is not just the overcoming of obstacles by one who is blind.  It is the overcoming of challenges that all teachers face, and in this she inspires and gives hope to us all.

When the tears had been dried and the applause at last had died down, the evening of honors continued.  As with all the semifinalists and finalists, whose pictures can be found here, Kathy was presented a handsome glass apple, and a monogrammed leather portfolio.  She also received a monogrammed briefcase, a gold INTOY pin, a gold INTOY ring, a membership in Kappa Delta Pi, and a check to support her in her many responsibilities across the nation.  American Fidelity, CSO Architects, Kroger, Kappa Delta Pi, and Herff Jones continued their strong support of Hoosier teachers by providing these items.
Rep. Klinker reading the House resolution

Rep. Truitt reading the letter from Gov. Pence
Representative Sheila Klinker and Representative Randy Truitt then presented her with a resolution from the House of Representatives and a letter from Governor Mike Pence.  It was clear that such accolades were moving Kathy deeply, but then came the moment when, in the words of my late father-in-law, she was "plum got."  Representatives Truitt and Klinker presented her with the Sagamore of the Wabash, our state's highest honor.

Those of us fortunate enough to celebrate the extraordinary teacher-leaders at the 2015 Indiana Teacher of the Year banquet know that Indiana is not just the crossroads of America, but the intersection of creative ideas, innovative methodology, and the most caring and professional educators.  We are fortunate to have so many worthy of recognition and to send a person like Kathy Nimmer to the 2015 National Teacher of the Year competition.  Only one question remains.  What will her dog, Elias, wear when he joins her at the White House to meet the President?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Tools of The Trade

We hear a lot about whether or not to arm teachers, and this evening one school board in Michigan will be the next to take up the debate.  I am all for it.  Arm us to the teeth, I say.  Now, before you start calling for my head, hear me out.  I want to see teachers armed, but not with the weapons you have in mind and for a different fight.

Around the year 445 B.C., Artaxerxes ruled as the Great King of Persia.  His cupbearer, a Jewish man named Nehemiah, asked the Great King to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall that had encircled the city.  When permission had been granted, Nehemiah did just that, but quickly encountered opposition from Israel's enemies.  Nehemiah realized that the builders were going to have to do more than was in their job description.  In the Book of Nehemiah, Chapter 4, verses 17-18, we read, 

Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other.  And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built.

From Treasures of the Bible, Henry Davenport Northrop, D.D., International Publishing Company, 1894.

American education has become the battlefield on which a war is being fought.  On one side are educators, families, and children who care about our heritage, our future, and the humane goals of true education.  On the other are dehumanizing forces that use weapons of control and misguided testing and evaluative tools to rout the advancement of the true, the good, and the beautiful and to install a hegemony of pragmatism that seeks nothing more than a productive labor force. 

Like those ancient builders, teachers must continue their work of construction.  We are building futures and shaping lives.  This work must go on even during the war.  We cannot tell a generation of students to put their lives on hold while adults, many of whom hold the title thanks solely to biological age, figure out what to do.  We must, instead, as in the days of Nehemiah, arm our teachers both to build and to fight.

The construction tools and the practice in how to use them are found in our university schools of education, and it is here that our pre-service teachers must also receive their training for war.  For example, we must help those about to seek teaching jobs to ask the right kinds of questions in their interviews.  How much freedom and autonomy do you provide your teachers?  What system do you have in place to mentor new teachers?  What is your structure for advancement and leadership?  How do you honor your teachers?  What practices do you have in place to make sure that the best stay and grow in the profession?

When the first round of trite and canned answers drop from the sky, our next generation of teachers must be prepared to push back.  They must be trained to see through deception and obfuscation.  They must be equipped to spot the desperate grasp for answers to questions that may not have been asked before.

