Wednesday, January 16, 2013

More Recruiting With Centurion Crastinus

First-rank centurion Gaius Crastinus recruited for Caesar's Legio X once again at North Central High School in Indianapolis.  As always, the students were great.  It never fails that they get excited to try authentic reproduction Roman weaponry.  I know I would have loved this when I was a teen!  After hearing about the ins and outs of the Roman army, they have the chance to use the armor in battle formation and marching drills.  Some even get the chance to engage in battle with foam gladii and real shields.

For more pictures, visit our Facebook page.  On an interesting note, the voice I use for Crastinus is a cross between the character of General Groves played by Paul Newman in Fat Man and Little Boy and that of the gladiator trainer Marcellus in the classic Spartacus.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Tuditanus at The Oaks Academy

Today I had the great pleasure of presenting Publius Sempronius Tuditanus at The Oaks Academy in Indianpolis. This was the first persona that I developed six or seven years ago.  He is one of the guards at the tomb of Christ, and through him audiences get a glimpse not only into the history of the ancient Roman army, but into an event about which Richard John Neuhaus once commented, "If what Christians say about Good Friday is true, then it is, quite simply, the truth about everything."

A tip of the galea to the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders at The Oaks!  They asked so many wonderful questions that one of the teachers had to draw our time to a close.  They really made me think on my feet, which is something I love!

You can find more pictures by following Steve Perkins (Roman Personas) on Facebook.  Fans of Roman Personas will note the differences in my appearance from my personas of centurion Gaius Crastinus.  Tuditanus carries his sword on the right, as opposed to the centurion's left, and wears a simpler Coolus style helmet.  In addition, he does not wear the phalerae or greaves that centurion Crastinus wears.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Armor Presentation

On Thursday, October 11, I had the opportunity to be with the Latin II students at The Master's Study in Indianapolis.  Rather than presenting a persona, I arrived in tunica, braccae, and caligae and described each piece of armor, putting it on as I did so.  After becoming fully dressed as a centurion, I removed the armor so the students could try it on.  They were amazed at how much the lorica hamata weighs!

The students then had the opportunity to try out the foam reproduction swords.  This is always great fun!

When we returned to their classroom, they asked many good questions about battle formations and other aspects of Roman culture.

Special thanks to Latin teacher Melissa Perkins and Head of School Cindy Brumbarger for their warm hospitality!

To see the full album of pictures from this event, friend Steve Perkins (Roman Personas) on Facebook

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Beloved Teacher Holds Court

I have been blessed to be a student of more extraordinary teachers than would be reasonable to list in a blog post. From Kindergarten through graduate school, I could count on one hand the number of teachers who were so mediocre as to leave no lasting effect, and I certainly never had one that was outright bad. My study of Latin and Classics includes a roster of some of the finest teachers and scholars in the field, including Joyce Woller, Alice Ranck Hettle, Marcene Holverson Farley, Betty Rose Nagle, Martha Vinson, Mark Damen, Louis Perraud, Tim Long, Ted Ramage, Jim Halporn, Eleanor Winsor Leach, Michael Gagarin, M. Gwyn Morgan, Gareth Morgan, Tim Moore, Andrew Riggsby, William Nethercut, Douglass Parker, Lesley Dean-Jones, and Peter Green. Of these wonderful teachers-turned-colleagues, three have stood out as mentors and deeply important friends.

Tim Long, my professor for Greek as an undergraduate, remains a close friend with whom I converse often on everything from a point of Greek or Latin grammar to issues in education to the side-splitting hilarity of P.G. Wodehouse. Though we may not communicate as often as Tim and I do, Marcene Holverson Farley, a Latin teacher in Illinois, was my Latin teacher for my senior year in high school. We have remained good friends and colleagues, and it has been my pleasure to speak at her school on several occasions. She is the one who will always wish me a happy Ides of March.

