Trends in Teaching the Classics to Undergraduates

by Mary Pendergraft, Wake Forest University

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 economic volatility of the last decade has taken a toll on education at every level; the humanities in general and language studies in particular have suffered far more than STEM subjects; and among languages, Greek and Latin, which offer no immediately profitable benefits, feel especially vulnerable. Many of us feel this concern instinctively and find that anecdotes from around the country reinforce our concerns. In addition, three national organizations have published large-scale reports that each offer a different snapshot on the state of undergraduate education.Wake Forest student Mary Somerville talks with her teammates to solve advanced grammar problems in a role-playing game, April 15, 2013. Photo: via flickr, © Wake Forest University

AAAS

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has published two national departmental surveys of humanities departments in four-year institutions, in 2008 and 2013; only the second looked specifically at Classics departments. It tells us that

  • 276 institutions had departments of classics in 2012–13, with an average of 7 faculty members, for a total of 1,920 faculty members.
  • 4,770 juniors and seniors had a declared major in classics at the beginning of fall semester 2012, an average of 17 per department. The average number of majors was highest (32.1) for schools where the highest degree offered is the Master’s. The average number of majors in baccalaureate institutions was 13.6, and in doctorate-granting programs 23.7.
  • 2,240 Bachelor’s degrees in classics were awarded in 2012–13, an average of 8.1 per department.

For comparison, Philosophy departments were also first surveyed in 2012–13; they number 754, with a total of 7,830 faculty members. They average 27 junior and senior majors per department, and the greatest concentration is in research universities (18 majors per department); Baccalaureate and Master’s-degree institutions averaged 8 and 9 majors per department, respectively. 9,850 Philosophy Bachelor’s degrees were completed in that year, with an average of 13.1 per department.

SCS

Second, the SCS surveyed departments during Academic Year 2013–14; this study showed that approximately 190 majors graduated, a fact that suggests that the number of departments responding was smaller than the number in the AAAS survey. The average number of graduates per department in that year, however, was very close to the AAAS number: eight. There were somewhat more women than men, and on average fewer than two minority students, a disturbingly small number and an ongoing concern in every aspect of our discipline.

MLA

Both of these studies are interesting, but it is the annual survey of enrollments by the Modern Language Association where we find the most longitudinal data, stretching back to 1958. Their periodic surveys of language enrollments first included Latin and Greek in 1968; surveys of the twenty-first century, in 2002, 2006, 2009, 2013, show that Latin enrollments reached a high of 32,444, reported in 2009, and fell to a low of 27,000 in 2013. The latter number is comparable to the numbers for each survey in the 1990s. Greek, on the other hand, had the highest enrollments during the years surveyed—22,800—in 2006, only to plummet to fewer than 13,000 in 2013.

The SCS survey includes numbers for various courses in classical studies; there is no long term data for comparison, but the enrollments seem relatively healthy—something that my own observation supports. It seems that, while we can’t be complacent about Latin or Classics enrollments, it is Greek where we have good reason for concern.    

Pedagogy

With that background, I’d like to look at ways that course offerings and pedagogical approaches have undergone changes in the last decade or so, and I’ll tackle course offerings first. The SCS census asks about Ancient Art & Archaeology, Ancient History, Ancient Philosophy, Classical Civilization, Literature in Translation, Mythology, and Etymology—all titles, at least, that are familiar since my own undergraduate days. Two newer areas of focus appear as well, the Classical Tradition and Gender & Sexuality Studies. Where twenty years ago, for instance, a forward-thinking department would offer “Women in the Ancient World,” focusing on texts and inscriptions, say, today such a course reflects a theoretical sophistication that we would also find in a department of Gender and Sexuality. Similarly, as Classical Reception has emerged as a field of study, at the same time Classics courses that look at the afterlife of ancient models become more sophisticated as well.

Under even familiar headings, too, it’s very likely that the emphases and pedagogical strategies are new ones, and the same is true in language courses. I will simply call attention to some examples. Perhaps a dozen or more programs use Latin as the language of instruction—in whole or in part.1 And summer opportunities for practicing the active use of Latin are flourishing (see below for a list of Conventicula). Comparable programs for Greek are emerging more slowly.

