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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We've put together a list of the special events that will take place at the 2018 Annual Meeting.

Note that, while paper sessions will take place in the Marriott, a large portion of the evening events will be housed in the Westin.

The upcoming December Newsletter from the SCS office will have more information about these and other events at the Annual Meeting.

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

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 11/22/2017 - 10:39am by Erik Shell.
Advanced Seminar in the Humanities 2018– 2019
Literature and Culture in the Ancient Mediterranean: Greece, Rome, and the Near East

From March 12 to March 23, 2018 Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia, in cooperation with Venice International University, will offer an advanced seminar on “Literature and Culture in the Ancient Mediterranean: Greece, Rome and the Near East”.

The Program

The program is conceived as a two year commitment over two successive years (2018 and 2019). The first session (March 12-23, 2018) will consist of lectures by scholars with a seminar approach on the origins and development of literary genres and literacy in Ancient Greece, Rome and the Near East. Some of the lectures will run simultaneously and will be devoted respectively to the interpretation of specific classical and near Eastern texts, with more focus on textual analysis. An evening lecture by an invited speaker special is also under consideration.

The lectures will alternate with a series of site visits, for example, to the Marciana Library, the Library of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, and the Basilica of San Marco.

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Tue, 11/21/2017 - 12:35pm by Erik Shell.

CLASSICAL ASSOCIATION OF THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST (CAPN)
ANNUAL MEETING, MARCH 9-10, 2018
CALL FOR PAPERS

The 48th Annual Meeting of the Classical Association of the Pacific Northwest (CAPN) will take place at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA, on March 9-10, 2018. The keynote speaker will be Professor Joy Connolly, Provost of the Graduate Center, CUNY.

Call for Papers: We invite papers on any aspect of the ancient Mediterranean world, including Greece, Rome, Egypt, and the Ancient Near East. We especially seek those that are likely to be of broad interest and seek to make connections among different elements of the ancient world. Such connections may cross traditional disciplinary boundaries (such as archaeology, drama, history, literature, and philosophy) or geographical boundaries (e.g., looking at intersections between Greek society and Roman society) or even temporal boundaries (including receptions of Mediterranean antiquity in later places and times). We also welcome pedagogical papers, especially those that address the instruction of Latin and Greek at the primary, secondary, and university levels. Teachers and students of Classics at any level of instruction (K-12, college, or university) are encouraged to submit abstracts.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 11/21/2017 - 12:00pm by Erik Shell.
30th International Conference of Philosophy
"POLIS, COSMOPOLIS AND GLOBALISATION"
July 20-26, 2018
Samos, Greece

Call for Abstracts

This conference will bring together philosophers, classicists, researchers and scholars from all areas whose work concerns important issues involving various aspects of globalization, the notion of globalization itself and/or Greek philosophy. The conference aims at providing a platform for in-depth analysis and discussion of the above mentioned themes.

We welcome submissions from a wide range of disciplines, including economy, ontology, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politic, as well as other relevant disciplines and fields. Each paper session will have 20 minutes for presentation followed by Q/A session.

Papers presented at the conference will be eligible for inclusion in a proceedings Volume. We are looking to publish works that explore ideas, concepts, theories and their implications across multiple disciplines and professions that grapple with the relevant problems of our age.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 11/21/2017 - 10:39am by Erik Shell.

Mark Masterson, Senior Lecturer of Classics at Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand) and member of the SCS for over 20 years, has been awarded a grant $476,000 from the Marsden Fund administered by Royal Society for his research project, "Revealing Desire between Men in the Byzantine Empire". He will be holder of this grant for three years starting in 2018.  Here is a link to the awards the Royal Society made this year:

https://royalsociety.org.nz/what-we-do/funds-and-opportunities/marsden/awarded-grants/marsden-awards-2017/

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View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Tue, 11/21/2017 - 8:39am by Erik Shell.
Scene from Roman History, depicting a Youth receiving Armor from a Dying Man

The pitfalls facing intermediate Latin students as they move from a basic knowledge of forms and the simplified Latin of textbooks to actually reading Latin are well-known. It’s not just the artful word order or sophisticated grammar of classical texts. As Kenneth Kitchell emphasized in a well-known article (Kitchell 2000), the geographical and cultural knowledge required can baffle even the student well trained in verb forms, case usage, and syntax. Then there is the well-known tendency of students themselves to ignore low-hanging fruit, to spurn the solicitously extended helping hand in the form of commentaries on their Latin texts, notes specifically designed to help them surmount these difficulties. What can be done?

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 11/20/2017 - 8:00pm by Emma Vanderpool.

The SCS Outreach Prize Committee has awarded the 2017 Outreach Prize to Professor Roberta Stewart of Dartmouth College for her work in developing book discussion groups on the Homeric poems with military veterans. Professor Stewart's long-running initiative is now a major collaborative project of Dartmouth College and New Hampshire Humanities, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Award Citation

Even in today's busy, noisy, and self-absorbed world, the passionate, quiet, and selfless work of the individual does not remain unnoticed. We are proud to offer the 2017 SCS Outreach Prize to Roberta Stewart for her tireless pursuit of healing and social justice (in New Hampshire and Vermont) through engaging veterans in reading and discussing Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. By teaching them how to appropriate the two epics as living texts, she has given veterans, as one of them put it, the controlling voice in processing their experiences and their Odyssean stories of homecoming in particular.

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Sun, 11/19/2017 - 8:40pm by Helen Cullyer.

Contributed by Professor Jamie Romm, Bard College:

William (Bill) Mullen, professor of classics at Bard College, died suddenly on Nov. 2, 2 days before he would have turned 71.

Bill earned his B.A. degree from Harvard and his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin.  His doctoral dissertation was titled “Pindar’s Aeginetans,” a study of the odes for Aeginetan victors. Bill published a book on Pindar, "Choreia: Pindar and Dance," (Princeton 1982), in which he made a bold attempt to reimagine the choreography of the danced epinician poems.

Bill was beloved of many students at Bard in the 32 years he taught there, and built the college's Classics program virtually ex nihilo. He came to Bard as associate professor of classics in 1985, after earlier stints at Boston University and St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland.   He was a devotee of oral recitation of ancient verse and participated actively in The Readers of Homer, a nonprofit organization that sponsors audience-participation readings of the Homeric epics. In 2013–14, he served as Distinguished Visiting Professor at the United States Air Force Academy, an honor of which he was particularly proud. 

View full article. | Posted in In Memoriam on Fri, 11/17/2017 - 12:38pm by Helen Cullyer.

This is a reminder that the deadline to fill out the registration form for the Career Networking Event is November 22nd.

This event is only open to those who pre-register for it.

To sign up, fill out this form before the 22nd, and be sure to direct any questions to info@classicalstudies.org

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

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 11/16/2017 - 8:18am by Erik Shell.
CLEISTHENES WORKSHOP
 
on Ancient Greek Thought and Practices from Homer to Plato
 
April 5th (2 pm) – 6th (5pm), 2018 in Besançon, France.
Scientific Committee : Michel Fartzoff, Karin Mackowiak, Arnaud Macé
Logiques de l'Agir EA 2274 & Institut des sciences et techniques de l'Antiquité EA 4011
 
CALL FOR PAPERS.
 
View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 11/14/2017 - 10:50am by Erik Shell.

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