***The following is a true story of college students banishing their history teacher from the classroom***
The students in HI 417-1, Greco-Roman history, looked from their study groups and textbooks to the second row where Melody Holloway had turned in her seat to face the majority of the class. Melody’s black hair framed the irritation warring in her brown eyes, and her black fingers gripped the back of the chair as she faced. Any annoyance at being interrupted was replaced with curiosity. What would bother Melody so much for her to talk to the whole class?
“You know how Dr. Northrop said the other section called us ‘barbarians’?” she asked.
The class nodded silently, wondering what that had to do with anything.
“Yeah, well, one of my friends in that class told me it was the other way around. He’s the one that called us barbarians! He doesn’t get to call us that and then lie about it. So on Friday, we’re going to ostracize him, and show him how barbaric we are. I’ll bring in a vase, and everyone write Dr. Northrop’s name on a three-by-five and drop it in. I’ll get a Greek official and we’ll make some speeches, all right? Don’t tell anyone about it, and make sure you come early on Friday, okay?”
The other students nodded, grinning delightedly. Ostracism fit in perfectly with the class. This was HI 417-1, Greco-Roman History, taught by the currently infamous Dr. Stephen Northrop. At first glance, he looked like a stickler for the rules. He could easily be seen walking around campus in his suit with a serious look on his face. His balding head added an extra touch of severity to his overall noble features. He was dignified—especially when he was pantomiming drawing a gladius from his sheath—complete with sound effects—and even more so when he was re-enacting the fight at Philip of Macedon’s wedding.
Of course, HI 417-2 started it with their pompous application of wearing the purple. Dr. Northrop had told them about how it was a big deal in Roman days to wear purple. It was a sign of aristocracy. “Do you wear the purple?” was an old saying back then, insinuating that one was far above the other, that one was an elite. In response, the entire class showed up wearing purple. Dr. Northrop was delighted. According to Melody, that was when he referred to 417-1 as barbarians, since they apparently didn’t have what it takes to wear purple.
Ostracism is an ancient Greek custom of voting someone into exile for ten years. It was created by the democrats to target their political enemies and prevent them from becoming too powerful. The name derives from the Greek word ostra, which basically means a broken piece of pottery. They’d write the name of the person they wanted to get rid of for a few years on the ostra, and throw it in the vase that served as the ballot box. The Greek officials would tally up the names and the name that showed up the most was ostracized. The TV show Survivor was reminiscent of this ancient practice.
The classroom was soon buzzing with excitement. To their knowledge, students had never hijacked a lesson to ostracize anyone, especially the teacher! Were they even allowed to ostracize Dr. Northrop? The class bell rang, and everyone became silent as Dr. Northrop strode into the room to begin the lesson. Students looked knowingly from one to the other as Dr. Northrop led the class in prayer. Friday wasn’t simply the weekend anymore, it was the day they were going to ostracize the teacher.
On Friday, 10:50 a.m., students began pouring in through the doors of MK 217, excited about the upcoming events. The room was alive with energy, and there was a never ending stream of chatter.
Only one person didn’t join in the bubbly conversations. He just sat at a desk in the back corner of the classroom, his black hands relaxed in the depths of the pockets of his white coat. He listened to our excited conversation curiously, unfamiliar with the class conspiracy. No one seemed to notice him sitting there, or if they did, they didn’t mind his presence.
Then Melody hurried in, carrying a brown plastic bag that she sat on the table beside the credenza. Jake Kaiser followed her, and she hurriedly pulled out a beige sheet and wrapped it diagonally around him like a toga. Then she pulled out a wreath of privet leaves and set it in his brown hair. Lastly, she pulled out a pink plastic vase and set it on the table. Everyone laughed.
“Where’d you get the wreath, Melody?” Billy asked.
“The ramp outside.” She smiled and glanced at the vase. “And this was the best I could find at the dollar store. All right, has everyone written Dr. Northrop’s name on a three-by-five?”
Anyone who hadn’t done so already scrambled to retrieve their index cards. They scribbled Dr. Northrop’s name on the light blue lines and then looked up to Melody for further instructions.
“Okay, now line up against that wall, and when Jake escorts Dr. Northrop in, start walking forward and put the card in the vase. No one laugh or smile, got it?”
They nodded, swallowing their spring-loaded laughter. At first, it looked doubtful that anyone would be able to keep a straight face, but somehow, everyone managed to gain their composure. Melody took her place at the end of the line, and Jake slipped out into the hall so he would be ready to escort Dr. Northrop inside. The bell rang, and they waited for theirr teacher to appear.
Finally, the handle turned and the door opened. Dr. Northrop was led into the room, and everyone was silent. Dr. Northrop regarded them curiously, a black binder in his right hand, and a blue cup of water in his left. Then the line started moving forward, and the first girl dropped her folded card into the vase.
“Something is—uh-oh.” Dr. Northrop took a sip of water as the first few students filed past him and into their seats. He glanced at Jake. “What do my eyes behold?” He spread out his arms in confusion. “This is strange. No one is speaking. They’re all calm, they’re all quiet. They’re all dignified.”
One of the students walked past him and sobbed loudly.
“They’re making weird sounds.”
The last students dropped their cards into the vase and filed into their seats. Jake walked up to the podium as Melody sat down. Dr. Northrop looked at the class and then at Jake as he cleared his throat and began reading his oratory. “Friends, students, and Greeks. It has come to the council’s attention that one of our sections has played the role of our fellow countryman, Alcibiades.” He looked up from his paper at us and let his words sink in.
