Tag: diversity

Ancient Slavery, a lesson plan

In a recent post, I commented on a difference between ancient slavery and the modern, American antebellum slavery: racism. Race was not a major factor in ancient slavery. But, how do we convince students of that?

This semester, in Roman history, I spent an entire day on Roman slavery and the growth of slavery during the Late Republic, so that they could understand the (perceived) economic problems confronted by the Gracchi. Since I wanted students to learn about many aspects of ancient slavery, and since the best way to understanding another culture’s ideology and thoughts is their writings, I developed several stations with various primary sources (Slavery Primary Sources): Cato’s De Agricultura on how to run a farm, Varro on which slaves to buy to be herdsmen, Livy and Strabo on how Romans obtained slaves from war and pirates, Horace about a slave auction, legal sources about fugitive slaves, and the plan of a first century BCE slave villa. The students spent about 5 minutes looking at each document and attempting to complete the Slavery Stations Worksheet before they looked at the next document. For each document, in addition to document-specific questions, students needed to make two decisions: (1) if the author’s thoughts about slavery were motivated by economic profit, and (2) if the author’s thoughts were motivated by racism or ideas about ethnicity.

In a very brief, rushed moment at the end of the class, to bring everything together and drive home points about slavery, economic profit, and racism, I asked if Roman slavery was motivated by racism to which my entire class provided a resounding “No!” When asked if it was motivated by economic profit, they shouted a resounding “Yes!” (Cf. The Half has Never Been Told on American slavery and capitalism). The following class, we went into a little more depth, reviewing the documents to discuss the conditions of ancient slaves (Had the class period been longer, this would have followed the two debriefing questions). Overall, this was a very good, thorough introduction to Roman slavery and practice of historical methods–and much better than if we had discussed an article or I lectured to them about it.

  • Side Note: As noted above, this lesson plan was motivated by a desire to show the historical reality: that Roman slavery did not involve racial thinking. In addition to the academic responsibility of making this point, I was also motivated by a concern for modern social justice (and thoughts on sensitive topics): to show that racism is man-made, it is not natural, and it is not inherently connected to slavery. In this regard, I think this lesson was successful. I do not think it was necessarily (or is inherently) successful at helping students identify or eliminate any racial thinking they might have, nor do I think this lesson was necessarily (or is inherently) successful at helping students understand the social and economic status of black people in the United States today. To get close to accomplishing that goal, I still think that something about Roman freedmen would need to be included, but that is a problem I am still contemplating (See an earlier attempt and a reflection on its inability to fully help students understand instances of police violence against black people).

Grading English Language Learners’ Writing

This semester, I’m teaching more international students than I have in the past. Since some of them do not always have the best English, it raises a question: how do I grade their writing? How much do I focus on their ideas and how much do I focus on their ability to communicate their ideas and arguments? While this problem is not unique to international students, it is particularly important when the students seem to only have been studying English for a year or two rather than a decade or two with native speakers.

Personally, I find it ethically problematic to significantly punish students because they cannot communicate their ideas because they do not know our language. But how do I know what aspects of their paper are unclear due to a language barrier and what is off due to confusion, bad ideas, or problematic interpretations?  This semester, most of my international students with poor English are from China, so I was particularly happy to stumble across this explanation of Chinese language while preparing a class about ancient China:

Chinese is almost the opposite [of Japanese]. The word order is closer to English, with the verb coming before the object (e.g., “I read [a] book”). The Chinese language is also completely uninflected, having no tenses or plurals or any grammatical modification of word endings whatsoever. Honorifics, for the most part, are absent: Chinese is not a respect language. Chinese is also monosyllabic, at least to the extent that every Chinese character (written symbol), without exception, is pronounced as a single syllable and is a discrete unit of meaning. (Chris Holcombe, A History of East Asia: From the Origins of Civilization to the Twenty-First Century, 1st edition, 2011, p. 16)

From this, I think that, when grading the writing of students whose first language is Chinese and who are still learning English, we can be a bit more lenient about tenses and the inflection of plurals. Spelling, too, may also be a problem while adjusting to the Latin alphabet.  Additionally, many sentences are likely going to be pretty short and simple–just as our Latin sentences rarely approach Cicero’s in length or complexity. With these cautious allowances, I think we could be fairer to our students as they struggle with learning a complex language. Of course, they may require us to do more work to decode our students’ papers–and in some ways our Latin learning and teaching experiences have helped prepare us very well for that task–and that provides other grading dilemmas regarding what is their idea and what is our [creative?] reading of their paper (It’s worth noting that we also face the problem of decoding some native English students’ papers).