And when they find themselves in their first classroom, emailing their parents about their joyful expectation of working with children and teens to discover the wonders of the world, they must feel the sword at their side.  With tablet and marker in one hand, they will continue the work of construction, building into the lives of our children.  With the other, they will continue to fight for more humane working conditions, models of student and teacher evaluation that make sense based on the complex and human nature of education, and school environments where freedom rules instead of fear.

More is needed and expected from the teachers of today.  They must be builders and warriors both.  In keeping with the military theme, but borrowing from another ancient story, I ask them.  "Who will stand on my right hand and keep the bridge with me?"

Monday, October 27, 2014

Why Educators Must Tweet

Twitter chats.

That's really all I need to say.  I could have hit the publish button after that first line.  If you are a serious Twitter user, then read the questions at the end, share your thoughts in the comments, and get back to tweeting.  If you are thinking, "Twitter?  What do bird sounds have to do with education?", then read on.

Twitter has become my primary source of education news and articles, and much other news as well.  On my main account, @intoy2014, I follow only serious news and educational outlets.  I use a separate account for Indiana University basketball and the world of hair metal.  Through my @intoy2014 account, I get links to excellent articles from @DianeRavitch, @YongZhaoUO, @PhiBetaKappa, @jesslahey@TalksWTeachers, @UtahTOY2014, @Mr_Abud, @Mr_McComb, @ Perapiteticus, and many, many more.  Simply put, links from education leaders on Twitter are how I stay on top of my profession.

Yes there is, folks!  A Twitter chat is usually an hour-long conversation on a particular topic.  Those interested in the topic can follow along by looking for a hashtag, which is a #.  If you want to reply to the topic, just include the hashtag in your tweet.

One of my favorites is #aplitchat, which takes place every Sunday night from 9:00-10:00 EST.  Hosted by Brian Sztabnik of Talks With Teachers,  Over the course of the hour, he throws out six questions, and teachers from across North America join the conversation.  Last night I had the privilege of co-hosting with Brian, and our topic was the value of the liberal arts.  Teachers from California, North Carolina, Indiana, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Nevada, Michigan, Ohio, and Canada engaged in passionate, meaningful discussion of the role the humanities play alongside STEM, the trouble for society when the humanities are ignored, and the best ways to help students, parents, and administrators understand the value of the liberal arts for a complete education.  When it was all said and done, the chat was preserved via Storify so anyone can go back and explore more than 300 comments.

Yes, that's right.  More than 300 comments were offered in a one-hour discussion by some of the finest minds across North America, and those comments are available to anyone.  While there is no equal to and no replacement for personal interaction, a Twitter chat provides opportunities like no other for multiple voices to speak on a common topic and for their words to be available for future thought.

What are the great Twitter chats that you know?  Anna Baldwin, 2014 Montana Teacher of the Year, recommends #mtedchat, Tuesdays, 8:00 p.m., MST.  That chat has even included the governor, lieutenant governor, state superintendent along with other teacher leaders.  Gary Abud, 2014 Michigan Teacher of the Year, recommends #SATchat (Saturdays, 7:30 a.m., EST) and #miched (Wednesdays, 8:00 p.m., EST).  Josh Stumpenhorst, 2012 Illinois Teacher of the Year, is a fan of #sschat (Mondays, 7:00 p.m., EST), #ntchat (Wednesdays, 8:00-9:00, EST), and #iledchat (Mondays, 9:00 p.m., CST).

Share in the comments your favorite Twitter chats!  We would love to know about more opportunities to engage with passionate educators about the important issues and topics in our field.

Monday, October 20, 2014

When a Teacher Cries

Have you ever been moved to tears in a class?  There are the poignant and profound comments a student will make, the quiet revelation of a domestic injustice, or an "ah-ha" moment when a student finally understands something and makes a connection.  Any of these can trigger a teacher's tears, and these are good reasons to cry.  What cracked the dam of my professional persona today and brought the hot tears rushing to my eyes was nothing like that.  With sheer, raw grit I held back the waterfall, and I was angry.

