This paper was delivered as part of "The Future of Classical Education: A Dialogue," a panel organized by the SCS Program Committee at the 147th annual meeting of the SCS in San Francisco, January 8, 2016.
The problem of perceived employability
The biggest challenge that Classics as a discipline faces in the current climate in this country is surely the perception that, unless you are going to be a teacher, a BA in Classics does not make you much more employable than a high school diploma. The challenge comes from a variety of stakeholders: students, of course, current, past and future; students’ parents (I am sure we have all had conversations with parents about what young Johnny will “do” with a classics degree); but also accrediting agencies, deans and provosts, foundations and donors; and, right now, crucially, employers, and indeed many of the employers that our students are interested in working for.
This month’s column is the first part in a series I’ll post every other month or so about how we can apply and see in action the 7 principles of research-based pedagogy described in the excellent book How Learning Works, by Susan Ambrose, et al. This month’s topic: knowledge organization, ch. 2 of the book.
Greek Myth is one of the standbys of Classics general-education courses at colleges and universities across the United States. These courses often have high enrollments and are populated by students with little prior knowledge about the ancient Mediterranean world who are taking the course to fulfill a degree requirement. They may take Myth because of a lifelong interest in the stories (or because they’ve read the Percy Jackson series), they may be inspired to major in Classics by the course, or they may never read or think about Graeco-Roman culture after the term ends.
A common way of teaching the Myth survey course is like a panorama, a wide-angle shot that tries to fit in as much content as possible from a high-altitude perspective. I took a different approach in my fall 2013 Greek Myth course at Wake Forest University — a closeup, zooming in on one specific ancient myth-cycle in elaborate detail. Rather than try to cover Graeco-Roman mythology from Chaos to Romulus, encountering tidbits of art and literature from Homer to Ovid, my course focused on just one mythic figure, and students studied every major visual and textual treatment of that figure that survives from the ancient world.
The myth-cycle I selected was Herakles/Hercules.