The Shame of Mock Slave Auctions in Secondary Classics

Dani Bostick teaches high school Latin and an occasional micro-section of ancient Greek in a Virginia public school. She has published several collections of Latin mottoes online and has a strong presence as an activist for survivors of sexual violence on Twitter.

The Junior Classical League purports to foster interest in the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome and is one of the largest academic clubs in the world with 50,000 members and 1,200 chapters. For the last six decades, JCL has also supported mock slave auctions as a source of entertainment. Humor derived from dehumanization and degradation have no place in our society, especially given our country’s shameful history of enslavement and other forms of systemic racism.

My essay should end here. Ideally, the notion of mock slave auctions in an organization sponsored by the American Classical League should prompt outrage, activism, and sustained action. Too often, though, this kind of racism is tolerated and normalized by those both inside and outside of secondary classics. Latin teachers and other stakeholders, even those who purport to care about social justice, often protect the field over individuals marginalized and harmed by patterns of racism and hostility in secondary Latin. 

We can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to the state of secondary Classics. We are in dire need of reform.

The Junior Classical League is a space so insulated from the realities of racism that slave auctions have been a common source of entertainment and fun for decades. In 2016, a story about a mock slave auction went viral after black audience members were subjected to this racist spectacle at an Illinois Junior Classical League convention. In a demonstrably deceitful response, the National Junior Classical League and the American Classical League claimed they “regret to hear of the incident” and that “this incident in no way reflects the values we have as an organization.” 

The Junior Classical League did not “hear of the incident,” they have organized, promoted and sponsored similar events for the better part of a century. In the 1950s, a teacher wrote in Classical Outlook, “One boy bought a pretty girl just to have her following him around… The club has been asked to repeat the auction in assembly before the whole school.” 

1950s

Slave auctions continue in the Junior Classical League, often sanitized with the branding “Rent-a-Roman.” The 2011-2012 National Junior Classical League scrapbook contains a picture of a “slave” posing with her “master at the annual Rent-a-Roman.” In 2012, an event affiliated with the California Junior Classical League included this description: “You can offer yourself up for sale or bid on the merchandise to purchase a companion/ money-servant for the rest of the lunch hour.” In 2014, a write up in the newsletter of the Classical Association of the Midwest and South include a teacher touting activities that included a “master/slave program.” The 2017 California Junior Classical League constitution included a reference to slave auctions as a fundraising opportunity: “Should a slave auction be held at the state convention, the money acquired shall go to the state scholarship fund.” In 2018, the Pennsylvania Junior Classical League newsletter contained a report on a Saturnalia event where club leaders are “auctioned off to serve as ‘slaves’ for the night… these individuals will be ordered around by their new masters to fetch food, sing, dance, and entertain.”

Mock slave auctions are just one example of a much larger, pervasive problem in secondary Classics that includes trivializing slavery and turning oppression, and the oppressed, into a source of humor. In 2017, Erik Robinson documented problematic portrayals of slavery in secondary text books. The National Latin Exam, which over 140,000 students take, is notorious for their regressive treatment of slavery and other forms of oppression (e.g. sexual assault). There are too many examples to list here, but one recent question echoed the racist myth of the loyal slave. Loyalty is predicated on autonomy and feelings of allegiance, which mitigates the culpability of enslavers and misrepresents the realities of slavery. 

loyal slave

It is beyond the scope of this article to explain why slave auctions are racist and how this kind of humor, even in the context of ancient Rome, supports the messaging and strategies of white supremacy groups. Suffice it to say, these kinds of events are unethical and harmful. Recently, the New York attorney general’s office investigated a school for holding a slave auction, finding “that the teacher’s re-enactments in the two classes had a profoundly negative effect on all of the students present — especially the African American students — and the school community at large.” A student who witnessed the Illinois JCL slave auction told the Washington Post, “Since JCL is primarily white, they are so into their, like, white privilege, I guess, that they don’t know how they can affect minorities.”

The Junior Classical League has abused its monopoly and imposed a twisted value system on its members. JCL membership appeals to students looking to build their college resumes. And, many teachers are contractually required to sponsor a chapter. Our dues should not support this kind of culture. We should not cultivate students’ interest in this distortion of Classics.

The American Classical League has hired a diversity consultant, and in most of my correspondence with them, I am reminded of this fact. It is a positive step for the ACL to obtain the services of an outside expert, but a diversity consultant should be a small part of a larger strategy to eradicate racism from secondary Classics, not a standalone solution. As long as stakeholders in secondary Classics and our post-secondary colleagues protect the status quo through both action and inaction, this culture will persist and become even more toxic.

Concern for people affected by these systemic failures must trump the defense of the organization. ACL, JCL, NLE, and other affiliates exist to promote Classics. Nothing in the promotion of Classics should also include the promotion of racism and white supremacy, especially when hundreds of thousands of children are affected by the way the ACL has shaped the field. 

It is time for decisive action and commitment to change.

The co-chair of the National Latin Exam accused me in a late-night Twitter direct message of wanting a spectacle. I do not want a spectacle. (Perhaps that accusation was wishful thinking.) I want the culture of secondary Latin to stop supporting racism and narratives of white dominance.

This goal will take work, not just words. If you are interested in advocating against racism in Classics and want to know how to help, feel free to email me at dani.bostick@gmail.com 

Meanwhile, here are a few ways the American Classical League and its affiliates can begin to change the culture in secondary Classics. This list is far from exhaustive:

1)  Apologize for your role in perpetuating white supremacy and racism. Stop treating each instance of problematic content and practices as some sort of aberration. 