It happened in our Latin II class.  We were reading a fictitious story, in Latin, but authored by the textbook editor.  In other words, this was no great piece of literature, and it was a story I have read countless times, so it was not as if I did not know what was coming, yet there I stood, caught off guard by a trivial tale.  Two young men, Publius and Furianus, had traveled to Athens to study.  After being there for a while, Publius had something to say about their teacher of rhetoric.  What follows is a literal translation of this fairly clunky passage Latin for Americans 2, 2007, Glencoe/McGraw-Hill.

"The things that he teaches are most useful to Romans, for Romans deliver speeches in the forum and the senate."  The Furianus said, "The things that the philosophers teach are also useful so that we may live a good life.  We are indeed Romans, and it is most useful for Romans to be able to deliver speeches, but we are also human beings, and a good life is more useful than a good speech."  (p. 99)

This elementary story was in perfect alignment with the talk I gave last week at the Association of Teacher Educators-Indiana fall conference and with the Martha Nussbaum book I have just started, Not For Profit:  Why Democracy Needs the Humanities.  Yet what opened the floodgates for me was the contrast of these lines with the brutal, inhuman environment in which so much of education is conducted these days.  We laud scores on tests, all kinds of tests; AP tests and IB tests and state tests and local tests.  We sell a vision of education as nothing more than skills training for a job.

As I told my students, education should prepare a person for a job.  My students cannot and should not live on their parents' income forever, and an education should equip them for the world of work, but that is only one of education's tasks.  When we forget that education is a most human enterprise (students and teachers are, after all, human beings exploring the work and discovery of human beings amid the vast wonders of creation), education ceases to be humane.  When we value the "good speech" that Publius praised (read "career skills") as separate from or unconcerned with the good life, then we have sold our birthright for a mess of pottage.

I concluded my talk at the ATE conference with a clip from the movie Braveheart.  William Wallace has just been knighted, but the Scottish nobles fall to fighting over trivial matters, and Wallace challenges them about what he calls their "God-given right to something better."

Those who have seen the broader vision of what education can and should be, those who remember that there was once such a thing even in this country, will do the work of reclaiming that deep heritage.  We are not there yet, however, and the simple words of a high school textbook are a sharp reminder.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Impetus of the Undistinguished Host

"Diomedes Wounding Aphrodite" - Arthur Fitger, 1905
In 1913-1914, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch delivered a series of lectures at Cambridge that were collected into a book titled On the Art of Writing.  It is a book in which I have highlighted more passages than not, and one of those passages seems to speak especially to our present age.  In his second lecture, he advocates the writing of poetry among university students in addition to their reading and studying of it.  "Recollect that in Poesy as in every other human business, the more there are who practice it the greater will be the chance of someone's reaching perfection.  It is the impetus of the undistinguished host that flings forward a Diomed or a Hector."

What does this mean?  It means quite simply that we will never know whether the next Homer or Einstein is sitting in our classes unless we expose the greatest number of students to the widest possible curriculum.  Put another way, students cannot exercise genius in a field they do not even know exists.

It also acknowledges the truth that not everyone will be such a genius.  Thousands of warriors fought in the Trojan War, yet literature and art commemorate only a few, such as Diomedes and Hector.  An Einsteinian level of achievement by every student in the class is an absurd goal, and its failure of attainment is no argument against offering the class in the first place.  Not everyone need achieve the level of the hero or the genius, but if anyone is to have any hope of doing so, then the opportunity must be placed before all.

This is why each school must offer the widest possible curriculum to its students.  Art is on an equal footing with math, Latin with physics, and physical education with the Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate class.  To cut one for the sake of another is to decide a priori that no students will achieve great things in a particular subject.

Quiller-Couch also exposed a dishonoring truth in British life that shames America today.  "We may prate of democracy, but actually a poor child in England has little more hope than had the son of an Athenian slave to be emancipated into that intellectual freedom of which great writings are born."  Is this really so different one hundred years and an ocean away?

