Res Novae, IV

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today’s post continues our series from last week about Change on many different levels. If you’ve been a lēctor fidēlissimus for a while, you know that Change is a recurrent theme in these posts and in the Tres Columnae Project stories themselves. From time to time, we focus on

  • Changes in the small world of my face-to-face school and classroom;
  • Changes in the larger world of American education, and of teaching and learning in the 21st century more generally;
  • Changes that have taken place, over time, in the ways that Latin (and other subjects) are taught and learned; and, of course,
  • Changes in society, culture, and language over the past few millennia.

One of the great benefits of learning and teaching an ancient language and culture, meā quidem sententiā, is that it compels you to take a longer view. Especially in this time of rapid, systemic Change, it’s easy to get caught up in the Changes (and confusions and concerns) of the moment … and that sometimes makes us believe that current problems or concerns are universal and timeless even when they really aren’t. The perspective of a few centuries or millennia can be very helpful as a counterweight to this common tendency!

I’ve been reading an interesting new book called Waiting for “Superman”: How We Can Save America’s Failing Public Schools. It’s intended as a companion to the documentary film of the same name, which I haven’t seen yet (it’s supposed to open nationwide on September 24, though it’s apparently been shown – and won awards – at several film festivals already). I really hope it makes its way to my face-to-face world quite soon, or else I suppose I’ll have to find the DVD when that becomes available. If you’re not familiar with the film, it sets out to give both a big-picture look at the state of America’s schools and a small-picture, very human perspective through a focus on five families who are trying to get their children enrolled in charter schools or other alternatives to the unsatisfactory schools in their neighborhoods. I obviously can’t review a film I haven’t seen, but I’m really looking forward to this! I have seen the trailer, and it moved me deeply.

Anyway, having read about a third of the book, I came across a wonderful anecdote from a school leader who describes how she turned around a failing school by, among other things, inviting the students and families to suggest improvements that needed to be made. In our terms, she built a Learning Community (and it sounds like it was a pretty Joyful one, too) by offering Ownership to her students and families … and they responded with pleasure and with significantly increased academic achievement. And this was the kind of chronically unsuccessful neighborhood school, in a high-poverty urban school district, that many “enlightened” reformers would write off as “unfixable.” A leader who saw the school as “unfixable” would never have bothered to consult the community or to invite them to take Ownership … and, of course, the school most likely would have remained stuck in low performance and low expectations.

I realized as I was writing that “fixable” and “unfixable” are usually more in the eye of the beholder than they are inherent in an institution or situation. I’m reminded of a house I went to look at a few weeks ago … the one I menioned briefly as “Number 3” in this post last month. When it was previously listed for sale, the description began with the phrase, “Glorious ole lady needs rescue” … but, in fact, “glorious ole lady” needed to be completely gutted and rebuilt from the inside out. For my purposes, “glorious ole lady” was unfixable; that is, even at a bargain-basement price, I’m not willing to devote the time, money, and energy that would be needed for this “rescue.” But this recent New York Times article describes an equally troubled house that was “fixable” – and, in fact, was “rescued” and restored to beauty – by a buyer who did have the time, energy, and resources to devote to the job. Even in the world of physical objects, “fixable” and “unfixable” are mostly a matter of perspective.

There’s a wonderful quote attributed to Henry Ford: “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” Personally, I usually choose to think I can do the thing … or at least possibly can improve a chronically negative situation … and more often than not, I’ve been able to make at least some impact. And, of course, on those occasions when I think I can’t make any meaningful changes, I don’t have the energy or motivation to put forth the effort that would help changes happen. Whether it was crotchety old Mr. Ford or the prolific Anonymous who first uttered this sentiment, it’s helped me greatly as I try to navigate a world of rapid Change … and as I try to decide for myself whether a given Change is worth my attention and energy or not.

And speaking of Change, I had promised you a Tres Columnae Project story about a character who faces overwhelming Change today … so here we go! As you may recall, the characters we come to know and love in the stories of Cursus Prīmus are all living (though they don’t know it) under the shadow of the impending eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which will destroy-and-preserve Herculaneum along with Pompeii, Stabiae, and Oplontis in late August of 79 CE. I have deliberately avoided sharing most of the eruption stories – in fact, most of them don’t even appear on the Version Alpha Wiki site yet – but we did learn the fate of Flavius Caeso and his (current) mustēla in this post from last March. As we continue to think about Change, though, I’ll share a few selections from that part of Cursus Prīmus, including this bit about the fate of Valerius and Caelia:

hodiē māne Valerius et Caelia ante hōram prīmam surrēxērunt et anxiī inter sē in hortō domūs colloquēbantur. “mī marīte,” inquit Caelia, “quid facere vīs? utrum nōs decet in urbe manēre an Neāpolim iter facere Valeriam nostram vīsitātum?”

Valerius, “Caelia mea,” respondit, “deōs et māiōrēs hoc diū precibus vōtīsque rogō, nūllum tamen responsum datur. incertus igitur sum. quid mihi suādēs, uxor mea?”

Caelia diū tacēbat. montem Vesuvium intentē spectābat, sonitūsque audiēbat, tremōrēsque sentiēbat. tandem, “rem tōtam intellegere haud possum, mī marīte,” respondit. “quid tamen nōbīs accidet, sī Neāpolim iter faciēmus?”

“sine dubiō Valeria et marītus nōs laetissimī accipient,” respondit Valerius. “paucōs diēs cum illīs mōrātī, domum tūtī regredī poterimus, sī nihil malī accidet.”

“et quid nōbīs accidet,” inquit uxor, “sī hīc manēbimus?”

“nihil malī, sī tremōrēs nihil significant. sī autem tremōrēs pestem perniciemque significant …” Valerius tacēbat, quod vox dēficiēbat.

tandem Caelia “mī marīte,” respondit, “nōnne prūdentissimus es?”

et Valerius, “prūdentissimus? prūdēns certē! mihi placet cum tōtā familiā Neāpolim iter facere.”

quid respondētis, amīcī?

Tune in next time for more about Change … and sometime this week, we might just learn the fate of the family of Rīdiculus mūs. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

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Published in: on September 13, 2010 at 10:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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