2)  Remove leaders and volunteers who have aggressively defended and perpetuated the status quo and who prioritize the interests and image of the organization over the well-being and safety of students.

3) Provide information to teachers about how to talk about white supremacy and dangerous appropriations of Classics. Our field has supported racist ideas and is used to legitimize hate and violence. We have a responsibility to equip students to recognize and counter these appropriations, even when they come from within our own field.

4) Remove all content immediately that is incompatible with the goal of “Classics for All” and release an accompanying statement that explains why the material was harmful. Do not legitimize offensive content and practices by engaging in a ‘both sides discussion’ and hiding behind procedure and tradition. Swift action and adherence to procedures are not mutually exclusive.

Colleagues in post-secondary Classics. Here are a few calls to action and points to consider: 

1) Find out if JCL held a mock slave auction on your campus. If so, apologize. Do not allow them on your campus. Fraternities have been suspended for holding slave auctions. It is even worse when they are held as entertainment in the context of an academic program for children. 

2) Formally condemn the practice of slave auctions and call on the Junior Classical League and, more broadly, the American Classical League, to own its uncomfortable past and repair the damage it has done through events like these and the culture they reflect. 

3) If you publish a newsletter or promote activities in secondary Latin, vet them before you provide a platform for abhorrent practices. There is no excuse for a “master/slave” activity to have been featured in a CAMWS publication (or any publication). 

4) Stay informed about what is going on in secondary Classics and hold organizations accountable for failures that affect both current students and the future of the field. 

Counting Matters: The National Latin Exam and the Politics of Record Keeping

Dani Bostick teaches high school Latin and an occasional micro-section of ancient Greek in a Virginia public school. She has published several collections of Latin mottoes online and has a strong presence as an activist for survivors of sexual violence on Twitter.

2019 has been the year of the Equity and Diversity Statement in Classics. The American Classical League released two statements this year. The March statement affirmed, “We embrace ‘all people who have an interest in the ancient world from all levels of instruction, stages of life, and backgrounds.’ Then, in May, after criticism of problematic promotional materials, the American Classical League released a statement condemning racist and white supremacist ideas and listing proposed actions to make “Classics for Everyone” a reality.

In April, also in response to criticism that exam questions sanitize slavery and sexual violence, the National Latin Exam Committee also released a statement promising to create “exams with inclusive, affirming questions and passages,” and added, “We are grateful for those who have raised concerns about diversity, inclusion, and equity and welcome future dialogue regarding ways the NLE can support these values.”

Statements must be the starting point for meaningful action, not just reactive public relations moments in response to public criticism. The first meaningful action should be answering a simple question: Who takes Latin? Without this information, it is impossible to implement and measure the effectiveness of solutions for making our field more inclusive and diverse. 

Unfortunately, the only information we have on the demographics of our field at the secondary level is the College Board data on Advanced Placement program participation. In 2018, only 6,409 students took the AP Latin exam; in 2019, only 6,117. We know from this data that only 3.5% of students who take the AP Latin exam are black. We also know that this percentage has not changed since 1999. While these data confirms what many of us know to be true about under-representation in Latin, they only tell us who is taking AP Latin. We do not have information about who is taking Latin outside of AP Latin programs. 

There is a better source for data. In 2018, 143,952 students of all levels registered for the National Latin Exam. If NLE collected information about race and ethnicity, we would have a much clearer picture of the current state of Latin. The NLE already collects information about the types of schools participating in their exam. Including a separate question for teachers about racial/ethnic enrollment at the school could also provide information about under-representation in the field. Instead, despite statements about diversity, the ACL-sponsored NLE is not including any questions related to race and ethnicity on their 2020 exam. 

As professional organizations and Classics programs at post-secondary institutions look towards the Future of Classics, the NLE would provide a valuable service to the field by collecting and publicizing this information. In response to my most recent request, I was told that the NLE Committee is concerned that answering a question about demographics would cause students of color to do poorly on the exam. This phenomenon is called a stereotype threat, and I agree that this is a problem in Classics. According to research by Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson, stereotype threat is a condition of “being at risk of confirming, as a self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s social group.”  

As a practical solution to this concern, the question could be moved to a pre-registration day or to the end of the exam. Moving the exam question to the end, or refusing to ask the question altogether, does not eliminate stereotype threat in the context of the exam or the field as a whole. Which scenario would trigger more anxiety about prejudice and stereotypes: Answering a question about one’s identity or surveying the testing room as the only person of color in a nearly all-white space? Steele and Aronson affirm that the stress of being the “sole representative of a social category” can inhibit memory during academic tasks. 

There are many ways to mitigate and even eliminate stereotype threat that do not involve a ban on questions related to race and ethnicity on exams. For example, according to 2014 research from Toni Schmader and William Hall, increasing diversity can reduce stereotype threat. They wrote, “The impact of broader representation in educational and organizational environments is that group-based stereotypes begin to break down.” Ideally, a Latin student should be able to indicate a minority race or ethnicity on an NLE demographic question and feel pride instead of anxiety. Data will not make this scenario a reality, but it will make it possible to set goals with measurable outcomes. 