The third in this trinity of Classical mentors is Alice Ranck Hettle. Miss Ranck, as we knew her in high school, taught Latin in Indiana for more than forty years, but her longest run (1952-1986) was at New Albany High School. Shortly before her retirement and marriage to her high school sweetheart, Miss Ranck was named the teacher of the year by the Classical Association of the Middle West and South. Although I was her student only during my sophomore and senior years, it is safe to say that I would not be living the life I am were it not for her.

After having walked to the high school each day from our junior high with a friend to take Latin I from Miss Woller, I enrolled in Latin II as a sophomore, expecting it to be similar to the pleasant experience I had enjoyed in first year. Was I ever in for a shock! At the end of the first day in Miss Ranck's class, I thought perhaps I should drop the class. She talked so fast! I feared I could never keep up. I stuck with it, however, and my life has never been the same. Her exacting demands brought out the best in all her students. She gave us the most solid foundation in grammar and inspired in me a love of the language that continues to this day. It was an off-hand comment she made one day that Antioch was the first place in which anyone was called by the name "Christian," however, that inspired me to teach Latin. I had always known I wanted to teach and certainly loved Latin. Her comment showed me a way to live out my Christian faith in this context.

I have remained in contact with her over the years, and I recently had the pleasure of seeing her again at her assisted-living home in Michigan. My wife, our two children, and my mother made the six-hour drive, and those who know her would understand when I say that I hardly know where to begin describing what it was like to spend the day with this force of nature.

Although she still drives, she struggles a bit to get around, but then again, most people on the brink of 89 will have a few physical challenges. Mentally, she is as sharp as a tack. We spent our time recalling stories of past students, and for almost every one she rattled off their collegiate studies, work experience, and present location as if she were reading their resumes. She sat in her easy chair and held court, magistra ex cathedra as it were, while we sat around her and joined in the fond remembrances.

Ever the Latin teacher, she fills her room with figurine copies of Classical sculpture and books of Latin and Greco-Roman history and culture. These sit comfortably alongside countless pictures of her family and evidence of her fondness for Indiana University and Celtics basketball. (She earned her Master's degree at I.U. after taking her Bachelor's at Earlham.) True to the tradition of Roman hospitality, she had gifts for everyone, including the children.

As I listened to stories, some familiar, some new, I was reminded of what I have been called to do as a teacher. Without a doubt, Miss Ranck is from another age, but this was true no matter the decade in which she taught. Familiar with the stats of professional basketball players and capable of telling a student in the 1980s who extolled Springsteen that she, too, liked "Mr. Bruce," she nonetheless has always exemplified what it means to be cultured and refined. Never elitist or effete, she could show the most unmotivated student what he could achieve if he but tried and supported those who were blessed with only one talent as if they had five. Hers was a standard that transcended any particular time, classroom, or student. It was the standard of truth, goodness, and beauty that was first breathed into man in the garden, polished by Phidias and Cicero in the Classical age, and carried on through the 20th century by a midwestern Latin teacher.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Forging a Centurion, Part VIII

In the spring of 1998, my wife and I decided to move back home to Indiana. It was a moved prompted by the move of a pastor friend of ours with whom we were involved in ministry. When we found out he had accepted a call to Indianapolis, we looked at each other and knew it was time to move.

My first move was to call Bernie Barcio, a legend in the Latin world. His Pompeiiana organization was based in Indianapolis, so I started by putting out the word with him that we were moving back and would need a job. In short order, I received a call from Kathy Lattimer, department chair of foreign languages at North Central High School. She described a teaching schedule that was identical to the one I had in Austin. I was soon on a plane to interview.

I was thrilled at my initial meeting with principal C.E. Quandt, who had studied Latin for four years at Indiana University. When he led me upstairs to meet with Kathy and I saw Latin For Americans textbooks, the book I had used in high school, I knew I was home.

The program I inherited had Latin I, Latin II, a very small class of Latin III with four boys, and a class in etymology. Over the years, the Latin program grew, and I soon had to drop etymology. Although I have been blessed to teach classes in Critical Thinking and Theory of Knowledge, a required class for the International Baccalaureate diploma, the Latin program has continued to grow to the point that, at the writing of this post, we have seen enrollments at the two hundred mark, necessitating twice the hiring of a second Latin teacher.

