Classical Roots of Western Civilization

Classical Roots of Western Civilization

 Written by BHS Latin teacher, Mr. Gregory Stringer

Thoughts on completing the first run-through of a new BHS elective.


Although this is my third year at Burlington High School, this time around the end of the first semester brings a new experience for me. Teaching a brand new semester elective for the first time, Classical Roots of Western Civilization, means that this week marks the end the first iteration of this exciting new class. More significantly, the end of the semester means that I must prematurely say goodbye to the first group of brave explorers who chose to embark with me on this course – and what an adventure it has been!

Beginning with the dawn of civilization in the near east circa 6,000 BC and taking it up to the fall of the Roman Empire in 476, the students have explored the various methods that we use to learn about the past – history, archeology, anthropology, linguistics and others – and then put them into practice to find out more about the great societies of western history. We learned about the various advantages and disadvantages of each of these fields through the lens of some of the great discoveries of all time – opening King Tut’s tomb, rediscovering the sites of the Trojan War, deciphering Linear B writing.

Then, we turned to intense study of the history, cultures and languages of the two most influential western societies – the Greeks and the Romans. Spending roughly a quarter on each, we learned how to break apart English words into their Greek and Latin roots to learn literally hundreds of new words in one semester. The end of the course survey revealed that all students felt it was a useful exercise. One student specifically commented that they “helped me alot on my English midyear” while two others remarked that it was their favorite part of the class. Other students prefered the history and mythology elements of the class, one stating “my favorite part was learning about the Greeks and their education system” and another loved learning “all the myths and legends about how Rome was founded.”

The students also had useful suggestions on how to improve the course, several commenting on how they would like more group work and more than one student saying that they would actually prefer to have more than just the two tests that I gave them this quarter. I’ll be looking into these and other suggestions they offered as I work to improve the course for its second run starting next week. Finally, while two students noted that they felt the class was a little hard, the vast majority of them said that the level of difficulty of the class was, “just like the curves of the Parthenon – just right” and everyone agreed that it was a lot of fun.

Finally, it is bittersweet to say the least as I say goodbye to my first ever group of students in Classical Roots of Western Civilization. So, to Kelsey, Dan, Kevin, Devon, Evan, Ian, Ally, Jake, Anne, Marielle and Phil (though these last two I still get to see in Latin!), thank you all for a great semester and I hope that now everywhere you go, everything you do, you can’t help but see the Classical Roots that are all around you! (For example, did you know that of the about 500 words in this post, nearly 200 come from Greek or Latin!!)


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