The NLE’s refusal to collect data in the name of marginalized students does not protect these students; rather, it perpetuates systemic injustice by hiding under-representation in the field. Who benefits from not collecting data? Gary Orfield of the Civil Rights Project of UCLA explained in a book chapter on the importance of data, “Those in power may fear the consequences of data and probably are not prepared to take action to alleviate group problems because data and tools for the assessment of progress are essential parts of serious reform strategies… Denial of problems and refusal to collect or publish data on sensitive issues are typical responses of those wanting to preserve the status quo.” Not collecting data is a deliberate, political decision to maintain the status quo. 

As long as the composition of the field is a secret, field-level conversations about diversity and will be theoretical at best and opportunistic at worst. With data, genuine commitment to equity and diversity can become measurable results.

Calls to Action: 

  1. The NLE should collect demographic data on the 2020 exam, and publicize that data in its 2020 report. If the answer sheet has been set, these data can be collected on a supplemental sheet for paper test-takers and can be added to the computer-based exam for other test-takers.
  2. As a sponsor of the NLE, the ACL should encourage the NLE to collect and release this data as a service to the field.
  3. The ACL should also continue their own efforts to “gather information about the demographics of Latin and Greek students nationwide,” as they wrote in their May 2019 statement.
  4. Professional associations that seek to foster classical studies throughout the country and through the collegiate level (e.g. SCS, CAMWS) should encourage and support the efforts of the NLE and use their data to help support diversity, equity, and inclusion in education, outreach, and publication.
  5. Teachers should collect data on their own programs and take steps to make their classrooms more inclusive if they do not mirror the demographics of their schools. 

 

Image result for us census 1820
US Census 1820, from census.gov

Aeriportus Virumque Cano: Trump’s Revolutionary War Airports

An ancient Roman fragment about Revolutionary War airports was discovered buried under a liquefied bag of parsley and several desiccated carrots in a vegetable drawer. Here is the Latin text that Trump translated and quoted in his Fourth of July speech. Latin transcribed by Dani Bostick. Translation by Donald Trump.

Nostri milites caelum complent. Partes arietis arietant.  Aeriportus occupant. Peragenda peragunt. Et in monte Capitrolino, per falaricarum cruentam lucem, nihil nisi victoriam habent. Et cum Aurora venit,  Signum Sideribus Splendens ferociter fluitat.

Our Army manned the air, it rammed the ram parts. It took over the airports. It did everything it had to do. And at Fort McHendry, under the rockets’ red glare, it had nothing but victory. And when dawn came, their Star Spangled Banner waved defiant.

 

Fort_McHenry_1812.jpg

 

Bellum Incivile: The Democrats Debate

torch

 

Another text tentatively attributed to Caesar was discovered along with the fragments of the De Silvis and an appendix to De Bello Gallico. This is almost surely the lost Bellum Incivile.

C. Julius Caesar (?), Bellum Incivile. Edited by Dani Bostick

Almost one hundred Democrats who were seeking the consulship gathered to fight among themselves until only one person was left standing. The young candidates kept begging the old man, who was holding power for too long, to pass the torch of power to them and that his time was up; but the old man said that the torch could not be wrested from his grip because it was stuck to his hands like pearls to a shell.

While some of the young candidates were trying to take the torch from the old man’s clutches, two other men spoke Spanish words badly and a certain woman was purifying the republic with the torch’s smoke while saying over and over again that love, not plans, will save us.

While this was going on, Manicula warned Puppet Master not to interfere with the matters of the republic, but he said these things with a hatred for dignity in such a way as to embolden Puppet Master. For Manicula even said Puppet Master was an ally and very close friend, although everyone else had considered him an enemy of the people for a long time.

Fere centum Democratici consulatum petentes convenerunt ut secum depugnarent dum una reliqua esset.  Iuvenes senem, qui potestatem diutius habebat, orabant ut facem potestatis sibi traderet eique tempus non esset, sed senex locutus facem de manibus extorqui non posse, quoniam in manibus velut margaritae in conchis inhaereret. Dum plures facem a manibus senis eripere conabantur, duo viri verba Hispana male loquebantur quaedamque femina, dictitans non consilia, sed amorem nos servaturum, rem publicam fumo facis purgabat.

Dum haec gerebantur, Manicula Pupuli Erum monuit ne rei publicae intercederet. Quae odio dignitatis ita dixit ut Pupuli Erum confirmaret. Nam ipse dixit etiam se illi esse socium atque amicissimum cum omnes eum pro hoste diu habuissent.

Of Ice and Fire I Sing

This text was discovered inside the hollow of a golden branch. On top was written, Pius Aeneas hoc scripsit (“Pious Aeneas wrote this”). On a separate document was a message written by one P.V.M. that said, carmen tam horribile est ut cum inhumata turba vagari malim.” (“This poem is so terrible that I prefer to wander with the unburied masses”). An earlier fragment seems obsessed with a certain Ioannes Nix.

It is thought that after Aeneas encountered Marcellus in the underworld, he received poetry lessons from Vergil himself. From a close reading of this text, we can also infer that Aeneas met the disembodied soul of George R.R. Martin and saw a performance of Game of Thrones. Edited by Dani Bostick.

“And just as constipated infants contort their miserable
Faces but cannot manage to liberate their bowels,
In this way, Jon Snow with a worried expression,
Miserable, looks on the overturned city and kills the
Mother of dragons in a sneaky way with his sword. Then, the
Unhappy monster carries her body on his toenail into the ether.
Snow speaks with these words: “Love is the death of duty.”
But Dido gave herself a wound voluntarily with a sword,
This queen is dead because of herself; it is not my fault,
For I am remarkable in piety, but Snow rules
In no kingdom.”