Distance learning opportunities make it possible for programs to address larger audiences and in turn draw on a larger pool of offerings for their students: Synoikisis, a national consortium of Classics programs, is one very successful example.

Role-playing and gaming as instructional strategies can assume a variety of forms; in 2015 the SCS meeting included a panel of instructors who employ an array of such techniques. The Reacting to the Past project consists of elaborate games, set in the past, in which students are assigned roles informed by classic texts in the history of ideas. Classicists have been involved in this project almost since its inception.

Challenges for Greek

The importance of new teaching strategies, especially for Greek, was a lively topic on the Classics list earlier in January, prompted by James Romm’s article in last Sunday’s NY Times: “Beginning Greek, Again and Again.” His reflections on the inevitable frustrations that attend the joy of teaching Greek struck a nerve with many of us. At the same time, all the numbers we looked at above tell us that we need desperately to address declining Greek enrollments. Two themes emerge in discussions of that decline. One arose in that recent online conversation: the need to improve pedagogy in Greek. While examples of the innovative practices more widely adopted among our high school colleagues appear in some college Latin programs—the use of Latin in instruction, for instance—they are far less frequent in Greek. A strategy cited for its potential benefit is the use Comprehensible Input, that is, providing students with readings that are readily intelligible in order to increase their fluency. Again, far more materials are available for Latin than for Greek.

A second challenge facing Greek teachers has been raised by Willy Major of the Committee for the Promotion of Greek, and is echoed by others: As student demographics change, the study of Greek once again—still?—is perceived as a bastion of privilege removed from and absolutely unrelated to current concerns, and this perception persists to an extent that is not the case with Latin. This fact argues not only for new teaching but also for new entry points, perhaps, into its study. Students of engineering can be introduced to Archimedes, for instances; students whose tradition focuses on the Ottoman Empire need to know who founded Byzantium.

As an example of the kinds of changes that are taking place in teaching strategies and in content, I’ll take my own department at Wake Forest, the one I know best. From 1988 to 2008, there were four of us, good teachers all, but not, in general, engaged in pedagogical innovation. Since then three retirements have made us a department of teachers from a generation who have been engaged in questions of pedagogy in ways my age mates and I never were. My colleague Michael Sloan, for instance, is developing a repository of online Latin drills that can provide the out-of-class backbone for one kind of flipped class, where class time focuses on reading at sight.

My colleague Ted Gellar-Goad turned a required course for Latin majors—Advanced Grammar and Composition—into an elaborate role-playing game. His First Year Seminar combines two Reacting to the Past games, one set in Athens in 403 and the other in Rome immediately after Caesar’s assassination. John Oksanish developed an FYS called “Ancient STEM Societies.” Selena Witzke is designing digital portfolios for her course on women in the ancient world.

One of our most ambitious initiatives is still in the planning stage. Like many institutions, we see a growing number of students who are exempted from the language requirement for reasons of ability; large numbers of them are student athletes, first generation college students, and new Americans. In the case of some students, their disabilities are insurmountable, but perhaps that is not true for all of them. We hope to pilot an alternative Greek sequence that will be open only by recommendation from the dean’s office or the learning center and that will teach not only the Greek language but study skills, linguistic awareness, and more. At the same time, we hope that these students will gain confidence in their ability as learners. We’re very excited.

Conventicula:

Dickinson College

Paideia Institute

Polis: The Jerusalem Institute for Languages and Humanities

SALVI

University of Kentucky

University of Massachusetts-Boston

Wyoming Catholic College

Photo: Wake Forest student Mary Somerville talks with her teammates to solve advanced grammar problems in a role-playing game, April 15, 2013. Photo: via flickr, © Wake Forest University 


1. University of Kentucky; Davidson College; Ave Maria University; Washington University St. Louis; University of Houston; Christendom College; New Saint Andrews College; University of Massachusetts at Boston; Temple University; Western Washington University; Wyoming Catholic College; Cornell College.

