features

“Classics in the Classroom” by Fenwick Scholar, Maia Lee-Chin ‘21

Grace Bromage ‘23

Chief Features Editor

The Fenwick Scholar Program at Holy Cross is described as “the highest academic honor the College bestows on a student. The scholar designs and participates in a rigorous academic project over the course of the senior year.” This year’s Fenwick Scholar’s project took her out of the confines of Holy Cross and into elementary school classrooms in Worcester. On Tuesday, April 27th, Maia Lee-Chin ‘21 presented her Fenwick Scholar project, “Classics in the Classroom: Retelling the Iliad in Worcester,” and gave attendees a glimpse at how elementary school students can manage a Classics-based curriculum. 

In her talk, Lee-Chin first brought up racism in the Classics and how that influenced her project. She cited that, in the past, Classics has been used as a gatekeeping method. Primarily white and wealthy families could afford Latin and Greek studies that would then get their children into prominent colleges. In the later Q&A portion of her talk, Lee-Chin mentioned that her experience as a black woman in Classics has been isolating and that this led to her wanting to build her research project around creating greater accessibility of Classic literature to marginalized students. 

Lee-Chin said that the exclusion of marginalized voices in Classics is often seen as a problem that is unique to undergraduate and graduate programs. However, she sees this as a bottom-up problem, leading her project to focus on elementary education. She looked at the racial disparities in elementary education such as deficit-based mindsets (professionals looking at the deficits of minority students rather than their assets), achievement gaps amongst different demographics, and the relationship between a teacher’s race and their students. To address both the lack of marginalized voices in Classics and disparities in education, Lee-Chin created a curriculum to introduce elementary school students to Classics. This would serve to foster critical thinking skills as well as get marginalized students involved in a primarily white field. 

Lee-Chin partnered with Recreation Worcester and gained 20 participants between ages 7-11. Seven of these participants were consistent attendees to her meetings and 85.7% of these attendees were racial minorities. Lee-Chin covered several learning goals over 6 units in her curriculum. She even enlisted the help of her roommates in creating activity kits with arts and crafts supplies that the participants could use both for her study and any other projects they desired.

Originally, Lee-Chin planned to make this a quantitative study. However, she realized that when she viewed this project as an “intervention” in schooling, she was approaching it with deficit-based and “white savior” mindsets. She found this to be problematic and switched to looking at this from a qualitative perspective. She interviewed students and did groupwork with them with the goal of getting student input. Lee-Chin wanted to learn from her students in addition to teaching them. And teach her they did: Lee-Chin recounted how one elementary school student brought up a point about the Iliad that she and her professor would go on to discuss for an hour.  

Lee-Chin found that her students were able to think deeply about these texts and that they rose above the core standards for their grades as a result of these studies. She thinks that part of this was because she built relationships with her students, starting classes with daily check-ins. She also believes that even just giving students the opportunity to study the Iliad and trusting that they would have the capabilities to participate in complex discussions helped these students. While she recognizes the limitations to her research, she believes that more work and case studies should be done on this topic.

Lee-Chin ended with a call to action from other people within the Classics. She claimed that finishing her project shouldn’t be a stopping point and that Holy Cross should work to draw marginalized voices into classrooms. Lee-Chin again touched upon deficit-based thinking and urges people in Classics departments not to think that marginalized voices can “take away Classics’ prestige” but consider how the inclusion of these diverse voices can empower Classics. Classics should not be viewed as inherently valuable, but rather one way to introduce interdisciplinary studies into curriculums. Lee-Chin’s parting sentiments were that she does not want to see her work go uncontinued.Lee-Chin’s captioning and handout can be found here https://drive.google.com/drive/u/1/folders/1yfVcBCilAaVkr3u2INN_JgNv4owYIFXW. More resources from her talk will be released later.

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  1. As a child of the Visigoths and Huns and Druid worshipers, I have no DNA that gives me a natural affinity to the Classics. As if that is not enough, my academic skills did not make me a natural. However, throughout my education (Which has continued for six decades), I have always pushed to study the classics. My point: it is no easier for me than anyone of any other background, but it is vital to any education, Liberal Arts or otherwise. This is not about race, this is about education. I am glad that Miss Lee-Chin is teaching the Classics to minorities. My hope is that others continue to do so and, in the future, minorities teach other. The more people who learn their importance the better. After all, that is how us Huns got interested in them.

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