Ac veluti torquent ora infantes miseranda
Crudi sed nequeunt compressos solvere alvos.
Sic Nix sollicito vultu eversam miser urbem
Aspicit et matrem draconum ensi necat furtim.
Tum monstrum infelix corpus vehit ungula in aether.
Nix tali ore refert: “Amor est finis pietatis.”
At Dido vulnus dedit sponte sua sibi ferro,
Regina moritur propter se; non mihi culpa est.
Sum pietate insignis, et rex; Nix regit nullo
In loco.

« Messire Lancelot du Lac » de « GAULTIER MOAP ». « Messire Lancelot du Lac » de « GAULTIER MOAP ».
,

Of Jon Snow and Aeneas I Sing…

This text was discovered inside the hollow of a golden branch. On top was written, Pius Aeneas hoc scripsit (“Pious Aeneas wrote this”). On a separate document was a message written by one P.V.M. that said, carmen tam horribile est ut cum inhumata turba vagari malim.” (“This poem is so terrible that I prefer to wander with the unburied masses”).  It is thought that after Aeneas encountered Marcellus in the underworld, he received poetry lessons from Vergil himself. From a close reading of this text, we can also infer that Aeneas met the disembodied soul of George R.R. Martin and saw a performance of Game of Thrones

P. Aeneas (?), Maior Pietate Sum, Edited by Dani Bostick

Per campum magno gemitu fremit discordia vulgi.
Corpora caesa inter fluit foedum sanguinis flumen
Nunc Rex Noctis et Albi Euntes glomerantur ut aves,
Nunc amita et coniunx, volat Daenerys vecta per auras
Serpente expirante ignem. Nunc nubibus flammae
Ex caelo volat Ioannes Nivis; eum vehit serpens.
O lux Targaryum, spes o fidissima Arcti,
Aenea maior armis pietateque claro es?
Fecerat ignipotens scutum deus? Nec tenes scutum!

Dic mihi quid muros ascenderit hostis ab Orco
Dic mihi quid Regem Noctis mortesque necarit
Femina. Sed sine telis Aeneas viribus hostes
Caedebat victorque viros supereminet omnes.
At vero ipse ensem tumido in pulmone recondit
Vi magni scuti.

Over the battlefield with a great groan the disorganized crowd roars.
A disgusting river of blood flows among the slaughtered bodies,
Now the Night King and White Walkers gather like birds,
Now aunt and consort Daenerys flies through the air
On a fire-breathing dragon. Now from clouds of flame
Out of the sky flies John Snow; a dragon carries him.

Oh light of the Targaryans, Oh most faithful hope of the North,
Are you are greater in piety and arms than famous Aeneas?
Did the all-fiery god make your shield? You do not have one!
Tell me why an enemy of shades climbed the walls!
Tell me why a woman killed the Night King and zombies!
But Aeneas used to slaughter the enemy with his
Own strength and as a victor he surpasses all men.
And he himself indeed buries the sword into the inflated chest
With his big shield energy.

‘Classics For Everyone’ Must Be More Than a Slogan

Dani Bostick teaches high school Latin and an occasional micro-section of ancient Greek in a Virginia public school. She has published several collections of Latin mottoes online and has a strong presence as an activist for survivors of sexual violence on Twitter.

For too long, the discipline of Classics has been like Uncle Roger at Thanksgiving dinner, that relative who shows up wrapped in a confederate flag, complaining about “those people” ruining his neighborhood and destroying everything good about our country. The difference is that tolerating Uncle Roger is not just a once-a-year event for Classics. Uncle Roger has been at the American Classical League’s dinner table every day for over a century. In more recent years, the main response to him has been “That’s just the way he is” or “Don’t mind him. He’s from a different era.” Active encouragement and passive acceptance of Uncle Roger has made our Classics classrooms resemble ca. 1987 Augusta National

The lack of diversity in Classics is not an accident. It is by design. A good example of this is the secondary Latin recruitment material that was available online until Tuesday that presents a version of Classics that portrays a select few as rightful heirs of ancient Roman culture. The problematic content is not limited to a regressive use of the term “Western Civilization. In this material, Classics is presented as a signifier of cultural superiority. I won’t mince words: This is the language of White Supremacy.

mainstream
Excerpt from Latin in the Schools 

One of the most troubling examples is an excerpt from More Than Just a Language, a pamphlet that has been distributed to over 50,000 people: “Rome: a heritage shared by North and South Americans, Europeans and citizens of many third world nations helps bring students into the mainstream of western culture.” This messaging is not an anomaly. It seems to be a formal talking point. Latin in the Schools, a resource from 2015 also promotes this abhorrent appropriation of Classics: “Students of diverse ethnic backgrounds find that Latin helps bring students into the mainstream of American culture and western civilization.”

third world
Excerpt from More Than Just a Language

Other resources promote the idea that Latin is primarily for people of European descent. Why Study Latin, presupposes that “foreign peoples” aren’t even in the Latin classroom and presents Latin as White Area Studies: “Familiar with diversity, change and longevity of his own culture, a person is more inclined to respect the views, ideologies, religions, and economic systems of foreign peoples.” What is “his own culture”? Who are the “foreign peoples” that the dominant-culture student cannot respect without taking Latin?