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150th Logo

As part of the organization's Sesquicentennial celebrations, SCS has developed a short history of its book publications. You can read that history here and download a full list of books published by SCS, formerly the American Philological Association.

View full article. | Posted in Websites and Resources on Mon, 12/10/2018 - 11:35am by Helen Cullyer.

TEACHING ROME AT HOME

May 2-4, 2019, College Park, Maryland

The Department of Classics at the University of Maryland, College Park, invites proposals from university and K-12 teachers and graduate students for papers and workshops on the ways in which Latin and ancient Roman civilization are now being taught to and connected with a contemporary American audience, with special emphasis on issues of contemporary urgency such as the legacies of gender and social inequality and of slavery. 

The "Classics" were etymologically and institutionally synonymous with attending "class" in the United States from the colonial period up until the end of the nineteenth century.  Americans studied Roman history and literature in school and thus Rome seemed already to be their “home,” especially since the Romans deposed kings who once ruled them just as revolutionary Americans set out to do with the British King. Over its second century, however, America gradually confronted its idealization of a Roman past and began to explore, in discussions of women's rights, of sexual identity, of multiculturalism, and of the fall of Rome, the ways in which the realities of antiquity might speak to us.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 12/10/2018 - 9:47am by Erik Shell.










Prof. Laura Gawlinski takes a look at the newly renovated Epigraphic Museum in Athens and notes the ways in which museums are working to make their holdings more accessible for students, teachers, and the public. 


Renovated Room 11. Molly Richardson (ASCSA/ SEG) introduces the EM to members of the Regular Program of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. 

Many readers of the SCS blog have had the pleasure of carrying out research at the Epigraphic Museum in Athens. If you haven’t visited in a while, it is well worth stopping by to see the results of the recent renovations of its two main exhibition rooms, celebrated in a grand opening ceremony on May 25, 2017. 

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 12/10/2018 - 7:27am by Laura Gawlinski.

Classical reception comes in many forms—including beer. Just ask Colin MacCormack, a Classics graduate student at the University of Texas-Austin. For the past few years, he has been brewing his own beer with classically inspired names and labels that he makes himself. He often serves these brews at annual lectures or at department functions.

I can attest firsthand to the fact that MacCormack’s beer is delicious, but what stuck with me longer than either his hoppy Rye Pale Ale or his Ale Caesar! Honey-Sage IPA was the time he put into his beer labels. It got me thinking not only about the way that the ancient world is reshaped in popular culture, but what role Classicists can and should have in shaping that reformulation.


Figure 1: At the Classics Department at UT-Austin's annual William J. Battle Lecture, graduate student Colin MacCormack brews and labels beer for the annual lecturer. In 2017, there was a rye pale ale and a Belgian style quadrupel (Image taken by Sarah E. Bond right before she drank both of these beers).

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 12/07/2018 - 7:01am by Sarah Bond.

Philip Levine

September 8, 1922 - November 25, 2018

Dr. Philip Levine died at age 96 on Sunday, November 25, 2018. Born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, he moved to Beverly Hills in 1961 where he resided for the rest of his life. He leaves behind two sons, Jared and Dr. Harlan, who were his biggest source of pride, and four grandchildren, Zoe, Zachary, Hannah and Zane, who were a source of joy later in life.

View full article. | Posted in In Memoriam on Tue, 12/04/2018 - 9:29am by Erik Shell.

(Written by Ralph Rosen and Joe Farrell, with assistance from Karen Faulkner and James O’Donnell)

Wesley D. Smith, Professor Emeritus of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, died at his home in Philadelphia on June 23, 2018. He was 88 years old.

Wesley was born in the copper-mining town of Ely, Nevada on March 26, 1930. His family moved to Seattle, where he attended public schools and the University of Washington, where he earned a BA in Classics in 1951. He went on to graduate work at Harvard University, earning his MA in 1953 and his PhD in 1955. That same year, he began teaching in the Classics Department at Princeton University, but was immediately drafted into the U.S. Navy upon the expiration of his student visa. Between 1956  and 1958, his duties included organizing and running high school classes for naval recruits in Virginia. In later life, Wesley liked to say that he ran the first racially integrated school in that state. He returned to Princeton in 1957, and then in 1961 moved to Penn, where he remained, rising through the cursus honorum from assistant professor to associate professor to professor, until his retirement in 1996. 

