The 61st Annual Institute of the American Classical League has come and gone and I sit to write about it from the other side of a short family vacation to Long Island. The University of New Hampshire in Durham played an outstanding host and Sherwin Little, Tom Sienkewicz, Geri Dutra, and all others involved in the planning and execution of this outstanding gathering are to be commended.
I took the slow and liesurely route and drove to the Institute from Virginia. I set out on Tuesday morning and reached my goal of getting past most of the New York metropolitan area about mid-afternoon. In all, not a difficult drive but getting across the George Washington Bridge and navigating through the Bronx amid a sea of tractor-trailers was a bit of a pain. The next morning I easily completed the trip to New Hampshire and spent the night in Dover, about five miles outside of Durham. I stayed in Dover because, alas, there was no room in the inn at Durham when I made arrangements for lodging. The next day I move my belongings to the Holiday Inn Select at Durham and settled in for the Institute. On my return trip, getting past the traffic and bother of New York City was again my goal and I spent the night at East Windsor, New Jersey (near Princeton) via the Massachusetts Turnpike and a scenic trip through the Berkshires.
Anyhow, back to the Institute. Here are some highlights: My first interest involved Advanced Placement Latin and the College Board... Too much time was spent at the first session involving the grading of this year's exams with the presenters talking about how they had nothing to do with the decision about cancelling the AP Latin Lit exam and how we all must be calm and reasonable. No problem there. The later plenary session, titled "Latin Advanced Placement Tests: Responses and New Directions?", promised to be more interesting but I left disappointed and feeling no better (and no more informed) about the entire situation. No one was present who had actually had some say in the decision, just those who had something to say. Primarily, and I find this impressive after the initial reaction on LatinTeach and elsewhere, there were no fireworks, yelling, screaming, or crying. Everyone remained civil. We were assured that the Vergil exam would not change (probably) for the next three years or so and that we all, teachers, professors, professional organizations, would have input into future changes. I don't know how this was promised when there were no "officials" present. Most of the comments and suggestions were interesting and reasonable but there was nothing new or even reassuring that we had regained control of what and how we teach on the upper levels (if, indeed, we ever had control). I was annoyed at the presenter from a very prestigious prep school who suggested that we really don't need the AP exam. His school had dropped the entire AP program several years earlier and, guess what, their students continued to have no problem getting into Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Um, when your prestigious prep school carries instant name recognition, it is true that AP results make no difference in the admissions offices, BUT your average high school in your average town across the country has to buy into the AP program in order to level the playing field just a bit for their students. Like I said, I did not leave the plenary feeling better about things.
I was very interested by Matthew Hartnett's presentation on "Inscriptions and Graffiti in the Latin Classroom" and I intend to bring this genre of authentic Latin into my classes as soon as possible. Just because it isn't great literature doesn't mean it isn't interesting and has value in the classroom.
Ken Kitchell's "Teaching Latin Comp the Fun Way - The Long and the Short of It" was thoroughly enjoyable. It was refreshing (and a little reassuring) to learn that colleges and universities assign creative projects for their students and they end up having a great time while learning.
I was the presider for "Latin Via Storytelling: Backwards Design to Fit Any Textbook" and this session may well prove the most useful for me. Bob Patrick, Stephanie Sylvester, and Rachel Ash did an outstanding job of presenting the techniques and benefits of TPRS in the Latin classroom. The almost painless method of teaching and learning new vocabulary is alone worth consideration of this method. I need to apply some more thought here.
More than anything else, the benefit and purpose of attending an ACL Institute are the opportunities to meet new teachers and reconnect with old fiends and acquaintances. Putting a face with a name only seen on LatinTeach is great. It is very important that a professional establish contacts and networks in order for ideas, help, and suggestions to flow freely. No one can teach on an island and expect to grow.
Finally, there was the clambake. Not being a fan of seafood, I must admit that I opted for the barbequed chicken. I know that I wimped out but I have never found seafood to be palatable (and to think that I live so close to the Chesapeake Bay!). I did enjoy the company of my colleagues who were enjoying their lobsters and clams, though, and that's the best thing!
Next year in LA? We'll see!