Citizens of the United States have the money to afford whatever sort of education we want.  We spend annually $12 billion on traffic tickets, $29 billion on candy, $31 billion on lottery tickets, $44 billion on tobacco, $50 billion on alcohol, $69 billion in casinos, and $76 billion on soda.  Homer and Einstein may be sitting in a class near you.  Is it worth  it to us to find out?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

You Hold the Heavens In Your Head

When apparently the last eminent guest had long ago taken his place, again those three bugle-blasts rang out, and once more the swords leaped from their scabbards.  Who might this late comer be?  Nobody was interested to inquire.  Still, indolent eyes were turned toward the distant entrance, and we saw the silken gleam and the lifted sword of a guard of honor plowing through the remote crowds.  Then we saw that end of the house rising to its feet; saw it rise abreast the advancing guard all along like a wave.  This supreme honor had been offered to no one before.  There was an excited whisper at our table -- 'Mommsen!' -- and the whole house rose -- rose and shouted and stamped and clapped and banged the beer-mugs.  Just simply a storm!  Then the little man with his long hair and Emersonian face edged his way past us and took his seat.  I could have touched him with my hand -- Mommsen! -- think of it!

I would have walked a great many miles to get a sight of him, and here he was, without trouble, or tramp, or cost of any kind.  Here he was, clothed in a titanic deceptive modesty which made him look like other men.  Here he was, carrying the Roman world and all the Caesars in his hospitable skull, and doing it as easily as the other luminous vault, and the skull of the universe, carries the Milky Way and the constellations.

Theodor Mommsen
During the winter of 1891-1892, Mark Twain was in Berlin and attended a celebration for scientists Rudolf Virchow and Hermann von Helmholtz.  The passage above is Twain's description of what happened when Classics scholar Theodor Mommsen entered the room, and I was thinking of this story as I sat on the Tarmac of the Newark airport after a three day conference of Teachers of the Year in Princeton.  I had begun an article in The Classical Outlook on the comparison between Ulysses Grant's Memoirs and Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War.  A quotation from Twain prompted memory of the Mommsen story, and with it came the thrill of academic remembrance, of being able to make connections, to say "this is that."

And then the nagging thought came of whether any of this matters.  I had a moment of thrill as I read an academic article on an airplane, a moment unlikely to have been shared with another living soul, that is until I decided to blog about it.  So what?  I know many such moments, and while I am blessed to have family and friends with whom I can share them, I obviously do not share them all.  There are thoughts, connections, realizations that exist only in my head and that will go with me to the grave.

This is not a morbid meditation, for it prompted me to think that the same is true for the baggage handler on the ground, all the other passengers on board, and you.  Whoever you are, you carry infinity within the stone boundaries of your skull.  Memories and connections and ideas and speculations and questions and answers the smallest fraction of which will be known to none other than you form the vast cosmos of your experience.  Infinity is sitting next to me in 6-C reading a newspaper.  The universe is in the car ahead of you at the stoplight.

And we are tiny.  Oh, yes, we are small.  We are five feet tall on average, weigh a hundred odd pounds, and can fit the infinity house of our heads inside a baseball cap.  And there are millions, billions of us all over a planet that is but one point of light in the night sky.

What amazing, extraordinary creatures we are, what vastly interesting beings in a complex and fantastic world that beggars the description of any author!  Savoring this, tasting it, exploring it, plunging head first into it...this is life.  It is also why I am a teacher.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Into the Face of Apollo

"Some days I still don't know what to do." -- John Mellencamp

I am a middle-aged man who has been in his career for a quarter century, and I still don't know what I want to do when I grow up.  I get jazzed, pumped, stoked about writing fiction, writing nonfiction, teaching Latin, any kind of public speaking, working with children, working with teens, working with college students, encouraging just about anyone in the discovery and fulfillment of his or her potential, engaging in research, having philosophical discussions, exploring translation theory, actually translating, composing poetry, discussing educational theory, advocating for the classical liberal arts education, getting into the nitty gritty of Classical philology, thinking in theology, exploring leadership issues, equipping leaders, mentoring teachers, and truly the list goes on and on.  Perhaps more appropriate than the Mellencamp lyric would be this from Steppenwolf.  "Take the world in a love embrace.  Fire all of your guns at once and explode into space."