View full article. | Posted in In Memoriam on Tue, 12/04/2018 - 9:15am by Erik Shell.
This year, thirteen intrepid classicists ventured into uncharted territory: they wrote business cases for the "Becoming a Leader" series of Ancient Leadership case studies for the online SAGE Business Cases (SBC). Following on their successful experiment, I would like to invite you to submit case proposals for "Emotional Intelligence and Leadership", the next series of Ancient Leadership cases for SBC.
 
View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 12/04/2018 - 8:42am by Erik Shell.

Introduction

This year the SCS Is proud to announce two winners of our annual Outreach Prize.

Please join us in congratulating the University of Cincinnati and Dr. Sarah Bond for their unparalleled efforts.

Winners

The Classics Outreach Program of the University of Cincinnati

The Outreach Prize Committee is very happy to award the 2018 SCS Outreach Prize to the University of Cincinnati’s Classics Outreach Program.

For a decade now, the Classics Outreach Program has been taking the “Classics for All” mission to heart. In close consultation with faculty members who serve as mentors, Cincinnati Classics graduate students have been meeting with a wide variety of local audiences and sharing with them the wonders of ancient Greece, Rome, and the Ancient Mediterranean more broadly.

Driven by their love of teaching and passion for the material, the members of the Outreach Program have devoted their time and energy to bringing the classical world in all its complexity to many who would not otherwise have such a chance to explore them: students in elementary, middle, and high schools (private and public; suburban and inner-city); community and youth centers; and the elderly in retirement communities and nursing homes. UC’s Outreach Program has thus helped cultivate interest in classical culture amongst a broad range of constituents.

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Mon, 12/03/2018 - 2:49pm by Erik Shell.

Call for Papers: Symposium Campanum 2019

Reading the City: Inscriptions of the Bay of Naples

October 23-27, 2019

Directors: Jacqueline DiBiasie-Sammons (University of Mississippi) and Holly M. Sypniewski (Millsaps College)

The Vergilian Society invites proposals for papers for the 2019 Symposium Campanum at the Villa Vergiliana in Cuma, Italy.

This symposium investigates the role of inscribed materials in the cities, towns, and villas of Campania. Unlike the nearly bare walls of today’s ruins, the written word had a vibrant presence in antiquity. From the large, stone inscriptions on buildings and monuments, to the small, nearly invisible graffiti in private homes, writing was ubiquitous. The goal of the symposium is to investigate the role of inscriptions in the Bay of Naples. How did everyday people interact with the writing on their walls, tombs, statues, and buildings? Does the presence and quantity of writing inform our understanding of ancient literacy? What is the potential and limitations of inscriptions to illuminate aspects of Roman society, or their limitations?

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 12/03/2018 - 11:56am by Erik Shell.

Dear Colleagues,

I would like to draw your attention to the following announcement from the Association of Ancient Historians (AAH):

The deadline for the receipt of paper proposals for the AAH Annual Meeting in April 2019 at Emory University in suburban Atlanta, Georgia, has been extended until Wednesday, December 5th, 2018 at 11:59 p.m.

The theme this year is “Connections and Receptions in the Ancient Mediterranean World.” Please submit a 300-word abstract and short bibliography of 3-5 sources reflecting the state of the question (bibliography not required for Presidential panel) to ancientmed@emory.edu.

All of our sessions will be held in the new Rita Anne Rollins building in the Candler School of Theology on the Emory campus. The meeting room includes smart technology for presentations. Hotel accommodation can be reserved at the Emory Conference Center Hotel (https://www.emoryconferencecenter.com/) on the edge of campus.

Papers are welcome on the following topics:

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 12/03/2018 - 10:55am by Erik Shell.

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