In 2019, Classics should never be described as a path to civilization or acceptance into American society. In the 1830s, pro-slavery senator John Calhoun reportedly said that if he “could find a Negro who knew the Greek syntax, (he) would then believe the Negro was a human being and should be treated as a man.’” In Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi described the Enlightenment-era assimilationists who believed in the “racist idea of unenlightened Africa” and  sought out “‘barbarians to civilize into the ‘superior’ ways of Europeans.’” Recruitment material for Classics should not provide a platform for these abhorrent, dehumanizing ideas. 

It is not OK when this rhetoric comes from individuals or fringe groups. It is even worse when it comes from the professional organizations. We cannot pretend these messages do not represent the field when they were disseminated so recently by the National Committee on Latin and Greek, a standing committee of the American Classical League tasked with promoting Classics through lobbying efforts, developing recruitment material, and representing Classics on the Joint National Committee for Languages (JNCL), whose role is to “shape national policy for World Languages, ASL, and international education and to raise the profile of the language enterprise.” NCLG is supported by the Classical Association for the Atlantic States (CAAS), the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS), and many other Classical organizations. In other words, member dues helped produce, support, and disseminate this content. This is particularly troubling since many secondary teachers are required to sponsor a chapter of Junior Classical League, a requirement of which is sponsor membership in ACL. I am not alone in objecting to these representations of the field, my profession, and my students.

When confronted about their material, ACL removed it immediately and initiated a productive dialogue about creating new, appropriate materials. On Twitter, however, ACL downplayed the seriousness of the complaint, writing, “This is referring to old materials that we do not distribute any longer. NCLG is working on a revision of the brochure, and our Diversity and Inclusivity Committee will be giving input.” One Latin teacher, who is also a member of this task force, wrote on Twitter, “Personally, I think Paterno’s* name on it is a duh, this is obviously old… what some would not consider offensive 5, 10 years ago is now.” This comment belies a common fallacy: “Because it doesn’t offend me, it is not offensive.” Make no mistake, this content was as offensive and dangerous ten years ago as it was on Tuesday, the last day it was available to the public on Promote Latin, the NCLG website. 

Removing the material does not solve the underlying problem. The troubling reality is these are receptions of Classics that some still actively endorse and that many others tolerate or justify. The ACL exists to “initiate, improve, and extend the study of Classical languages and civilizations in north America.” The Society for Classical Studies (SCS) and regional Classical organizations share this goal along with their members. If “Classics is for everyone” is more than an empty slogan, that message must be conveyed in action and words. Too many aspects of Classics have sent the exact opposite message and have gone unchallenged. The ACL needs to be better a better steward and ambassador of the field.

There has already been some progress. Earlier this Spring, ACL released a statement affirming its core values and emphasizing that Latin is for everyone. Recently, the National Latin Exam also released a statement on Diversity and Inclusion along with plans to remove problematic questions from their online app and compose their exam “with greater awareness moving forward.” Responding to problems is better than silence, inaction, and defensiveness, but the absence of a concrete, action-oriented strategy will leave the field playing whack-a-mole with shifting manifestations of a systemic problem.

The ACL is in a unique position to transform Classics for the better. Here are some concrete steps the organization should take to make “Latin for everyone” a reality:

1) Formally condemn systems, practices, policies, and rhetoric that limit access to Classics. Appropriations of Classics as a marker of cultural superiority are hurtful and dangerous. For starters, ACL should release a clear statement disavowing the harmful ideas in recruitment materials that were available to the public until this week.

2) Establish and disseminate anti-racist expectations for secondary Classics. Set the explicit expectation that all children should be afforded the opportunity to study Classics in schools where programs exist. Be explicit that there is no reason programs should not mirror the demographics of their schools. If only one kind of student is signing up for Latin, that is a red flag.

3) Investigate the problem. We all know that disproportionality is a problem in secondary Classics classrooms. The College Board should not be the only source of demographic information about the composition of our field. The National Latin Exam already collects demographic data from the more than 150,000 participants. Adding a question about race and ethnicity for this coming year will provide important data for NLE and ACL as they implement changes to make the field more accessible.**

4) Invest in diversity training for ACL leaders. The existence of the problematic recruitment material reveals a gap in knowledge and tools. If ACL is serious about making our classrooms more welcoming (and I believe it is), it makes sense to leverage the expertise of professionals who have been doing this type of work for decades. Ignorance is not an excuse. Equally important, members of the Diversity and Inclusion task force must recognize and understand the dangerous ways classics can be appropriated, even from within the field itself. 

5) Develop clear and consistent messaging. This point is difficult since organizations like ACL are so decentralized and depend on volunteers. Still, it is important that members in positions of leadership uphold the values of ACL in their communications and always prioritize the field over organizational interests. For example, nobody with a role in ACL should have excused or justified any of the problematic materials earlier this week. The focus should have been condemnation of the material.  Concern for people affected by the problem should always trump the defense of the organization. 

6) Create appropriate materials for recruitment and teacher support. If “Classics is for everyone” could be achieved simply by announcing it, Classics would already be for everyone. How can teachers let school counselors know to tell everyone about Latin? What messages do we want students to hear about Classics? How do we make sure all students feel comfortable and successful in our classrooms? These are questions ACL can help answer by providing practical, concrete information. There has already been positive movement on this front.

7) Address the dearth of inclusive instructional materials for secondary teachers by advocating for better products and updates to existing resources that are in line with ACL values.

