Unpacking the concepts of “hero” and “villain”

By February 4, 2021March 29th, 2023No Comments

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Ms. Vered’s class uncovers the motivations of “heroes and villains” while examining Julius Caesar and the dawn of the Roman Empire.

Kids need a safe context to discuss ideas around governance, power, hierarchy, conquest and colonialism, culture, and identity – themes that regularly surface in novel ways in modern social and political discourse, but have been central to the shaping of human society. In Ms. Vered’s class, students are using role play to simulate events of 44 BC in Rome.

In keeping with the class theme of Heroes and Villains, students are asking questions like: is Julius Caesar a hero or villain? Who saw him a hero and why? Why was he viewed as a villain to others? Why did his assassination mark the end of Rome as a republic?

Students are discovering the answers to these questions through perspective taking and role playing. After being randomly assigned roles – such as senator, soldier, plebeian, or patrician – students then created their own individual history and motivation. For example, one student invented the persona of a blacksmith who is trying to sustain her business and pass it on to her children. With this perspective in mind, the student became aware that war would be good for her business, while changes to the status quo would not be. 

As their respective characters, students met in groups – which were specific to their roles and structured as the Roman republic was initially structured – to vote on certain actions, like proposing and enacting laws. The simulation has engaged kids in a political process which, while not identical to our own, is similar in many ways. And they have managed to, on their own, make a lot of the same policies and military tactical decisions that Rome made over a span of 500 years.

Now, Ms. Vered’s class is reading Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. From their experiences in the simulation, as well as in their guided research into other aspects of ancient Roman society and history, students will be able to more deeply engage with the play and better understand the motivations of its characters. This inquiry-driven and student-led unit is building core capacities, empowering students to take on a challenging piece of literature, and providing opportunities for students to explore the universality of some human experiences and the importance of culture and context for many others.