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Recontextualizing the Teaching of Ancient Greek within the New Standards for Classical Languages

Wilfred Major

Louisiana State University

The newly revised standards for teaching Classical languages provide an occasion to recontextualize the teaching of ancient Greek at all levels. Given the precarious enrollments in Greek, seizing this opportunity may well be essential to the future of teaching ancient Greek in the US.

Pedagogical materials for ancient Greek remain dominated by a structure and approach that privileges formal analysis and literary appreciation. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it is rooted in times when this approach was integrated into students’ broader educational experience. The standards emphasize that language instruction is now embedded in broader cultural contexts. While this means a change for instruction in Greek, it is one Classicists are well-positioned to make. Culture classes are now a standard part of our curriculum, but we need to strengthen the connections between them and our Greek classes. Happily, newer materials for Greek are already moving in a direction to support and foster new types of connections.

While some traditionally canonical texts are no longer so central to students’ schooling, there remain many points of contact in students’ current educational experience for the reintegration of teaching ancient Greek. The five C’s of the standards, especially Communities, provide a productive framework to link Greek language instruction to areas in the educational curriculum that have deep roots in the Greek language, and the standards mean we can capitalize on students’ preparation to make such connections. Courses on mythology and the Judeo-Christian tradition routinely invoke Greek terms but Greek language instruction needs to reciprocate in this dialogue. The Greek roots of medicine and STEM disciplines are normally restricted to etymology, but the connections run deeper. Not just words but methodologies are embedded in Greek language and culture. Readings related to ancient medicine, biology and geometry resonate with students trained in the language models of the standards. Literary and philosophical texts, along with a broad array of visual arts, remain of interest as cultural artifacts of their communities and cultures.

Activities and lessons as simple as transliteration can foster the intellectual work for which the standards prepare students. More advanced activities (e.g., a broader array of readings even at the elementary level) will require bolder departures from traditional instruction in the Greek language, but the result can be a Greek classroom more truly central to education than ever before.

Session/Panel Title

The New Standards for Learning Classical Languages (organized by the Committee on Education)

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