Problems within the field are impossible to solve without leadership and action that will make Classics welcoming and accessible to all students. For too long, we have normalized exclusion and failed to eradicate racist ideas about Classics from the field. We cannot afford to let another year pass without confronting these problems. Primary and secondary Latin programs represent the biggest opportunity for reforming Classics, which I discussed in greater detail in The Future of Classics From Below. As our professional organization, the American Classical League has the power to make “Classics for everyone.”

 

*Yes, this brochure also included Joe Paterno and listed football as a potential career for Classicists.

**Parts of the first three points are from The Future of Classics From ‘Below,’

The Aeneid’s Pot Brownie, Commentary on 6.420

Fragments of this lost commentary on the Aeneid were recently found near a monument to Saint Raphael. The work, dated to 420 CE, was signed only with the name “Louis.” This comment is on Book VI when Aeneas and Sibyl subdue Cerberus in the underworld. Edited by Dani Bostick

Aeneid 6.419-22

Seeing Cerberus’ neck bristling with snakes,
the priestess tosses him a treat laced with honey
and medicated grains. Opening his three throats,
rabid with hunger, he scarfs down what she tossed, and
his huge backs relax as he falls to the ground, spread
out across the entire cave.

Cui vātēs horrēre vidēns iam colla colubrīs
melle sopōrātam et medicātīs frūgibus offam 420
obicit. Ille famē rabidā tria guttura pandēns
corripit obiectam, atque immānia terga resolvit
fūsus humī tōtōque ingēns extenditur antrō.

6.420  she tosses a treat laced with honey and medicated grains

Here “treat” is a pot brownie. 420 is an extraordinary number. If one were to sail from Carthage to Alba Longa with a stop in Sicily, the journey would be 420 miles. Here, however, is not the number 420. You see, 4 is April, the fourth month of the year, and 20 is the twentieth day of the month (the 12th day before the Kalends).  On this day, almost everyone enjoys cannabis.

Ovid once wrote, “Caesar, in April you have something which might take control of you” (Fasti 4.20). He added, “Aeneas, manifest piety, carried through fire sacred things and his father on his shoulders, other sacred things.” Ovid is telling us that Aeneas imported cannabis, “sacred things,” into Italy as a trafficker of drugs. We also know that oracles use such drugs frequently.

For these reasons, the treat consumed by Cerberus was not full of opiates, but rather cannabis. Since the treat was not only drugged with honey, but with “medicated grains,” which we call “cannabis,” Cerberus immediately passes out when he eats it. When men consume cannabis, some lose their minds and rage in reefer madness, others, calm as stones, rest on the sofa and, eager for food, satisfy their hunger with snacks.

 

6.420  melle soporatam et medicatis frugibus offam

Hic “offam” est crustulum cannabis.

420 est numerus extraordinarius. Si quis, commoratus in Sicilia, a Karthagine ad Albam Longam navigaret, iter CDXX milium passuum esset. Hic tamen non est CDXX, sed numerus diei. Nam IV est Mensis Aprilis, quarta mensis anni; XX est vicesima dies mensis, a.d. XII Kal.  Ea die paene omnes cannibi fruuntur.

Ovidius olim scripsit: “Caesar, in Aprili, quo tenearis, habes” (4.20). addidit, “Aeneas, pietas spectata, per ignes sacra patremque humeris, altera sacra, tulit.” nobis dicit Aenean cannabim, “sacra,” in Italiam mercatorem medicamentorum portavisse. Scimus etiam vates medicamentis saepe fruari.

Quibus de causis, offa a Cerbero comesta non est plena papaverum, sed cannabis. Cum offa non modo melle, sed etiam “medicatis frugibus,” quas “cannabim” vocamus, soporata esset, Cerberus ea comesta subito obdormivit. Cum homines cannabim consumunt, alii furibundi insania cautum furiant, alii placati velut lapides in toro conquiescunt avidique cibi latrantem stomachum cenulis leniunt.  

 

Marginalia:

Vide: Hesychius, s.v. kannabis

Kannabis: A Skythian herb for burning which has the kind of power that it completely dries out anything subject to it. It is a plant similar to linen from which Thracians make ropes (Cf. Herodotus 4.74.)

κάνναβις· Σκυθικὸν θυμίαμα, ὃ τοιαύτην ἔχει δύναμιν, ὥστε ἐξικμάζειν πάντα τὸν παρεστῶτα. ἔστι δὲ φυτόν τι λίνῳ ὅμοιον, ἐξ οὗ αἱ Θρᾷσσαι ἱμάτια ποιοῦσιν. ῾Ηρόδοτος (4,74)

“Kannabisthênai: to extract and burn cannabis.”

κανναβισθῆναι· πρὸς τὴν κάνναβιν ἐξιδρῶσαι καὶ πυριασθῆναι

N.B. This discovery may have been satirical. The Hesychius is real.

 

 

Newly Discovered Text: De Praefecto Petro (About Mayor Pete)

The following text of unknown authorship was recovered along with new fragments of Caesar’s lost Bellum Incivile and several pamphlets on ancient Roman fashion and etiquette.

De Praefecto Petro. Edited by Dani Bostick

As dawn rose, a young man of remarkable piety came down from heaven onto the gloomy earth for the sake of saving the republic. Since his name could not be pronounced by any mortal, he was called Mayor Pete. It was such a great miracle that some believed that he was not just similar to a god, but that he was an actual god; others believed that the 44th president had adopted him as his white son.

