As the end of the school year draws closer, both students and teachers are thinking about transitions and rites of passage. What does the future hold? And what did it hold for the Tres Columnae Project characters we’ve come to know and love? For the upper-level class, so full of seniors who will be making a major transition soon, it’s oddly comforting to follow Aeneas on his journey into the Underworld; many of them probably wish they had a dead relative who could reveal the future and give them helpful advice.
Since this was Prom Weekend, it was hard to focus on things as the week came to an end. For the Latin II classes, Friday was (theoretically) a day of reading practice, reflection on cultural connections, and (possibly) starting work on their first Minor Assessment of this last reporting period. Most of us did manage to read the new story – not yet published on the Tres Columnae Project site, it reveals the (sad) history of Valerius’ faithful, but easily-distracted cook Gaillicus. Many of us were able to focus on the Question Cube activity with the two stories (this one and this one) we’d read on Thursday. Some of us even managed to read this last story in Lectiō XXVI, where Gallicus meets, and seems to be rather interested in, the servant his masters acquired to replace loyal Casina. But hardly anyone had the mental energy to start working on the detailed character analysis and story creation that make up Minor Assessment #1.
And I really wasn’t surprised. It had been a long, sometimes challenging week, and – as the upper-level class reminded me Friday afternoon – The Prom is one of the few rites of passage our society seems to recognize and value. What could be (and, at its heart, really just is) a happy evening of dressing up and dancing with friends takes on a huge, mythic significance. And, of course, there’s the inevitable let-down when the reality doesn’t live up to the mythic significance. On Saturday night, I saw a lot of happy dancers, some lovely outfits, and some outfits I wouldn’t exactly call lovely. But I also saw a number of sad, disappointed looking young people whose dreams of … something or other … had evidently been shattered by the reality of hotel ballroom, hotel catering, a few decorations, and a DJ.
I’d rather not talk about Ms. X and Mr. Y. They were there – faculty at our school are required to do a two-hour prom-supervision shift – but everything from their body language to their dress sent a powerful message that, I’m sure, they would have denied any awareness of. I wonder: is it worse to know you’re sending a negative message, but send it anyway, or to send one unconsciously and obliviously? What do you think?
And I also wonder about the sad, disappointed students. What specific expectations of theirs got dashed, and how? After two decades of being an adult observer at proms, it’s hard to know or remember. We should have some time, though, on Monday to talk about it if people want or need to. We’ll be working on those Minor Assessments for most of our time together, and as they build stories about what happened to the boy Lollia seemed to be destined to marry, or what happens after Valeria and Vipsanius get marry, or what – if anything – takes place between Gallicus and Dulcissima, rites of passage will be a natural focus of conversation. They’ll also be a natural focus for the upper-level class as we begin to wrap up our work with selections from Books VI and VIII of Vergil’s Aeneid, where Aeneas – in a story-line fraught with implications for rites of passage and life transitions – first visits the Underworld to talk with his dead father, then receives a divinely crafted shield that shows the broad sweep of (for him) future Roman history.
For Romans, and for many traditional cultures, rites of passage were relatively clear-cut. As my students will discover soon, Roman boys went through an adulthood ceremony on the feast of Liberalia closest to their 15th birthdays, and Roman girls made a transition on the morning of their wedding day. A few generations ago, when American society was (or was seen as) more homogeneous than it is now, there was also a “typical” – and relatively rapid – progression from childhood to adulthood. But today? Not so much. As long ago as 2010, the New York Times Magazine ran a lengthy article about the newish phenomenon of “emerging adulthood,” and Dr. Jeffrey Arnett of Clark University, who apparently invented the term, has published widely about what he sees as a new developmental stage, in between adolescence and full adulthood, that’s developed in post-industrial society just as adolescence itself developed in the industrial era. There’s even a biennial conference on the subject of emerging adults, and we’ve started a lively Google+ discussion about educational implications.
Poor Ms. X and Mr. Y, who may have contributed to the emerging adult phenomenon by the way they control and infantilize their students, might well respond with yelling and labeling to the notion of such a social change. For them, things have “always” been the way they’ve “always” been – and when you ask questions, “always” means “the way I idealized my childhood, or a few years before that, in my golden memories.” But if you take a longer perspective – if you look at the cultural expectations of fourteen- to eighteen-year-olds in the Roman world or even the American Revolutionary era and compare them with our current expectations – it’s clear that life stages are quite different in different historic eras. What are the implications for a joyful learning community of this new phase of emerging adulthood? How does emerging adulthood affect adolescence and childhood? And what will we need to do to welcome emerging adults, too, into joyful community?