During those years, the North Central Latin students have consistently had award-winning performances at the annual Indiana State Junior Classical League Latin Convention, and on the National Latin Exam, with multiple gold and silver medals and several perfect scores. Our students have developed community service projects such as Reading the War on Poverty and Fabrica Ursam. The former project sees us reading aloud the Iliad, the Odyssey, or the Aeneid in its entirety at a local bookstore to raise money to help fight poverty in our area. The latter has our students creating teddy bears at Build-a-Bear, writing individualized fables for each one, and delivering them to children at Riley Hospital for Children.

At North Central, I have had the incredible pleasure of working with many wonderful students, supervising four student teachers (making a total of five in my career), mentoring new teachers to our school, and continuing my own academic efforts with the publication of Latin for Dummies (German edition Latein fur Dummies) and Achilles in Rome: The Latin Iliad of Baebius Italicus, along with two translation of Aquinas (here and here) and articles on certamen, Latin III and A.P. projects, Latin haiku (two total, one here), translation in the classroom, philosophy of mind, and an exploration of the concept of work in Vergil's Aeneid.

This stage of my career has truly been the best of both worlds, for I have been able to engage in my academic passions and my passion to teach, while watching both those worlds affect the other. I would have expected this pattern of teaching and publishing to continue much as it has, and indeed I do expect to see it progress that way, but in the fall of 2010 I applied for a grant that would add a significant new path that would intertwine with the other two. That, however, will be the subject of the next post.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Forging a Centurion, Part VII

After making the decision to return to secondary education, I got to live the dream of teaching high school Latin.  Many people have asked why I did not continue with Ph.D. work in Classics or whether I would have preferred to teach at the collegiate level.  While I certainly enjoyed my time teaching at that level, I was made for high school.  Teenagers have boundless enthusiasm and are just plain fun to be around.  Teaching at the high school level also allows you to explore multiple levels of the language.

I was hired to teach Latin I through Latin IV and etymology at L.B.J. High School in Austin, Texas.  As a Johnson Jaguar, I had big shoes to fill, as legendary Latin teachers had gone before me at this school.  I was blessed to work with a great faculty and fantastic students.  One of our students designed a logo for us of a jaguar head next to a Roman helmet with the motto Nil satis nisi optimum around it.  This motto one of our students discovered while on a band trip to England, and we quickly adopted it.  We then painted that logo on one of our walls, the wall that held the ever growing rows of ribbons to mark our achievements at the Texas State Junior Classical League state convention each year.  Our students competed in academic tests, art, spoken-word contests, costume contests, and more and always brought back to L.B.J. the glory.  We put their names and awards on the chalkboard, and that usually took up more than half of my teaching space!

Apparently, we were into wall painting, for we painted the entirety of the back wall of the room to look like ancient Rome.  We put three columns across it to give the impression that our room was a Roman house that overlooked the ancient city.  It was a long process, but all of the students were involved and gave our room a unique feel.

My wife, who had started the Latin program at Pearce Middle School in Austin worked with me to host an annual event called the Fall Classics Festival.  Latin students from Austin came together on a Saturday for certamen, Olympics, and workshops.

In the spring of 1998, we hosted the Area-F Latin convention.  Texas is so big that prior to the state convention, regional conventions are held.  Our students did an amazing job hosting that event.

It was also at L.B.J. that I published my first article.  In the winter 1998 of Texas Classics in Action, the journal of the Texas Classical Association, there appeared my piece, "Clodius vs. Cicero:  The Trial of the Century That Never Took Place."  It detailed our Latin III project in which students dressed in Roman garb went to a courtroom at the Travis County Courthouse and enacted the trial of Cicero that should have taken place in 58 B.C., but did not because Cicero fled the country.  As I will discuss in the next post, academic publication has played a huge role in my life, and I remember Ginny Lindzey with gratitude for asking me to write what would be my first professional article.

