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

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