Before the reader may tire of the “asiatic,” rather than “attic,” prose style of this report, let it begin, rather than end, with due thanks to the intrepid state vice-presidents who have not only contributed information to it, but also discharged their duties on behalf of CAMWS/CPL despite very busy professional lives of their own and the benign neglect of their regional vice president.
Of the five states comprising this region, only Iowa and Missouri have functioning state-wide classics organizations, and both these have held an annual meeting in recent memory. The perennial challenge for such organizations in large states with widely scattered clusters of classicists is to find a time and place sufficiently convenient and centrally located to achieve a “critical mass” of members who can and wish to attend. The Missouri Classical Association (MOCA) scheduled its meeting for the afternoon of the day in which Junior Classical League organizers from around the state met, which resulted in a rather better attended meeting than usual. However, the meetings of both AMICI, the association of supporters of classics in Iowa, and MOCA make up in enthusiasm what they may lack in numbers, and both meetings devoted time to discussion of issues adversely affecting classics instruction in their respective states. One should not, however, infer from the foregoing that classicists in the other three states of this region, like Polyphemus and his monocular brethren, “have no institutions, no meetings for counsels/…and each one…/cares nothing about the others.” Rather, they seize opportunities to meet under the aegis of other groups, notably JCL (which has thriving chapters in Kansas and Nebraska) and the Archaeological Institute of America. Of course, CAMWS itself actively seeks to be an organization that can unite far-flung instructors and supporters of classics, and to that end efforts have been made in the states to solicit new members. Such initiatives meet with mixed success at best, particularly given the straitened financial times; but there remains, too, a perceived gulf between the very group we most wish to target and the organization, for those very high-school teachers who feel most isolated sometimes think that organizations like CAMWS really do cater more to the post-secondary. This is not a new challenge to the organization; neither do brilliant solutions present themselves. Yet in Missouri, MOCA decided to take at least a small step in the right direction: it will contribute from its coffers each year funds to one college student and one secondary school teacher for the purpose of attending the CAMWS meeting.
Nevertheless, despite their comparatively small and scattered numbers, classicists in the region have actively promoted their field of study and sought ways to mediate the ancient world to the broader community. Iowa surely claims the victor’s palm in this respect, by dint of excellent web-based resources for disseminating information and a very exciting initiative. In the latter, classicists of all stripes in the state are collaborating with the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art to develop a two-year exhibit of Roman art and archaeology entitled “From Villa to Grave.” What is particularly commendable and exciting about this project is the thrust to make it user-friendly to visitors at the museum and to educators; for instance, an outreach program is being devised for middle-school educators whereby teachers can borrow a “traveling trunk,” containing handouts and replicas of exhibit items among other things, to give their classes hands-on experience of what they will see in the museum itself. CPL monies will be requested to aid in this project, which seems to be something that could be replicated profitably elsewhere in the country. This appears truly to be an idea whose time has come.
Of course, there remain what can euphemistically be called “issues” throughout the region. Latin/classics programs, particularly at the secondary but also at the post-secondary levels (e.g. Loras College in Iowa), teeter on the edge of extinction, sometimes for want of qualified teachers, sometimes merely for want of information. The recent push embodied in the National Latin Teacher Recruitment Week was surely a step in the right direction, and states in the Plains Region got behind this effort to varying degrees. Local networking, however, remains the key to the situation, rather than national publicizing ventures. In Nebraska, for instance, two programs have withered on the vine for want of teachers, even if there are teachers to be had. The Omaha Public School System simply does not advertise outside of the state, so the goal here, it would seem, is to make sure that someone inform this system that, should there be a need for a Latin teacher, such persons exist and can be found. As it is, the stalwart classicists at Creighton hope to take matters in their own hands by actively placing their own students in Nebraska school districts seeking teachers, and by setting up some kind of information clearinghouse that can serve the needs of districts seeking teachers as well as teachers seeking jobs.
Of course it does not help when the state educational apparatus itself makes the task difficult. Missouri classicists were dismayed to learn that the flagship campus of the University of Missouri had rendered it impossible to gain certification for teaching Latin in the state, while at Southwest Missouri State University such certification can be had, but only at the cost of jumping through interminable hoops.
If a common theme emerged from the state-of-the-state classics reports, it is this: improved communication and fellowship among classicists at all levels is a primary desideratum. Even if it does not prove feasible to hope for state-wide gatherings in places like Oklahoma and Nebraska, it nevertheless seems reasonable that pontifices maximi in smaller regions step forward and live up to that name, literally, by building bridges between (say) faculty in colleges and universities and teachers in local school districts; for, in point of fact, most Latin programs in public schools occur in areas where there are colleges or universities with classics programs. Nebraskan classicists hope to do just this by resuscitating the Classics Club at Creighton and sponsoring activities that cut across levels of instruction; and the aforementioned museum-classicist collaboration in Iowa provides another model for such regional efforts. States with viable classical organizations will continue to enjoy annual meetings, but the time may have come, too, for states without their own organizations to try sponsoring joint meetings.
Next year will see the centenary meeting of CAMWS held within the Plains Region at St. Louis, and it is therefore to be hoped that the proximity of the annual gathering will provide a shot in the arm to classicists and programs in nearby states.