Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Filler People

I wasn't planning to get into a discussion about poverty and homelessness, drug trafficking and prostitution, but it happened.  I am fond of saying that education is a shared journey of discovery, and my Period 9 A.P. Latin class proved that today.

We were reading the part in Book 6 of Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico in which he began to talk about the Druids.  He noted that there were two basic divisions of Gallic society of any size or importance, and that the rest was made up of filler people.  That's what the word "plebeians" meant to the Romans, and it is the word Caesar used in this passage.

He observed that these people never ventured to do anything on their own, nor were they ever consulted about anything.  We imagined the day in, day out grind of existence with no hopes or aspirations.  We recalled the passage we had read in Latin III from Cicero's essay on old age in which he says one of the rewards of reaching advanced years is appeti, to be sought for one's opinion, and we put all of that against this scene from the classic film Twelve Angry Men.

(Begin clip at 41:35)

Going back to Caesar, we read that these people, when oppressed by debt, taxes, or the injustice of those in power, often gave themselves over to slavery.  We considered the choices that some make to engage in dangerous and criminal behavior like selling drugs and prostitution, choices that we rightly condemn but the background to which we may not fully know.

Caesar went on to describe the authority of the Druids in all matters, public and private.  He wrote that anyone who did not abide by their decisions would be excommunicated from all the holy rites.  Such people would be shunned as wicked and accursed.  One of my students pointed out that this still goes on in the way we avoid homeless people, refusing to make eye contact with them and pretending not to hear their pleas for assistance as we pick up our pace.

We compared this excommunication by the Druids, which Caesar said the Gauls considered the harshest of punishments, with the scene from the Morgan Freeman film Lean On Me in which a freshman begs Principal Joe Clark to be readmitted to the school.  Class ended as I asked the students if there was anything that meant that much to them, anything from which they could not be to be separated or exiled.

I had not intended any of this, mind you.  I had not prepared the Cicero text for reference nor had I set up the film clips ahead of time.  That Period 9 class simply read Caesar in the original Latin and did what people do.  We thought together, and the results were powerful.

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