My mind was filled with such thoughts as I flew into the face of Apollo, heading east to a conference with fellow state teachers of the year in Princeton, New Jersey.  2014 has been a year like no other.  From the banquet in January at which I was honored as the 2014 Indian Teacher of the Year and was presented by Governor Pence with our state's highest honor, the Sagamore of the Wabash, my experiences as an educator have grown ever broader.  I have participated with the finest group of teacher-leaders from across the nation as my fellow STOYs and I have met in Washington, D.C. for work with Department of Education and to meet with the President of the United States.  I have been a part of a national education policy forum, also, in D.C., and had my creative fires stoked white hot with a week at International Space Camp at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  I have spoken before our state's General Assembly, at universities across Indiana, and have become involved with Indiana University's groundbreaking INSPIRE program in the School of Education.

Yet as I flew from the dark, early-morning skies of Indianapolis for the Next Steps conference with my fellow STOYs in Princeton, I found myself reading an article in Classical Outlook, the journal of the American Classical League.  It was pure academia, and once again, my fires were stoked.  It spoke of leadership lessons in the war writings of Julius Caesar.  Any of my students reading this will immediately see why I was so excited.  Leadership is a primary theme in all of our classes.

So which is it for me?  Am I primarily a Latin scholar, a high school teacher, or an educational leader?  Is my main thing writing or teaching or leading?  The answer is a simple and resounding yes.  I am blessed to live the life I love, a life filled with a kaleidoscope of wonders as I travel on the shared journey of discovery that is education.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

2015 Indiana Teacher of the Year -- Kathy Nimmer

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz introduces Kathy
Kathy's first remarks as 2015 INTOY

I love surprises, and there was a big one today in Tippecanoe County, Indiana.  For months a committee of former Indiana Teachers of the Year had reviewed portfolios submitted by outstanding teachers across our state to represent their districts in the competition for 2015 Indiana Teacher of the Year.  We read.  We thought.  We evaluated.  We interviewed ten finalists at the Department of Education, and then we read, we thought, and we evaluated some more.  We visited the top three finalists at their schools to see extraordinary teaching in action, and guess what?  We read, we thought, and we evaluated yet again, and at the end of the day, the choice was clear.

Kathy Nimmer is the 2015 Indiana Teacher of the Year!

Kathy's colleagues celebrate her honor
A hug from mom & cheers from students

In the days leading up to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz's announcement at William Henry Harrison High School, where Kathy teaches English in grades 10-12, I could hardly contain my excitement.  This master teacher, with a resume that includes multiple grants, publications, and even a TED talk, would now represent Indiana and show the rest of the country what a truly accomplished educational leader looks like.

Supt. Ritz, Kathy, 2014 & 2005 INTOYs Steve Perkins/Molly Seward 
Kathy & her parents

Kathy's life will never be the same.  She will travel across the country to work with the finest teachers in our nation.  She will talk with the President of the United States.  This teacher who already thinks broadly and deeply about the most important issues in education will find her capacious boundaries extended to realms of politics and policy, research and training.  She will take her rightful place on the larger stage of American education at one of the most exciting times in the history this great institution.  I look forward to working with her and hearing her voice as she speaks into and helps lead vital areas in this profession that affects every single citizen.

Kathy's first reaction was to embrace her friend, Elias

What I look forward to most, however, is the reaction of the rest of our state and nation as a wider audience of educators gets to know Kathy.  The surprise announcement at Harrison High School was fun, but it will be nothing like the surprise of American educators when they realize that a consummate professional, a powerful yet humble leader of the first order, has taken her place alongside them in one of the greatest works to which a human being can dedicate a life.