I’m not saying we shouldn’t gently encourage them to improve their English–I think we should. I think we should also encourage them, along with all other students, to seek out the help of an on-campus writing center, learning center, or a peer editor. I just think we shouldn’t excessively punish them because they aren’t a skilled native speaker.  So how much is fair to deduct from their scores due to grammatical and syntactical problems? Perhaps a few points, just like you would with a native English speaker. After all, their papers will probably already suffer if a language barrier diminishes their ability to understand their sources, so avoiding double jeopardy seems fair.

Essentially, I suggest that we should not treat them worse than you would a native English speaker. Provide them with similar advice, resources, and guidance about writing. Deduct similar, reasonable amounts of points for grammar mistakes, but put more effort into trying to understand their writing and ideas by understanding how English and Chinese differ. That may help us see through some of the fog that clouds our vision of their ideas and help us arrive at a more authentic and appropriate grade.

Towards ethical social justice education

Last Tuesday’s election and its aftermath encouraged me to look into something that I had been considering for a while now: how do I ethically encourage students to act in a more socially just way?

There is a fair amount of literature on social justice education, and I present here my findings from an initial bit of research into this question.  First, it seems that a lot of social justice literature is focused on structural or systemic issues relating to making sure that all students have equitable and fair access to a high quality education.  Everson and Bussy succinctly describe the issue:

Lack of knowledge about social justice does not excuse leaders [or teachers] from responsibility for it. Leaders [or teachers] who are unaware or uninformed about equity and fairness issues, which they face every day, still live with the moral imperative that is embedded in their jobs. (p. 178)

To learn more about equity and fairness issues, and to improve my own understanding of marginalized groups, I have begun reading several books on these lists:

But what about my behavior in the classroom? What can I do in the classroom in order to encourage social justice and give my students an equitable, fair education that also teaches them to respect their fellow classmates for all their diversities?

I worry about these questions because I do not want to indoctrinate unquestioning students or be accused of presenting a liberal bias, and I do not want make students who may need to hear these messages shut down to this message or for the entire course.  A useful framework for thinking about social justice education is proposed by Kathy Hytten, improved by Rebecca Taylor, and summarized here.

Everything we do as teachers–the texts and assignments we assign, the lessons and activities we lead, the relationships we cultivate, the way we respond to student questions, the atmosphere in our classroom, and the messages we send implicitly and explicitly–send a message that either reinforces or undermines normative behavior.  Therefore, social justice educators consider all of these factors to promote socially just and democratic values: concern for the common good, for minority rights, and for minority dignity; responsibility towards others; faith in the ability to solve problems; and belief in the importance of critical reflection, open flow of ideas, and assessing information. To encourage these values, teachers ask students to analyze and take positions on issues, and they challenge racism, sexism, classism, heteronormativity, etc. While challenging students to consider important issues or reconsider their normative behavior, teachers make students uncomfortable.

In response to the discomfort, and even suffering, that some students (especially those from dominant cultural positions) experience in social justice classes, Boler (2004a) and Conklin (2008) argued that we need to replace their felt sense of loss with compassion and with critical hope. Here they are gesturing toward an ethics of social justice teaching, one that at least initially honors the perspectives, however flawed, that students bring to their own learning and that validates them as multidimensional, complex, unfinished, and potentially thoughtful people. Moreover, such an ethic entails pedagogical relationships and practices of openness, careful attention, observation, dialogue, caring, and humility. It requires that teachers provide alternative ways of seeing and being that students can productively adopt, without feeling mired in guilt and blame. There is no doubt that responding to the challenge of resistant students is an important part of an ethics for activist teaching, and that this is never an easy task. This is especially true when it consumes an inordinate amount of teacher emotional labor and when allowing significant space for resistant students can (however inadvertently) actively harm marginalized students who may be silenced in the very same classrooms where teachers are attending to these privileged students. However, there is more that social justice teachers need to think about in terms of teacher ethics than navigating discomfort and engaging resistance. (Hytten, p. 4)

Hytten and Taylor suggest that teachers consider and adopt certain virtues of socially just teachers:

  • Reflective humility. This trait requires us to critically self-reflect on our own experiences: when are we frustrated or defensive? Then examine these situations from multiple perspectives so that we can better understand what is happening and challenge our own convictions. A similar and related virtue is:
  • Open-mindedness. This is an attitude that requires us to listen to multiple perspectives, new facts, and new explanations. A key component of this virtue is the recognition that our own ideas and beliefs might be wrong, so we should be on the look-out for better beliefs and ideas. As an ethical social justice teacher, then, you would share that your beliefs may be wrong and you are examining your own practices along with the students, and you would make sure that you discuss a variety of perspectives, as well as their pros and their cons, in class.
  • Sympathetic attentiveness. A sympathetically attentive person tries to understand someone else’s ideas and where they come from, even/especially if we disagree with them. From there, we could offer compelling alternatives, how limited the ideas may be, or see how it is actually a better idea than our own.  If we try to understand our students, we are much more likely for them to be open to us and to new ideas.

Related to these is the virtue of empathy, which takes it beyond a purely academic mindset and into an emotional one too. Additional virtues may be general calmness (except when outrage needs to be expressed), patience, trustworthiness, integrity, sincerity, and self-knowledge. Taylor offers a useful way to determine if these virtues are actually beneficial virtues to exhibit as a social justice teacher and try to teach to our students:

  1. What is the virtue? Virtues are intellectual or moral, and they are something that is pursued because of their intrinsic value. In this system, it is important to understand what exactly a person who exhibits this virtue would do.
  2. How does it relate to the idea of social justice? Does it encourage social justice or not?
  3. What are the internal or external conditions for its success? She highlights the idea that virtues may have external barriers (i.e. school and systemic barriers) and internal barriers (i.e. within the teachers). For example, with open-mindedness, a teacher may be too arrogant and think that, because he reached a certain conclusion the first time he considered an issue, it must be true.  Alternatively, the teacher may be too cowardly and not want to examine his own assumptions so he avoids reconsidering them. Essentially, this step is asking you to continuously reconsider how to exhibit and practically teach this virtue, including overcoming internal obstacles to it.

Like with other ethical guidelines, these do not necessarily tell you how to behave in every situation, but they are ways to guide your thoughts about how to act. In a way, this lack of prescription is nice because ethics are something you need to think about deeply and develop for yourself, just like social justice teachers ask their students to do.

Works Cited

Expanding the Canon

The Washington Post has a recent story quoting part of Emily Smith’s speech when she received the 2015 Donald H. Graves Excellence in the Teaching of Writing.  Smith, a Language Arts teacher, changed some of the texts that her students read after a student challenged her.  The student said she “couldn’t understand because [she was] a white lady.”  Her privilege as a white person, she admits, did hinder her understanding–and she points out that most teachers are white and not representative of the student body.  Nevertheless, she could offer empathy.  After this challenge, she changed how she taught.  She still taught students how to write and how to annotate poetry and songs, but she used new texts to teach these skills.  She used texts that students in her “urban” school wanted to look at and that resonated with them: Latino culture, the Syrian crisis and migration, and their life struggles.  They have also worked with StoryCorps podcasts.  She describes her motivation (and calls us to action):

So as I stand here today I can declare that I am no longer a language arts and social studies teacher, but a self-proclaimed teacher of social justice and the art of communication with words.

Looking back, I think that my prior hesitation to talk about race stemmed from a lack of social education in the classroom. A lack of diversity in my own life that is, by no means, the fault of my progressive parents, but rather a broken and still segregated school system. Now that I’m an educator in that system, I’ve decided to stand unflinching when it comes to the real issues facing our children today, I’ve decided to be unafraid to question injustice, unafraid to take risks in the classroom — I am changed. And so has my role as a teacher.

I can’t change the color of my skin or where I come from or what the teacher workforce looks like at this moment, but I can change the way I teach. So I am going to soapbox about something after all. Be the teacher your children of color deserve. In fact, even if you don’t teach children of color, be the teacher America’s children of color deserve, because we, the teachers, are responsible for instilling empathy and understanding in the hearts of all kids. We are responsible for the future of this country.

So teach the texts that paint all the beautiful faces of our children and tell the stories of struggle and victory our nation has faced. Speak openly and freely about the challenges that are taking place in our country at this very moment. Talk about the racial and class stereotypes plaguing our streets, our states, our society. You may agree that black and brown lives matter, but how often do you explore what matters to those lives in your classroom?

Her goal is to examine stereotypes and their effects, to examine issues important to her students, and to talk about our national struggle.  So how does this work for teaching about an ancient civilization?  What strategies can use to respond to Emily Smith’s call to action?

The more I thought about this question, the more I realized that Matt Ballou, an art professor at Mizzou, had an answer in his blogpost: “Maintaining Momentum For Change At Mizzou” which I quote in its entirety:

One of the big issues that has come up in the days following the protests is what can be done to keep the momentum going. The protests and interventions that took place this semester are intertwined with a huge number of categories, among which are:

  • Race and gender.
  • The rights of all students and the proper remuneration for graduate students in particular.
  • The failures of a business mindset in a university setting.
  • The responsibilities of administrators to deal with racial and gender-based discrimination.
  • The necessity of recruiting, mentoring, and retaining students and faculty of color.
  • The proactive development of the University of Missouri as a place where students and faculty of every kind can feel safe, heard, and valued.

We’ve got a long way to go. The national media certainly pigeonholed the protests and reduced the reality of what is, and has been, happening at Mizzou down to overly simplified binaries. They wanted to pitch free speech against racial tension. They wanted to make it seem as if the grievances that were being aired amounted only to vapid temper tantrums of spoiled millennials. They cast the reality of racially-based aggression as fantasy. They collapsed over two years of issues into a couple scattered spats about imagined racism. All of that was wrong.

So in the wake of all of this, how are we to be clear about the problems we face, the progress we’ve already made, and stay the course on the work yet to be done? These were the sorts of questions Dr. Maya Gibson had in mind a couple days ago when she posted on her Facebook wall. I met Maya at the Wakonse Conference in May of 2015, and that was one of the most compelling aspects of the event. Getting to hear from her then, and having the pleasure of a few interactions with her since then, made me want to add my voice to the others who were posting their answers on Dr. Gibson’s Facebook wall. I decided to post the questions Maya asked and my answers here to get a chance to express these thoughts out beyond Facebook.

Maya Gibson: Dear white MU friends and allies: what do you think MU could do to make it a more welcoming place for black people (students, faculty, and the COMO community)?

Matt Ballou: One of the main things I have been doing is curating the canon of art history and art-making techniques. Rather than defaulting to 12 or 15 dead white males, I strive to show the work of artists in ways that empower my students. That means showing artists of color, artists of underrepresented genders and gender-expressions, and artists of different abilities and disabilities. That means talking about these examples as Artists and Thinkers, not as some label or hyphenation that could be used to disqualify their contribution. Students need to see themselves in the classroom, in the examples that are presented in the classroom. They need to know the possibilities for THEM.

I don’t view this as fulfilling some quota – I see it as part of the central aims of my work as an educator: to provide and advocate for ACCESS. Most of my students are female; they deserve to see the true breadth of approach to art-making that’s out there and know the significant contributions of women throughout time.

I could keep going… I think this is what I’m trying to do in the classroom to keep the movement going. When they see the institution respecting people they relate to and who look like them, they can believe that the institution – or at least ME – is on their side.

MG: Thanks, Matt. If you can keep your list going, I would encourage you to do so. I am learning and I hope others are too. What are specific things you do to make Mizzou a welcoming and safe place for black students, faculty, and the greater-MU community? I love that you are proactive in the ways in which you shape and recreate the canon for your students. You’re actively resisting the model of euro- and ethnocentrism that comprises so much (western) art pedagogy. We have that problem in music, too. I also have to say that I greatly appreciate the way in which you’ve advanced a notion of diversity writ large. Do you encounter resistance, and if so, how do you handle it?

MB: In terms of specific things, here is one big thing:

I always try to engage with others in such a way that they – and anyone observing the interaction – believe I think they are real. One of the biggest issues I have with most discussions in the public sphere and in the media is that they can so easily dilute the REAL lives, REAL experiences, and REAL perspectives of REAL people. So whether it’s informal – walking past an acquaintance on the sidewalk – or more formal – in a critique session in class – I want to concretely show that I believe in the truth of others’ existence. This means, for example, thoughtfully building on the comments of my colleagues of color during a graduate review. That may seem small, but it shows my white students that I affirm the things my colleague is saying and it demonstrates for my black/minority/female students that I listen when an African American woman speaks. They can see clearly that I hear that voice. It may seem little, but this sort of courtesy does, I think, make a difference.

Obviously it’s complex, but I think the idea I shared above about curating the canon and then following that up with visible positive engagement with my colleagues and students helps create an environment where welcoming other voices and actually hearing them can build a safe space and a more legitimate learning space.

In general I don’t personally get resistance. I think that’s a reflection of my privilege. I’m a pudgy white dude who looks semi-homeless half the time; no one questions the legitimacy of what I say or how I look. But I have heard about a number of situations where the appearance and ability to communicate of my female and minority colleagues have come under question. And that’s bullshit right there. When I talk about black artists, no one questions. But I have known of situations where black colleagues of mine have been accused of being shrill or having an ax to grind when they bring up the exact same artists in the exact same sort of situation. That’s bullshit. So my job is to recognize that difference between my experience and their experience and state my support for them. They didn’t do anything wrong, yet students felt it appropriate for them to give these educators a hard time. That’s bullshit. So, yes, there is resistance… We need to be vigilant.

Another thing I’ve tried to do is speak to my students – the majority of which are female and many of which are minorities of various sorts – as if they know what they are doing. They are used to professors talking down to them. I don’t do that. Some times they really don’t know what they are doing but they need someone to look at them with respect and ask them questions and make observations like they ARE already accomplished. And THAT will go a long way toward them actually becoming accomplished. This is exactly what happened to me. My main professors treated me like an artist and thinker long before I was actually there. And that’s why I have had some success. So I pay attention to my students in such a way that they hear the message that their lives are important and they can do this thing I’ve set before them.

MG: Thank you for seeing, acknowledging, and recognizing me, which is what I want more than anything. I have grown weary of being negated, silenced, and rejected by the majority, some of whom are so-called, supposed-to-be colleagues. Thank you for modeling for students how to treat people. Thank you for slapping the mess out of my hand when I raise it (at least it’s grounding). In short, thank you for being you.


I realize that this is just one conversation among all of the ones that have happened in and around Mizzou over the last semester. I hope that in some small way my clarification of my own attempts to be an educator who advocates for his students can help. God knows we don’t need more white dudes mansplaining, but I wanted to honor what I saw as Dr. Gibson’s serious and heartfelt request to her white colleagues. The primary thing I have learned throughout all of this is that LISTENING is one of the primary ways I can be an ally. Over and over I’ve seen Maya and other African American friends say “LISTEN” when the cacophony of viewpoints swirled up, when weird racist stuff crowded in and fostered disunity. Listen. Hear.

Listen. For me, part of listening well and preparing myself to hear well is having a strategy. What I wrote in response to Maya’s questions above amounts to my strategy as an educator to create a space for listening to my students and hearing their perspectives. LISTEN.

Let’s start now, and listen to Nina Simone…

A lot of this post rung true for me, which is why I quoted it in full, but the idea of expanding the canon (and why it is important) comes through in both Ballou’s post and Smith’s speech.  So what ancient texts and documents can we use to expand the ancient canon?Ostia Synagogue torah shrine drawing.gif

  • The books of Macabees, Philo, and Josephus, and ancient remains of synagogues show the Jewish experience — rather than just the frieze celebrating the conquest of the Jews on the Arch of Titus
  • Sappho, Sulpicia, and other female poets offer the voices of women — these could be paired interestingly with poems like Catullus’s elegy or Ovid’s Heroides or Art of Love to discuss perceptions of women
  • Plato’s Symposium, Athenian ideas of pederasty, and other love poems and stories offer a different construct than the modern hetero-, bi-, homosexual spectrum.
  • Funeral monuments, Greek novels, and Petronius’s Satyricon offer literary glimpses into the lives of poorer people rarely attested in our literary sources
  • Archaeological remains from any region show the non-Roman, non-Greek cultures that the Romans and Greeks interacted with, and dominated
  • Martyrs’ stories, the Church Fathers, and discussion of ancient churches can offer a contrast to paganism — similarly discussing paganism can offer a contrast to many students’ modern experiences

Carefully guided discussion and writing assignments paired with these texts or material culture are another way to expand the canon so that it incorporates more view points.  You could even ask students what topics or parts of life they want to hear about or are more concerned with.  Do they want to learn about ancient sexuality? engineering? economics? race? social status? imperialism? daily life? love? family? travel? holidays? religion? What drives them? What will pique their interest?

Stereotype threat

“Stereotype threat is being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s group,” according to Steele and Aronson 1995 who first defined this phenomenon. This sad phenomenon causes people to think along these lines, for example: “I am a girl. Girls are stereotypically bad at math, so I am bad at math.” Then this belief plays out in real life and the student performs worse than the dominant group. Students suffering from the stereotype threat perform poorly in tests or in class, discount the assessment or goals of the assessment, and/or become disenchanted with a class or field of study. This low performance seems to be due to anxiety, stress, emotional regulation, and performance regulation that distract from the task at hand; and this can in turn lead to inequality and segregated fields–or different preferences in one’s life because this does not apply only to school. This is a very important concern for Classics, a field dominated by white people.

Who is vulnerable to stereotype threat?

Everyone is vulnerable to stereotype threat, whether the stereotype has positive or negative connotations. If someone identifies as part of a social group, and that group has a stereotype about their performance in a particular field, their performance in that field is more likely to be affected by the stereotype, especially if it is highlighted somehow, such as on a questionnaire before a standardized test. The more one identifies with that group or has been stigmatized because of their identity in that group, the more pronounced the effects of stereotype threat may become.  Similarly, people who care more about success in a particular field are more likely to be affected by the stereotypes related to that field–this is not to say we should encourage students to care less but be aware of this stereotype threat.

There are some other interesting  factors for who is vulnerable. Ironically, students who are more proactive about overcoming the stereotype may be more likely to suffer from stereotype threat. Students who use their sense of humor to cope with negative events and who have a positive self-image are more likely to resist stereotype threat.  People with a high education level are less susceptible to stereotype threat–so we should be most aware of this with students in lower grade levels and in introductory courses.

And of course, stereotype threat is only a factor if people are aware of stereotypes related to thheir group. Children tend to learn more of these stereotypes between ages 6 and 11.

What situations trigger stereotype threat?

  • Asking about membership in a stereotyped group before an evaluation
  • Making the test-taker aware of a stereotype through subtle means, such as having a white examiner or grader evaluate a black student’s language abilities (Black students perform as well as white students when the examiner is black).
  • When a student is the only member of a minority group in the room during an evaluation that the stereotype might claim that student would do poorly on. Is the one student of color in a college Classics course an example of this?
  • The description of the task recalls or alludes to the stereotype.
  • Students are being evaluated, especially when the test is said to evaluate their intelligence or the limits of their abilities.

How do we reduce the effects of stereotype threat?

  • Cast the task or test in a light that doesn’t recall stereotypes. A unit test or final exam is, by its nature, diagnostic but we can say that it is fair for all sexes and races.
  • Not ask about students’ sex and racial identities until after the test, if at all.
  • Encourage students to identify as a member of a not stereotyped group. For example, call a class of students “Latinists” or “historians.” This positive title may encourage them to do better on the test or tasks too–a positive stereotype threat.
  • Encourage students to think of themselves as more complex people than “Boy” or “Girl” or “White” or “Black” or “Hispanic” or “Asian,” etc.
  • Give students the ability to self-affirm and say what they are good at throughout the semester to counteract the negative effects of stereotype threat. This is similar to encouraging metacognition.
  • When giving feedback, try to avoid playing into the stereotype threat. Instead, offer positive feedback and encouragement. Say that while you hold students to high standards, you believe that students can meet them.
  • Provide role models that work against the stereotype. These role models may be the teacher, the person administering the test, or the subject of an essay (such as a famous female archaeologist).
  • Explain why students may feel anxiety and attribute it to an outside source, such as stereotypes that don’t reflect students’ abilities or the stressful time of middle school.
  • Emphasize how intelligence grows over time and with work, how the struggle is good for you.  This destroys the validity of a stereotype that assumes a students’ intelligence doesn’t ever change.  Similarly, downplaying “talent” and “genius” will also help students see that intelligence is about learning and the struggle.

The insights and ideas in this blog post are all summarized from this incredibly helpful website, Reducing Stereotype Threat, that has lots of links to studies on this phenomenon.

T. H. M. Gellar-Goad’s “How Learning Works in the Greek and Latin Classroom” Blog Posts

In June 2014, T. H. N. Gellar-Goad began a seven part series of blog posts for the Society of Classical Studies. These posts took the insights from How Learning Works by Susan Ambrose et al. and discussed how to apply these ideas to teaching Latin and Greek. The last post of the series was in July 2015. They are all excellent and helpful. I provide links to them below, especially because the SCS website has recently changed and old links may have become dead.

These are all very good posts, and I hope to return to many of the topics and ideas in these posts for my own classes and my future blog posts.

Encouraging equality and diversity

To partly recognize last week’s decision of the Supreme Court of the United States of America to make same-sex marriage legal throughout the country, I wanted to write something about equality.  So I looked across the pond to the United Kingdom where it is the law that teachers should proactively ensure that they do not discriminate against protected groups.  To help teachers with this, Susan Deacy has prepared Embedding equality and diversity in the curriculum: a classics practitioner’s guide.  It contains several suggestions, both anecdotal and in the form of case studies, about how to encourage students to accept diversity and think more in terms of equality regarding protected groups:

Here are some of her anecdotal suggestions:

  • do not simply include a unit on women, marginalized social groups, or people with disabilities in order to include them, but challenge some modern assumptions about these groups and delve into the ancient social status of these groups,
  • use many types of evidence so students see the value of different types of evidence,
  • have students work in activities (ex. an essay or a role-playing exercise) that encourage students to examine a topic through the perspective of a woman or slave, etc.,
  • encourage students to use facebook or wikis outside of class (Use this both to inform students about events related to Classics and for assignments.  For an assignment, ask students how they respond as modern readers and whether a reading, like Plato’s Symposium is unsettling (anonymity may allow for more honest and opinion reactions)),
  • develop assessments that encourage students’ willingness to express themselves and that are possible for students with disabilities such as dyslexia, and
  • to help explain city-states, have students vote as part of an activity.

Here are three activities that were discussed in depth that seem particularly good, both pedagogically and regarding equality and diversity:

  • Peer assisted learning groups.  The University of Bristol trained student mentors (2nd and 3rd year students) who led groups (aimed at 1st years and then opened to everyone) to discuss topics such as how to adjust to different teaching and assessment styles, how to develop and improve study skills, how to improve their understanding of course material, and how to better prepare for exams.  There was also a specific Latin class group.  These meetings were every other week and were scheduled at a convenient time (in the lunch period before the Latin class, for example), were useful personally, improved a sense of community, were pitched at the right level, and provided good study materials.  The study group program has since been expanded to several other departments at the university.
  • A class focused on disability in the ancient world.  The course used both disability studies perspectives and traditional historical analysis methods to understand constructions of dis/ability in the ancient world, how the disability was explained, what accommodations were made for people with disabilities, how people with disabilities were treated, and how did ideas about disability differ from today’s ideas.  The course examined the idea using many types of evidence to look at case studies including hearing impairment, mobility impairment, speech impairment, and visual impairment.  The course could be cross-listed with another department focused on disabilities, was enriched by the enrollment of at least one student with a speech impairment, and was so popular that the subsequent course on disability in Rome had twice the enrollment as the course on Greece.
  • Examining slavery and rape in a course on ancient comedy.  The course used the comic plays as social documents and contextualized issues like rape and slavery in order to challenge students’ perspectives.  The teacher had students act out some plays and read the lines.  In regards to slavery, it helped students see that slaves may be presented as smarter than their masters and how slaves could speak to two different groups at once.  This helped at least one student see how slaves and other subaltern characters could be reflected in plays.