In the spring of 1998, I was honored as the Texas Foreign Language Association Latin Teacher of the Year and shared the honor of L.B.J. Teacher of the Year with Don Haynes, who is still the band director there.  It was also at that time that my wife and I made the decision to return to our home state of Indiana.  I well remember driving around downtown Austin as tears streamed down my face.  We had made wonderful friends and loved the weather, the food, and the incredible spirit of Texas.  My extraordinary students took us out for a farewell dinner at The Salt Lick, a legendary BBQ restaurant near Austin.  A sign over the door asked patrons to limit their dining time to 2 1/2 hours, and our waitress kept bringing plate after plate of brisket, sausage, and ribs to our kind of place!

The next stage in the Latin journey would take us to Indiana, but I shall never forget our spectacular days in Texas.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Forging a Centurion, Part VI

The last post in this series saw my wife and me preparing to move to Austin, Texas where I would attend graduate school at The University of Texas.  Having grown up in the Midwest, I was in for a bit of a culture shock that started even as we drove across the Texas state line.  The sky suddenly seemed big, huge, expansive beyond belief.  In fact, the massive, blue vault of heaven remains one of my favorite memories about the state we quickly came to love.  Along with the size of the sky were the outlandish proportions of just about everything else, including hospitality.  Some of the finest people you will ever meet live in Texas, and I still admire the genteel quality of life that sees even grown adults saying "sir" and "ma'am" to their elders.  And did I mention barbecue?  Ah, but that is for another post.

At UT I had wonderful professors, such as Bill Nethercut for Medieval Latin, Douglass Parker for New Testament Greek, Andrew Riggsby for Cicero, M. Gwyn Morgan for Tacitus, Peter Green for Greek history, Michael Gagarin and Paul Woodruff for a seminar on the Sophists, Paula Perlman for Herodotus, Tim Moore for Latin Literature, and Gareth Morgan for Latin teaching methods.

My time at UT was wonderful, for it was then that I truly developed the ability to read Latin in addition to translating it.  The sheer volume of texts through which we had to work required it!  I can still remember the day, sitting in my office, when I realized that I had just read several pages of Cicero without really translating them.  It was an exciting moment.

I quickly took on teaching duties at UT and taught several undergraduate classes, some in beginning Latin and others in Latin literature.  I came to appreciate having just taught at the middle school level, for the ability to explain and make things clear had been honed there.  I enjoyed teaching so much, and came to see that, while I enjoyed (and still enjoy) the heady thrills of academic research, my path lay in the secondary classroom.  After completing my Master of Arts in Classics, with a minor area in philosophy, I decided to leave the Ph.D. track that I had contemplated and make the move back to full-time teaching.

Before leaving this part of the story, however, I would like to recall a few special moments.  On one occasion, my wife's father came to visit us, and they picked me up on campus.  I think he thought I was quite rude, because for some time I was silent.  In truth, I was unable to speak.  More than once I experience such muteness when caught up in the delights of deep research.  My mind would go so far into its thoughts that the physical act of speech became impossible, or at least extraordinarily difficult.  Once, when I looked out my office window, I saw Dr. David Armstrong walking up the sloping hillside toward Waggener Hall, home of the Classics department.  He slowed and then stopped in the middle of the hill, staring somewhat at the ground.  After several moments he moved on again.  I smiled, for I knew exactly what had happened.  He had become so engrossed in thought that his body had ceased to move.

Another part of my time at UT involved my coursework in cognitive science.  This was still a fairly new area, and the class I took was as intriguing as anything in Classics.  In fact, after searching for an article by Kip Thorne on the possibilities of time travel in the physics-math-astronomy library and nearly devouring all of Michio Kaku's Hyperspace in a bookstore before buying it, I nearly switched my focus to physics and philosophy.  In fact, one of the publications of which I am most proud is an article I wrote addressing philosophy, aspects of quantum theory, and theology.

As I said earlier, it became clear that my path lay in the secondary classroom, and it is to this I shall turn in the next installment of "Forging a Centurion."