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.

Categories

Follow SCS News for information about the SCS and all things classical.

Use this field to search SCS News
Select a category from this list to limit the content on this page.

The 2020 Annual Meeting is just three weeks away.  Both the AIA and SCS are making final arrangements for what we anticipate will be an excellent meeting.  While our registration numbers for the upcoming meeting are looking good, reservations at the hotels are not looking as strong.  While we understand that some attendees will opt to stay with local friends or find a less-expensive accommodation, we rely on hotel reservations to secure the meeting space each year.

Why is it important to book at our official Annual Meeting Hotels?
The AIA and SCS are proud to have produced the Annual Meeting for our professional members for the past 120 years. Financially, we are able to do this by reserving a large block of rooms with a hotel. In exchange, these hotels offer our attendees the guaranteed lowest group rate at the hotel and provide us with complimentary meeting space to hold the meeting. But if we are unable to meet our guaranteed minimum number of registered guests, then the AIA and SCS will have to pay for the unused rooms as well as room rental for the meeting space, which can amount to a severe financial penalty. We request your support by booking within our reserved blocks and helping us continue to produce this meeting for the next 100 years.  

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 12/13/2019 - 3:19pm by Erik Shell.

Our first interview in the Women in Classics series is with Sarah B. Pomeroy, Distinguished Professor of Classics and History, Emerita, at Hunter College and the Graduate School of the City University of New York. She was born in New York City and earned her B.A. from Barnard College in 1957. She received her M.A. in 1959 and her Ph.D. in 1961, both from Columbia University. Pomeroy has been recognized as a leading authority on ancient Greek and Roman women since her book Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity was first published in 1975. Her other publications include Xenophon, Oeconomicus: A Social and Historical Commentary (1994), Families in Classical and Hellenistic Greece: Representations and Realities (1998), Spartan Women (2002), and, with Stanley M.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 12/12/2019 - 3:45pm by Claire Catenaccio.

International Association for Presocratic Studies
Seventh Biennial Conference: 15-19 July 2020

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Wed, 12/11/2019 - 1:47pm by Erik Shell.

The Lego Classicists project is more than child’s play. Recreating classics scholars in Lego bricks crosses the boundaries between pop-art and ancient history, focusing attention on the work of ancient world scholars in an environment of celebration, connection and inclusion.

Although it began almost by accident, Lego Classicists is being embraced by some of the world’s leading classics and ancient world scholars, including Dame Mary Beard. On 20th February 2019, the third annual International Lego Classicism Day also attracted participants from across the world: Cambridge University’s CREWS Project; academic and broadcaster, Michael Scott; the Director of the British School at Athens, John Bennet; staff at Stellembosch University, South Africa; the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney; the Ure Museum; Reading University; and conservators at the British Museum.



Figure 1: Dr. Duygu Camurcuoglou from the British Museum with a Lego mini-fig of herself.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 12/05/2019 - 11:42pm by Liam D. Jensen.

Joseph O’Neill and Adam Rigoni of Arizona State University are seeking abstracts from a diverse group of scholars and artists that represent multidisciplinary, multicultural redeployments of the Aeneid. We do not propose examining the Aeneid as a decidedly Roman text. Nor do we propose an examination of a cultural artifact. Rather, we seek to present a volume that deploys the Aeneid anew, one that not only reflects the Aeneid’s status as a ‘modern story’, but one that inserts the Aeneid into contemporary discourse. We understand ‘contemporary’ and ‘modern’ rather broadly—essays need not be limited strictly to the new millennium.

Possible topics include:

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Wed, 12/04/2019 - 10:28am by Erik Shell.

New to being an Affiliated Group this year, the Multiculturalism, Race & Ethnicity in Classics Consortium will be meeting at this year's annual meeting.

This meeting will take place on Saturday, January 4th, from 9:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m. in the Marquis Ballroom Salon 13.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 12/04/2019 - 10:19am by Erik Shell.

(Text provided by Tony Woodman, Basil L. Gildersleeve Professor of Classics Emertius at the University of Virginia, and Sara Myers, Professor and Chair of Classics, UVA)

Edward Courtney, Basil L. Gildersleeve Professor of Classics Emeritus at the University of Virginia, passed away peacefully on 24 November 2019. He was born in 1932 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and retained his Belfast accent throughout his life. After an outstanding career as an undergraduate at Trinity College, Dublin, where he won medals for his translations into Greek and Latin verse, he was a Research Lecturer at Christ Church, Oxford, before being appointed in 1959 to a Lectureship at King’s College, London, eventually being promoted to Professor. In 1982 he and his family emigrated to the United States, where he was Ely Professor of Classics at Stanford University; but, when the Gildersleeve Chair of Classics was inaugurated at the University of Virginia, Ted became its first holder in 1993, retiring in 2002.

View full article. | Posted in In Memoriam on Tue, 12/03/2019 - 2:54pm by Erik Shell.

Many thanks to our Local Arrangements Committee for creating a fantastic guide to the DC area for our January 2020 meeting. The guide features plenty of family-friendly activities and also includes walking tours of classical DC. 

Read and download the Local Arrangements Guide for 2020.

---

(Photo: "_DSC7061" by rhodesj, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Sat, 11/30/2019 - 7:13am by Helen Cullyer.

Precollegiate Teaching Award

College Teaching Award

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Sat, 11/30/2019 - 7:10am by Helen Cullyer.

The Committee on Public Information and Media Relations is pleased to announce that this year's Forum Prize, for a work originating outside the academy, has been awarded to Jeff Wright for Odyssey: The Podcast.

The winner of the 2019 Society for Classical Studies Forum Prize—Jeff Wright, creator and performer of Odyssey: The Podcast—takes many turns toward and away from his illustrious epic source. Jeff’s Homer is a composite character built on the bases of English translations among the most appealing today. But Jeff is not content merely to play rhapsode to Homer’s bard.

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Sat, 11/30/2019 - 7:08am by Helen Cullyer.

Pages

Latest Stories

SCS Announcements
The 2020 Annual Meeting is just three weeks away.  Both the AIA and SCS are m
Calls for Papers
International Association for Presocratic Studies
Calls for Papers
Joseph O’Neill and Adam Rigoni of Arizona State University are seeking abstra
SCS Announcements
New to being an Affiliated Group this year, the Multiculturalism, Race &

© 2019, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy