salvēte iterum, amīcī et sodālēs … et inimīcī iam haec verba legentēs! Welcome back, all of you. Today we continue with our series of posts about culture and Culture, with more of an emphasis on the present and the future. We’ll also begin to explore the ways that culture and Culture relate to the Tres Columnae system. If you’re wondering why I’ve titled this series Columns of Culture(s), though, you’ll have to wait till tomorrow to find out. 🙂
First, though, a point of clarification in response to a recent comment by our faithful reader Laura G. She reminds us all that Latin and Classics are not synonymous. They’re certainly overlapping fields, but there’s a lot of non-Classical Latin to read (and hear, and write, and speak, and …), and there are lots of non-Latin elements to Classics (Greek, of course, and Sanskrit and Biblical Hebrew and archaeology and papyrology and epigraphy and …). As she said,
My biggest gripe with all of this is the equation of Latin studies WITH Classics – which is not an equation that matches my own encounter with Latin, and not an equation that matches the role of Latin in Catholic education, the importance of Latin in the history of music and art, and also the history of science, too, etc.
The Tres Columnae system is a “big tent,” and it can accommodate these other elements, too. But why is it so hard for us Classicists to acknowledge the non-Classical uses of Latin?
If you love something – and Classicists do often love Latin – I guess it’s natural to assume that everyone else who loves it, loves it just the way you do. Thanks to Laura for reminding us all that different lovers love differently! 🙂
Now back to our focus on the present and future of culture and Culture, as related to Latin and Classics. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a growing sense that the early twenty-first century is a very different time, that there’s been a shift from a modern, Enlightenment-based, rationalist worldview to a post-modern, post-Enlightenment, post-rationalist understanding. In fields from religion to business, new organizational forms emerge to reflect the new worldview. Our own culture and Culture are changing rapidly, so it only makes sense that we would reevaluate how we study the culture and Culture of other societies.
In our first post yesterday, I mentioned Jeff Howe’s book Crowdsourcing. While he traces the recent past as part of his argument, Howe is ultimately focused on the present and the future, of which he paints a rather bright picture … at least for industries that embrace “the power of the crowd,” or move “from the firm to the crowd” as an organizing principle.
For Howe, and for a lot of other writers about the changes in business, “the firm” – a hierarchical organization that keeps information under tight control and builds factories – is a relic of the Industrial Revolution. He says you obviously still need factories for things like steel, but you don’t need them for information, for entertainment, or for other areas where “the crowd” can come together and build things in a collaborative, interdependent way. Of course, with the Tres Columnae project, we’re trying to add education to the list of fields where “the crowd” or “the amateur” does a better job than “the firm” or “the professionals.”
As I mentioned yesterday, Howe traces the development of professionalism to its nineteenth-century roots. But he also notes that, on the undergraduate level and below, education today is still more about generalization than specialization. Specialists in one area often have deep interests, even passions, in other areas: that’s why there are so many people with the knowledge, the passion, and the free time to participate in projects like Wikipedia or iStockphoto or InnoCentive or the other “crowdsourcing” organizations he describes in the book.
Until recently, Howe notes, these interests and passions had to be expressed in private hobbies. But now people can pursue their passions in “crowds” or (as Seth Godin calls them) “tribes” or (as we call them) Joyful Learning Communities.
Given the ugly history and the current realities we’ve discussed, it’s completely understandable that “the firm” and “the professionals” of Latin and Classics have pushed culture and Culture to the margins of “serious” Latin instruction. And of course there are other good reasons for us professionals to de-emphasize culture and Culture. It’s difficult to come up with simple, satisfactory answers to questions like these in a time-scarce, production-line environment like a factory-model school:
- What time period – or periods – should be emphasized?
- How can we know enough about culture and Culture, anyway, since the people are all dead?
- How much detail should we include, and about what topics?
- How can we train teachers to “deliver instruction” about all the possible topics?
- How can we allocate scarce time and resources among the many topics that we might address if we had unlimited time?
In a factory system, it’s only natural to push aside a messy, difficult topic like culture and Culture, especially when there are clean, scientific, rational, easily-tested things like noun declensions or verb conjugations or literal translations we could spend time on instead. Besides, we say, those things are “more rigorous,” or “more central to the discipline,” or “more necessary if you really want to know Latin” anyway.
But at Tres Columnae, by the nature of our program, these messy questions are a lot less messy. After all, Tres Columnae is not a factory-model school. It’s not a face-to-face, time-limited, teacher-centered program; it’s an online, self-paced learning community.
And so the biggest difference is that the last question – the one about allocating scarce time and resources – simply isn’t relevant. For most of our participants, time isn’t unlimited, but it is under their control; in other words, they own their time, at least as it relates to their participation in Tres Columnae.
- One of the primary arguments in favor of homeschooling, at least if you follow what advocates say online, is that it gives “you” (the parent and the child) freedom to “go at your own pace” and to explore your interests in depth. For a family learning Latin together, the freedom is even greater, since different family members could choose to pursue different areas of interest, then share them with each other.
- For adult learners and re-learners, the only limitations on their time are self-imposed: “I want to be able to read this type of Latin text, this well, in this amount of time.”
- Even for school-based learners who use Tres Columnae, while their teachers may specify a goal (“To get credit for Latin I, you must finish Cursus Primus by the end of the school year”) and perhaps a minimum amount of time (“the principal says you must document 150 hours of seat time to get an academic credit”), no one can prevent them from exceeding these requirements, or from following their personal interests along the way.
Since Tres Columnae participants own their time, they also own a big part of their culture and Culture study. We’ll start them out on their journey, giving them some essential supplies, but as they travel they may discover a passionate interest in something we never imagined – like the details of aqueduct construction, or road maintenance, or public sanitation, or book-making, or the various types of lectīcae.
When that happens, we’ll encourage them to “run with” their new interest, to build stories around it, to collect links about it, and even to create exercises or quizzes about the links. In that way, the culture and Culture side of Tres Columnae builds ownership for our participants just like the stories, the illustrations, the audio, and the videos.
quid respondētis, amīcissimī? Does this seem like a good way to study culture and Culture? Are there “core cultural concepts” that everybody needs to learn – the “essential supplies” I mentioned earlier? If so, what are they, and how – and when – should we teach them? Should we combine a limited number of “core concepts” with the exploratory play I’ve been describing? Or should it be all core concepts, or all exploratory play?
Tune in next time for more details about exactly how the study of culture and Culture might happen – I say “might” because, in the end, it depends on the participants! In the meantime, please keep reading, and please keep those comments and emails coming.