It was a serious accusation. Alcibiades was a three-time Athenian traitor during the Peloponnesian Wars.
“He has betrayed our section with his words of contempt, with his words that were matter of opinion, but the real dilemma is that these words come from the lips of our instructor.”
Dr. Northrop cried out, “No!”
There were scattered snickers, and everyone was grinning with mischievous delight.
Jake continued, “Words such as ‘barbarians,’ ‘plebeians,’ and other such words.”
Dr. Northrop pressed his fist against his lips and shook his head, mortified.
Jake put down his sheet of paper and looked at the class. “That is from the royal decree.”
Dr. Northrop also looked at us. “No wait! It can’t be!” He looked back at Jake and pressed his fist against his lips again as he repeated quietly, “It can’t be.”
“You know what that means,” Jake said gravely.
Dr. Northrop covered his mouth in horror. “No!” He bowed his head and tried to suppress a laugh. “No, I don’t know what it means.” He gestured for Jake to continue as we laughed, and he took another sip of water.
“The stones speak.”
Dr. Northrop choked back another laugh and turned to the class, his arms wide. “Oh! The stones speak! What do they say?”
Jake paused, confused as he read the next name. “‘The Greek Cat’?”
The class laughed at Billy’s little joke.
Jake pulled another card from the vase. “Northrop.”
There was silence at the finality, and everyone’s eyes stayed trained on Jake, waiting for the next move. There were still cards in the vase, but Jake didn’t want to read all twenty plus index cards.
“I believe another member of the senate has a few words.” He bowed and stepped aside as Melody rose and walked to the front of the classroom.
She faced the class, hands clasped in front of her as she said, “It is with a heavy heart that we today ostracize a fellow member of our section. But we cannot forgive this betrayal. He called us ‘barbarians.’”
Dr. Northrop had been poking around amongst the seats, pointing accusingly at one of the students. At that moment, however, he withdrew, guiltily curling his fingers near his mouth.
“But this act that we have today, ostracizing one of our own, is far from barbaric.” She solemnly pressed her right fist over her heart. The class mimicked her and followed when she held it in the air in a Roman salute. The Roman custom was ill-suited for the ostracism, but since several of the students referred to Dr. Northrop as “Caesar,” and this was a Greco-Roman class it wasn’t horribly out of place.
Dr. Northrop chuckled and looked around. “Who’s behind this conspiracy?”
The laughter everyone had been holding in erupted. The laughter bubbled out, bouncing off the four walls and rolling back onto the students. They quickly silenced themselves, and some students leaned forward to see what their teacher was going to do.
Dr. Northrop strode up to the podium and set his binder and cup down on the table beside it. He looked out at the class and spied the student at the back of the classroom. “Who shall defend me against these awful accusations?” Northrop cried. “Spartacus! Spartacus!” He went to the student who he had apparently nicknamed “Spartacus” during a lesson in the other section. “You must be my lawyer! You must play the part of Cicero.” He turned to the class. “I never referred to 417-1—” He paused and pressed a hand against his forehead dramatically. “I-I can’t even say it.” They chuckled, and he lowered his hand, reaching out to Spartacus. Spartacus nodded, his head bowed as all eyes turned on him. “It’s a harsh indictment. Spartacus, Cicero, say something on my behalf.” He put his hands on Spartacus-Cicero’s shoulders and stared out at the class, waiting for his defense.
Spartacus was a Roman gladiator that had led a slave rebellion up and down the peninsula of Italy, while Cicero was a famous Latin lawyer. Spartacus was greatly feared, and Cicero was greatly admired. It was a dizzying combination.
Spartacus looked up. “You called them ‘barbarians’?”
Dr. Northrop stepped back. “That’s what they say.”
Spartacus turned to face him, stepping away as he did. “You called them ‘barbarians’?”
“I wouldn’t!” The class laughed, and he looked at them, laughing at himself. He reached out to Spartacus again. “We’re friends with barbarians.” There was more laughter, and he, again, could not keep a straight face. “We’re friends with barbarians,” he repeated, walking toward the front of the room.
“Wait, wait, wait,” Spartacus took one hand out of his pocket and waved it in halting confusion as Dr. Northrop walked away.
“We Romanize them!” Dr. Northrop cried, grabbing his podium passionately as Spartacus approached him.
“I will speak in defense,” Spartacus said, leaning on the podium, first facing us and then facing him. He held up a hand in a humble gesture. “If I may?”
Dr. Northrop nodded and chuckled. “You may.”
“I may.” He looked out at the class proudly. “There is nothing greater than being a barbarian.”
Dr. Northrop’s head shot up, mouth open in delighted triumph.
“As Spartacus, I must say, own it with pride. But in the senate? In the senate?” He gestured out at the class and looked strangely confused. “Barbarians in the senate?”
Dr. Northrop put a hooked finger to his lip thoughtfully. “That would not be appropriate.”
“So what are you doing here?”
Dr. Northrop bent over his podium, laughing, and everyone in the class laughed—including Spartacus. Dr. Northrop grabbed him as they staggered back laughing, wordlessly letting him know it was just a joke.
After the laughter had settled, Dr. Northrop reassumed his place at the head of the class. He picked up his papers and straightened his notes. “I think there has been an unjust event that’s taken place. And I think I have been cleared of all charges based on Spartacus’s testimony.”
The class laughed again, and the students began reaching into their bags to retrieve their notes and pens. The class had been successfully hijacked, and everyone was bound to be in a good mood for the rest of the day. Even though Dr. Northrop had managed to reinstate himself in his teaching position, they had gotten out of a quiz, and that was good enough for them!