What If We Considered Restitution

My Latin colleagues and I have been studying and reflecting on the work of Dr. Christopher Emdin this whole academic year and working to implement his “reality pedagogy” into our CI Latin classrooms. The two work together so well that I also have made his book, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood and the Rest of Y’all Too, required reading for the grad course I am teaching at UGA this spring. I strongly encourage all teachers to get this book and start a disturbing, necessary, powerful journey into yourself, your practices, the young people who show up or who COULD show up in your classrooms.
As Latin teachers, we have to cultivate and recruit those who come to our classes. You all know that this has been a driving passion for me for the last two decades of my career as a Latin teacher–who we teach and who we don’t, the things we do, consciously and mostly unconsciously that keep students of Color out of the Latin classroom. We believe (we say) that Latin has so much to offer young people. If it does, why would we not want ALL kinds of learners, students from ALL backgrounds in our classes? Part of it is that we who teach Latin, mostly white folks, don’t know what we don’t know, and what we do know often scares us because we don’t know what to do about it.
Christopher Emdin‘s book. Go get it. Find someone to study it with you.
Yesterday, he was the featured lecturer at UGA’s Mary Early Lecture series. All five of us took the last hour of school off, journeyed to Athens, GA and beheld him in person. Words don’t suffice to articulate how powerful he was. One thing he said that gave me a way of thinking about my own life and work is this consideration of “restitution.”  What if restitution in this country towards People of Color meant for white teachers to give back from their lives to those young people who have been shut out of the “tribe” of education, life and success in this country?  In many ways, that’s what I feel like I’ve been aiming at during my 30 years of teaching–especially the last 20.  His book is a powerful piece of that for me.  That’s why we have created a huge Latin program (next year 7 Latin teachers from middle school to high school here teaching over 700 students) here with the multi-cultural mix that is Parkview High School, where all kinds of learners are successful in Latin, where we have a zero fail rate.  This is not me boasting.  This is me inviting–all of us–to re-vision how we teach, what we teach, to whom we teach.
If Latin is so valuable, isn’t it valuable to all learners in our schools?  Who are the learners not yet included in our schools?  Isn’t this the work of restitution that we who are white Latin teachers could take up as our call?
Emdin ended his pentecostal service (read the book, you’ll understand) with an African proverb. For me, it says it all.
“If the youth are not initiated into the tribe, they will burn the village down just to feel the warmth.”

In our program at Parkview, we say that CI is about comprehensible, compelling, caring work in Latin. Emdin’s book just so happens to organize into 7 C’s! All 7 of them help us fill out what that Caring part is about.

Bob Patrick

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