Many wonders and signs declared his divinity. His spouse, whose name was Mayor Pete’s Husband, was a teacher of the highest character whom students loved and respected as an example to emulate;* he was a faithful friend to two dogs, Buddy and Truman; he knew 17 languages which, they said, he was able to speak perfectly inside of a year whenever he wanted to help refugees, read a book in another language, or make a friend from another country; he also knew by heart the names of all the people who lived in the republic; and, he glows with a golden light as he helps the less fortunate. For these reasons everyone began to worship and venerate him as they begged the gods, “Do not prevent this man from rescuing our world in chaos.”

Aurora surgente egregius pietate iuvenis de caelo ad tenebrosam terram rei publicae servandae causa venit. Cum eius nomen a nullis mortalibus enuntiari possit, Praefectus Petrus appellabatur. Tantum miraculum erat ut alii Praefectum Petrum non modo similem deo sed deum ipsum, alii quadragesimum quartum consulem filium candidum adoptavisse crederent.

Multa prodigia et signa divinitatem declaraverunt. Eius coniunx, Maritus Praefecti Petri nomine, erat magister* summae virtutis quem exemplo ad imitandum suppeditato discipuli amabant verebanturque; fidus sodalis duorum canum Amici et Veritatis erat; dicebant septendecim linguas scire quas intra annum optime loqui posset cum aut auxilio profugis esse aut externi scriptoris libellum legere aut ad amicitiam peregrinorum se conferre vellet; nomina etiam omnium rei publicae civium memoria tenebat; miseris subveniens aurea in luce refulsit. Quibus de causis eum colere et venerari coeperunt omnes orantes deos, “hunc saltem everso iuvenem succurrere saeclo ne prohibete.”

*It is thought that Quintilian wrote his treatise on education after reading notes taken during a classroom observation of Mayor Pete’s Husband.

The Future of Classics, From “Below”

Editor’s note: While Dani Bostick may be best known to our readers for her ‘discoveries’ of fake Latin, she is also a Latin teacher who is deeply passionate about the future of our field.

What is the future of Classics? During the Future of Classics Panel at the SCS-AIA annual meeting, Joy Connolly presented a dire picture. “We’ve got to decide what we want our field to be, because the field as it is is not attracting sufficient students to justify our continued existence.”

The future of Classics depends on a more expansive “we” that extends beyond the traditional boundaries of post-secondary institutions and includes classicists in a position to identify and remedy longstanding problems in the field. At the Future of Classics Panel, an audience member brought up this exact point, “There’s an elephant in the room that we’ve barely talked about. And that is the future of Latin in the high schools and the schools of our country. And I think it’s indicative of us as college professors that we really haven’t talked about this. We’re in our ivory tower. The real challenge is in the schools.”

Despite this reality, discussions about just and inclusive Classics have been limited to post-secondary problems and solutions. It is critical that we provide a vision for Classics that involves a clear, actionable road-map for greater inclusivity and equity. And, it is equally critical that solutions involve Classicists beyond the traditional confines of post-secondary institutions. It is time to de-silo the academy and stop viewing secondary education as a self-contained, distinct (and, yes, also inferior) subsection of the field. There is no future for a version of Classics that works top-down, designed by its academic elite without concern for or coordination with teachers of the more than 200,000 Latin students in American K-12 schools.

Secondary schools represent a tremendous opportunity, but they are also the epicenter of longstanding, structural injustices in the field, and, more broadly, American public education. The American Classical League and National Latin Exam do not include demographic information in their reports, but we know that in 2018 of the 6,647 students took the Advanced Placement Latin exam only 223 were black. Compared with predominantly white schools, schools with a high proportion of minority students receive less funding and offer a more restricted range of classes. There are plenty of Latin programs, however, that are homogeneous oases of elitism despite the cultural and socioeconomic diversity of their schools. Most explanations for this disproportionality have been reductive and fail to address underlying institutional failures. Instead, students are blamed for their own exclusion when the consequences of resource discrimination are attributed to lack of interest or ability. Educators are blamed when the problem of underrepresentation is reduced to a question personality or pedagogy. 

There is no legitimate reason why Latin programs at the secondary level remain segregated spaces, immune to broader efforts to promote equity in schools. But one cause is clear. “The field as it is” is exclusionary by design, the direct result of discriminatory practices that have deprived African American students of educational opportunities for centuries. The attitudes behind these practices still persist in 2019 as Classics continue to be appropriated as weapon of exclusion and a signifier of the superiority of a select few. Recently, the author of a New Criterion commentary asserted that the difficulty of learning classical languages has protected the field from “shrieking harpies” and “politicized deformations.” In The Catholic Thing, David Warren proposed a Latin newspaper called “Briefs to Princes” that would be “a little elitist island of sanity and spiritual calm.” It would be written in Latin because “anything that could be read by almost anyone would be too dangerous.” Proponents of this brand of elitism attempt to trivialize calls for inclusivity by branding them a  “slow-motion surrender to the forces of faddishness.” 

Advocacy for equal educational opportunities is not a fad. It should be our common goal. Instead, the elitism of Classics is actively maintained at the secondary level through coded messaging, inadequate instructional material, ineffective pedagogical practices, and institutional complicity. When I tell people I teach Latin, the three most common responses I receive are decontextualized morphology (“Amo, amas amat…”); comments that frame the main value of Classics as college and career preparation (“That is great for future doctors and lawyers! And SAT scores!”); and, misguided, inaccurate platitudes about the origins of civilization (“Ancient Rome is the foundation of the world!”). Even inside of the field, Latin is intentionally marketed as a social differentiator in promotional flyers, material provided by professional organizations, information on the websites of post-secondary institutions, and entire classes. These messages are an invitation to Latin for some students and a “Do Not Enter” sign for others.

