~ Written by Megan Waardenburg and Edited by Marissa Moldoch ~
Classical educators and students know the goal of learning is to retain and understand; but doing well on an exam to earn college credit is certainly a nice outcome, too!
This past spring, the College Board altered the curriculum for Advanced Placement Latin, changing the content of their tests as well. This has stirred the world of Latin education, causing scholars to consider and question the value of what has been omitted and what has been added.
While students could previously expect to translate selections of Caesar’s De Bello Gallico in the prose section of the exam, they can now anticipate meeting works of Pliny the Younger. What does this modification mean for the world of Latin?
Inevitably, countless students will abandon Caesar’s works and prioritize Pliny the Younger’s in preparation for the exam. Whether you believe this is a benefit or a drawback depends on your goals as an educator.
Caesar is quite the household name — from Shakespeare to salads, his name is hardly foreign to any student. Pliny the Younger? Not so much. Perhaps bringing more attention to his works would diversify his readers and bring him into the spotlight as young classicists begin their Latin translation journey with him.
Another key factor is the importance of the text itself. In a class aiming to teach students about the Latin language and its literature, is Caesar the best representation of Latin prose? Is Caesar, a man famous for his military victories rather than his eloquent works, the best steward to the language to inspire students to diligently carry on with their studies? In a class aiming to teach the history of Rome, is De Bello Gallico the most pivotal work that aligns with an AP student’s reading comprehension level? Perhaps not. Perhaps Pliny the Younger’s texts aren’t, either.
Some proponents of this change cite Caesar’s character as a cause to remove him from the curriculum. The accusation is not without basis; Caesar was responsible for countless deaths and betrayals in his time. However, when granting limitations based on religious texts in Latin, teachers will struggle to find a writer with spotless character. The poets, historians, orators, and senators alike are known to have committed grave crimes against their fellow men. While they shouldn’t serve as role models, these complex figures should teach us lessons in morality.
Consider, also, that if the sole aim of teaching a text was to encourage students to emulate the writer’s behavior, canons would be rewritten every day. Weighing the importance of a historical figure’s influence against a written work’s quality (with consideration to student reading level, of course) falls to the teacher wishing to strike a balance.
Ultimately, the change in the exam will lead to a decrease in readers of Caesar in favor of Pliny the Younger. The question remains whether this is something to combat. This relies on your classroom, your students, and the texts that will suit you best. Perhaps the writings of Caesar, Pliny the Younger, or even one of their contemporaries will foster your students’ learning. (I won’t prescribe you Livy, but I certainly won’t discourage it either!)
Regardless, we need not worry that the College Board is killing Caesar — partially because Brutus took care of that centuries ago. His work, located in the digital libraries built for this very purpose, will be available to you whenever you need it. When you’re ready to research, Perseus Digital Library is a great place to start!