I’m pretty much constantly planning my curriculum and replanning it. I am trying to consciously integrate culture more this upcoming year, so I’ve been thinking about what units I might do. Right now, my list of units for Latin I looks something like this:
Roman names; Places & Time; Housing; Food & Clothing; Family; Slavery; Freedom; Entertainment; Death & the afterlife; Love & Marriage; The Olympian Gods; Origins & Transformations; Greek Heroes I & II; Roman Heroes I & II; What have the Romans ever done for us?
The order will almost certainly change and I may not get to everything. These are mostly drawn from the NLE syllabus. Each unit will only be two weeks or so and mostly in translation. I’m not going to be doing too much in-depth textual work with anything in particular except where the novellas align.
What’s missing is a unit on Roman women. Well, and on the military, but that’s not what this is about. Given Cloelia, you might find it surprising that I'm not focusing on women at any particular point in my curriculum. I’m not doing a unit on Roman women because as soon as you put women into a unit, you’re taking them out of the whole.*
The reason I’m not doing a unit on Roman women is pretty simple. Women are not a unit. We are, give or take, 50% of the population. That hasn’t really changed much over time. Women probably died younger, so the population of older people was probably more male. Women were more often enslaved, so the slavery population was probably more female. But, give or take, women were 50% of the Roman population overall. That means this:
Roman names: 50% of Romans with names were women.
Places & Time: 50% of people experiencing these were women.
Housing: 50% of people living in Roman housing were women.
etc. I went more into depth for the other categories. Click here if you want to read a full version.
As soon as you decide women need to be put into their own unit, you’re implying that they do not play a part in the other units.
Women lived in every house, in every street, in every corner of the Roman empire. All the time. They have a role in every unit. Ideally, they'd have at least a 50% share of every unit... except those who recorded "history" and most of our curriculum frameworks still focus on traditionally male-dominated realms. Because our society privileges history of war and politics over social history, and because women historically have been excluded from those spheres, our "history" is male-dominated. That doesn't mean we weren't there and didn't play important roles.
We are not something you can box into a “unit” and then talk about wealthy white men for the rest of the curriculum. But that’s exactly what we do when we make “units” on groups of people. I understand that the intentions behind "units" on women or minorities are positive. I understand that even having these units and the resources to run them is a huge step forward.
But one step is not enough. We have to keep moving. We have to keep taking steps until we no longer need “units” on “minorities” because our “contributions” are acknowledged not as incidental additions to real history and progress, but as inherently part of that history and progress.
(For some excellent work & resources on inclusion for Latin teachers, check out Bethanie Sawyer's work.)
* (As I write this, I’m realizing slavery shouldn’t be a “unit” either, since it is so thoroughly part of the Roman world. I’m going to take it out and deliberately talk about enslaved people throughout my curriculum. I was intending to do that anyway, but I think removing the unit on it will be a good thing. I will keep the unit on freedom, however.)
POSTSCRIPT: I'm editing this to add a note. I am not arguing that "women's history" or "African-American history" shouldn't be things. They should be things and they NEED to be things so that people actually learn about women and minorities so that people can then take that knowledge and bring it with them to their general picture of history. We've got millennia of neglected historical work to do. As an elementary Latin teacher though, I'm barely scratching the surface of Roman culture. What little I can do on history is necessarily going to be a broad overview. The point is that I won't allow it to be a broad overview that only looks at a small proportion of the population (wealthy men). I want to make sure my broad overview actually includes poorer people, enslaved people, and you know, female people. The goal is to teach Roman culture in a way that includes all the kinds of people who made it up, not just those who wrote about it. Within each unit I am going to make a conscious effort to highlight issues of gender and ethnicity and freedom and get my students thinking about how different types of people played different roles. I'm just going to do it THROUGHOUT, instead of cramming "women's life" into one two week period.
POSTPOSTSCRIPT, a few hours later: Two things:
1) I had some sections where I talked about minorities as well, but I felt really icky about them because I don't think I as a white person with basically no experience working with "minority" populations have any business talking about how "their" history should be addressed. So I deleted those comments.
2) I'm not doing a "unit" on Roman women because I plan to include women throughout, but to be clear, I am not against focused units on traditionally ignored populations so long as those populations are represented throughout the curriculum as well. Women's History Month is a great thing, but not if every other month is Men's History Month. My problem with is "units" underprivileged groups instead of inclusive curricula overall.