Secondary teaching materials reinforce these exclusionary narratives. The majority of secondary textbooks provide an unnecessarily narrow– and often inaccurate– glimpse into ancient Roman life by centering the experience of elite, fair-skinned people. Worse, many resources promote ideas that have been eradicated from other subject areas. Here are just two examples. In Ecce Romani Davus is relieved after he is purchased by a benevolent master in an anecdote that overtly perpetuates an antebellum trope used to justify the institution of slavery. Cambridge, another popular text, frames the objectification and exploitation of an enslaved woman as a source of comic relief.* The narrative even casts in a humorous light the jealousy of her enslaver’s wife, a heartbreaking scenario reminiscent of Harriet A. Jacobs’ personal experience, described in her 1835 autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.** Textbooks are rife with problematic content that prioritizes nostalgia over actual history, a larger trend poet Regie Gibson identified in the context of American history. 

Too many stakeholders accept and even defend this system and resulting segregation in the name of ‘rigor,’ sending the offensive message that marginalized students are not only unable to learn Latin, but that their presence in the Latin classroom hinders the academic progress of their more privileged peers. As long as the academy remains silent, these troubling mindsets and racialized barriers will persist.

There are many secondary Latin teachers committed to making sure students of all academic, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds have equal access to their programs. We are doing this work by creating alternate materials and challenging problematic narratives in existing materials so that our students feel seen in the curriculum; amplifying the perspectives and experiences of our students; and, updating our pedagogical practices so that privilege is not a prerequisite for success. We are doing this work in the absence of clear leadership and without the benefit of collaboration with our colleagues in other corners of the field. Our efforts can remedy problems in individual schools, but will do little to correct long-standing, institutional failures without action-oriented leadership from the academy.

Although secondary teachers are the front lines of the battle against discrimination and exclusivity in the field, this scourge has been presented as an exclusively post-secondary problem that post-secondary Classicists alone will solve. By the time students arrive to college campuses, many have already received the message that Classics are for affluent white students. If post-secondary classes like Princeton’s much-maligned Latin 110 lack diversity, it is a symptom of a much larger problem. Underrepresentation at the post-secondary level is just one result of a racialized system that restricts access to Classics and informs perceptions about the field even among students who have never set foot in a Latin classroom.

For too long, the academy has ignored secondary teachers as a logical resource for bringing about systemic, pervasive change. If Classical Studies today belongs to all of humanity, then it is our most basic duty to make sure that students have equal access to Classics. We cannot do this as a segmented, factionalized field. We must work together.

Here are some ways the academy can start to bring about a more expansive future of Classics and eradicate longstanding, institutional injustices:

1) Formally denounce systems, practices, policies, and rhetoric that deny children access to Classics, especially where programs are currently available and do not reflect the demographics of their schools and communities.

2) Establish and disseminate anti-racist expectations for secondary Classics. Set the explicit expectation that all children should be afforded the opportunity to study Classics in schools where programs exist.

3) Investigate the problem. Who studies Latin? Disproportional access is an open secret. Currently, the College Board is the only source of easily accessible information on racial disparities in secondary Classics. Since only a small fraction of Latin students take the AP Latin exam, most of the evidence we have for this problem is anecdotal.  It is time to define the problem in a more formal way. The Joint Committee on the Classics in American Education (an initiative of the SCS and ACL) should lead the way on this.

4) Share power with secondary teachers. If we condemn elitism and exclusion, there should not be elitism and exclusion when it comes to identifying and solving problems embedded in the field.

 

Footnotes

* “Caecilius ancillam spectat. ancilla est pulchra. ancilla ridet. ancilla Caecilium delectat. venalicius quoque ridet. ‘Melissa cenam optimam coquit,’ inquit venalicius. ‘Melissa linguam latinam discit. Melissa est docta et pulchra. Melissa…’ ‘satis! satis!’ clamat Caecilius. Caecilius Melissam emit et ad villam revenit. Melissa Grumoniem delectat. Melissa Quintum delectat. eheu! ancilla Metellam non delectat.”

Caecilius watches a slave woman. The slave woman is beautiful. The slave woman laughs. The enslaved woman pleases Caecilium. The slave seller also laughs. “Melissa cooks the best dinner,” says the slave seller. Melissa is learning Latin. Melissa is educated and beautiful. Melissa…” “Enough! Enough!” shouts Caecilius. Caecilius buys Melissa and returns to the house. Melissa pleases Grumio. Melissa pleases Quintus. The slave woman does not please Metella.

**Instead of making light of Jacobs’ ordeal, Teaching Tolerance suggests this question in a lesson for middle and high school students: “To what extent did the prevalence of sexual assault on the plantation contradict the white supremacist vision? To what extent did it align with that vision?”

 BNF, Français 1537, fol. 27v[1] 

Dani Bostick teaches high school Latin and an occasional micro-section of ancient Greek in Virginia where she lives with her husband, children, and muppet-like dogs. She has published many collections of Latin mottoes online, has a strong presence as an activist for survivors of sexual violence on twitter, and is available to write, speak, or rabble-rouse.