1998 QUANTRELL AWARDS: Laura SlatkinAssociate Professor in Classical Languages & Literatures
By Shula Neuman
"I now know how much astute sympathy, tact and intellectual generosity it takes not only to motivate a handful of individuals, but to draw them together into . . . a class, a group with a sense of engagement in a common endeavor."
Laura Slatkin, Associate Professor in Classical Languages & Literatures, wrote those words in 1991 in reference to her high school classics teacher. She credits the lifelong influence of such teachers -- including her parents -- with her own success in the classroom.
"For both of my parents, education was their highest value," Slatkin said. "My father was a high school English teacher. He took it so seriously. For him, it was mission."
Slatkin, who teaches classes in Greek literature and language, absorbed the models of her teachers in high school and while a student at Harvard and Cambridge. Group discussion and shared discovery of ideas are the guiding principles of her classes, she said.
As much as her teaching inspires her students, Slatkin finds they have an uplifting and enlightening impact on her.
"I've spent a lot of time with Sophocles'Antigone," Slatkin explained. "And I teach it almost every winter quarter as part of the Greek sequence. Every winter I go around grinning from ear to ear because those students are making me understand things about this play that I never understood before.
"These kids say something and I think, 'That's how the text works! That is what is happening here!' It's not only that it makes you understand more about the play, it is often that it gives another perspective altogether.
"The students here are really quite extraordinary," she added. "They are independent minded and have a wonderful sense of irony, which I admire and am grateful for."
Slatkin said she also appreciates the tremendous support and interest in the study of the ancient world at the University. "Classicists feel very integrated intellectually here," Slatkin remarked. "You are not pigeon-holed, falsely assumed to be representative of old-school conservative values."
Slatkin's own work focuses on early Greece. In addition to studying Sophocles, she has also conducted extensive research on Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. She emphasizes to her students the broad differences between early Greece and classical Greece, and feels that it is her task to provide her students with an understanding that the Greeks weren't so similar to us that we can always identify with everything they thought about.
"It is an extremely foreign place in a lot of ways. A place that has to be understood through its own specificity. There is a tendency to amalgamate all of Greek literature and philosophy and make it all into one big gefilte fish. It is much more complicated than that. What we want to do is take a different look and make it less familiar before we begin to study," she said.
"It is arduous, but it offers a great adventure for people who study it and that is what I really want to do for these students, to help them see the adventure. I would like to do for these kids what that high school teacher did for me."