AMHERST, Mass. - More than 350 Latin instructors from the U.S. and abroad will come, see and conquer misconceptions about the Classics when they meet at the University of Massachusetts for the 52nd annual American Classical League Institute Thurs., June 24 - Sat., June 26. Among the main highlights of the institute will be a series of workshops examining ways in which multicultural approaches to teaching have been used to create a renewed interest in the Classics. In addition, a pre-institute gathering June 23 will focus solely on "Teaching Race and Ethnicity in the Classics Classroom."
"For many years the Classics were seen as the province of ''dead white males,''" says Elizabeth Keitel, acting chair of the Classics department at UMass. "Through multicultural approaches to teaching we''ve been able to show this was in fact never true. The Classical world was a rich and diverse one, and when it is presented as such, students respond to the subject."
According to UMass Classics Professor Kenneth Kitchell, who will be participating in a panel on "Teaching Multiculturalism in the Roman Empire" Fri., June 25, interest in Latin began to decline nearly 30 years ago after it was eliminated widely as a required subject. From the outset, the national organization, the American Classical League, began exploring ways to make the Classics seem more relevant to a modern audience, and in recent years it has found great success largely as a result of multicultural approaches to teaching. "What this shows is that the nation''s Latin teachers are creative enough to realize they can use this ancient material and adapt it to reach out to today''s classrooms," says Kitchell. "The truth of the matter is they are only emphasizing what was always the case. But they''re doing so in such a way that it is appealing to modern students."
Kitchell points to a program at the University of Chicago as particularly emblematic of the results to be obtained from the multicultural approach. In the "Alexandria Project," Latin instructors were able to create interest in the Classics among inner-city youth in decaying neighborhoods surrounding the university by emphasizing the role of disenfranchised people in the Greek and Roman worlds. "If you walked into the Roman port of Ostia on any day you would see all sorts of people representing a wide variety of races and religions," says Kitchell. "I have a map in my office showing where the great Roman writers were from - and most of them were not from Italy. It was an extremely multicultural world and if we show it as such we can bring out the main point - that this is great literature and so transcends cultural boundaries."