Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Not Untypical Day In High School

I teach at a public high school of just under 4,000 students. Our classes are huge. We are not elite. And yet these things happened today. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

In my Period 2 class of Latin I, one of my students taught the grammar lesson. I have recorded myself teaching key grammar points, posted those videos on our website, and the students must watch them at home while taking notes. The following day students volunteer to teach, or re-present, the lesson. Today Samantha not only put the information on the board, but asked questions of her classmates and and sought volunteers. She did not merely regurgitate information. She taught.

In my A.P. class we discussed an alternative form of a verb in Latin poetry (for you Latin folks out there, it was the -ere suffix for -erunt in 3rd person plural perfect active indicative). In this instance it was the verb fulsere, meaning "they flashed," and one of my students said, "Oh, that's just like in that Catullus poem we read last year where the suns flashed for him." He was referring to Catullus 8, and I simply shook my head in admiring disbelief.

Perhaps my emotional pump had been primed by discussions over the past few days. In my Latin III class we had read about a murder in 53 B.C. on the Appian Way. The wife of the victim demanded that her husband's corpse be displayed in the forum for all to see, and we discussed the parallel with Emmett Till, whose death in 1955 prompted his mother to have an open casket for her son and for Jet magazine to run the pictures. As the story of the ancient murder developed, it described the mob violence that followed and led to the burning of the senate house. My students discussed violence in the modern world and that free speech does not mean shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater. They discussed the proper limits to freedom that make freedom livable without devolving into chaos.

Again, it was my A.P. students who just yesterday discussed the dangerous role of rumor as depicted by the Roman epic poet Vergil and as seen today in our social media. In both the Latin III and A.P. discussions, I shared that I was concerned for my students' well being and that they not find themselves caught up in the kinds of messaging or activities that have led to ruined lives.

And then, after school, a young man who observes me twice a week from Indiana University in preparation for student teaching, engaged with me in the most heady and delightful of discussions. We talked about his passion for Medieval works. We looked at the prayers of St. Ambrose and talked about St. Augustine, St. Aquinas, the Dies Irae, and the Stabat Mater. We talked of Boethius, and he introduced me to Alan of Lille.

To be sure, not all days are as rich and satisfying, but those described here are not untypical, and because of that they stand as a testament to both the depth and the breadth it is possible to explore in high school.

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