I am a human being: I think nothing pertaining to that which is human is alien to me. Terence, Heauton Timoroumenos, 77
There is no end to the issues that can prompt people of good will and vocabulary to start screaming obscenities. It is easy to find such provocation anywhere and even easier to yield to it. The afternoon of September 11, 2001, just as we were learning that the United States had been attacked, my students begged me to turn on the television, but I told them I would not do so. It was not that what we were doing in class was more important, but at that moment I was not about to allow terrorists to steal from us what was rightfully ours, the opportunity to learn. They had already stolen too much, and I was not about to concede one inch to them, and I explained that to my students. For a similar reason I will not yield to the temptation to rant and rave about racism or any other sin in our country. There is too much ranting and raving these days and, quite frankly, I have better things to do.
One such better thing is to teach my students tomorrow. Monday morning I will enter my classroom and encounter what sometimes feels like an unrelenting schedule: six, 50-minute periods of six separate classes (Latin I, Latin II, Latin III, Latin IV AP, and Latin V IB) filled with over 180 students. Lest you think I teach at a private school, know that mine is a large, urban, public high school in Indianapolis with more than 3,800 students, wide ethnic diversity, and a free/reduced lunch rate at nearly fifty percent. Oh, and according to one recent report, we are the eighth best public high school in the state.
I teach Latin, and because the Roman playwright Terence was correct, I am called to teach my students as widely and deeply as I can. We discuss it all in my classes, from quantum physics to music, with history, grammar, art, government, poetry, warfare, love, and literature along the way. I often joke that my students can drop all their other classes, for we cover the whole spectrum of humane studies in Latin.
The anchoring quotation for all our classes is this one by Cicero, the first century B.C. statesman:
Ceteros pudeat si qui ita se litteris abdiderunt ut nihil possint ex eis neque ad communem adferre fructum, neque in aspectum lucemque proferre.
Let others be ashamed if they have so hidden themselves in literature that they can bring forth nothing from it for the common benefit or into the light to be seen. Cicero, Pro Archia, 12
This line has become the foundation for our flagship community service project (we do others as well) in which our students read aloud the entirety of the Iliad, the Odyssey, or the Aeneid one Saturday each April to raise money to fight poverty in Indianapolis. We call it Reading The War On Poverty, and this year will be the tenth anniversary of this project that has raised over $1,000.00 each year. In honor of this, we will be inviting alumni to participate as well as current students, and we have set the goal of raising $10,000 for our tenth anniversary in April of 2018. You can find out more about the project here and can get involved here.
Young men and young women of different backgrounds and identities have been inspired by their studies of the language and culture of people two thousand years removed and half a world away to do something of true value in their own community. They could just as well have found inspiration in the words of another of my favorite authors, John Donne, who famously wrote, "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." (from Meditation 17)
The classroom bell will soon toll for me, and I will not have time to rant and rave about the sins of our age. I have better things to do, as I hope you do, and if one of those should be helping young people in their better work of Reading The War On Poverty, then I hope indeed you will join them here.