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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Sappho reading one of her poems to a group of friends. Red-figure vase by the Group of Polygnotos, ca. 440–430 BCE. National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

The Ancient Worlds, Modern Communities initiative (AnWoMoCo), launched by the SCS in 2019 as the Classics Everywhere initiative, supports projects that seek to engage broader publics — individuals, groups, and communities — in critical discussion of and creative expression related to the ancient Mediterranean, the global reception of Greek and Roman culture, and the history of teaching and scholarship in the field of classical studies. As part of this initiative, the SCS has funded 111 projects, ranging from school programming to reading groups, prison programs, public talks and conferences, digital projects, and collaborations with artists in theater, opera, music, dance, and the visual arts. The initiative welcomes applications from all over the world. To date, it has funded projects in 25 states and 11 countries, including Canada, UK, Italy, Greece, Spain, Belgium, Ghana, Puerto Rico, Argentina, and India.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 08/02/2021 - 9:15am by .

An announcement from the organizers of the West Coast Plato Workshop:

The 2022 West Coast Plato Workshop will be on Plato’s Republic Book 1-4.  It will take place May 27-29, 2022, at Stanford University.  

We do intend this to be an in person conference (the pandemic permitting).  But we also understand that some people’s circumstances may not allow them to attend an person event.  We will make the conference available via Zoom and if anyone whose paper is accepted is unable to attend in person, we’ll work with her to make it possible for her present via Zoom.  Although we still intend it to be in person, we can make some exceptions if need be.

Submissions should consist in two separate pages: (i) the title of the paper, name(s), academic rank(s), affiliation(s), and email contact of the author(s); (ii) title and 500-word abstract prepared for blind review.  Submissions should be double-spaced in 12 point font.  MSWord or PDF formats only.  The paper presentation at the conference should be about 40 minutes in length. 

Refereeing for submissions will be blind and will be done by the present host of the WCPW along with members of the WCPW program committee and other WCPW-affiliated scholars. 

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 07/26/2021 - 7:01pm by Helen Cullyer.

H. Don Cameron (1934-2021), Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan, passed away on July 17, 2021. Among his many achievements, Professor Emeritus Cameron was the recipient of the 1987 APA Award for Teaching Excellence at the Collegiate Level.

A full obituary and tribute, written by Benjamin Fortson of the University of Michigan, is available online: https://lsa.umich.edu/classics/news-events/all-news/search-news/remembering-don-cameron.html

View full article. | Posted in In Memoriam on Mon, 07/26/2021 - 6:49pm by Helen Cullyer.
ACLS logo

An announcement from the ACLS:

The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) is pleased to announce our 2021-22 fellowship and grant competitions. Our online application system is now open for programs with September and October deadlines.

ACLS offers fellowship and grant programs that promote research across the full spectrum of humanities and interpretive social science fields. ACLS invites applications from scholars on and off the tenure track. 

Our peer review and award processes aim to promote inclusive excellence, and we welcome applicants from groups that are underrepresented in the academic humanities and from across the diverse landscape of higher education.

Detailed information including Fall 2021 deadlines is available at: https://www.acls.org/Fellowship-and-Grant-Programs/Competitions-and-Dead...

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Mon, 07/26/2021 - 6:39pm by Helen Cullyer.
Cover of Euripides' The Trojan Women: A Comic, by Rosanna Bruno and Anne Carson

By Christopher Trinacty, Emma Glen, and Emily Hudson (Oberlin College)

Anne Carson’s celebrated adaptations and translations of Ancient Greek and Latin literature have ranged from imagining the love affair between Geryon and Heracles in The Autobiography of Red to meditating about the death of her brother through Catullus 101 in Nox. In our opinion, Carson’s works highlight her theoretical sophistication as well as her deep commitment to the reception of Classics broadly understood. This new “comic” version of Euripides’ Trojan Women by Carson and illustrator Rosanna Bruno offers a creative and challenging take on Euripides’s tragedy.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 07/23/2021 - 12:45pm by .

The National Humanities Center invites applications for academic-year or one-semester residential fellowships. Mid-career, senior, and emerging scholars with a strong record of peer-reviewed work from all areas of the humanities are encouraged to apply.

Scholars from all parts of the globe are eligible; stipends and travel expenses are provided. Fellowship applicants must have a PhD or equivalent scholarly credentials. Fellowships are supported by the Center’s own endowment, private foundation grants, contributions from alumni and friends, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Located in the vibrant Research Triangle region of North Carolina, the Center affords access to the rich cultural and intellectual communities supported by the area’s research institutes, universities, and dynamic arts scene. Fellows enjoy private studies, in-house dining, and superb library services that deliver all research materials.

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Wed, 07/21/2021 - 12:18pm by Erik Shell.

Call for Papers

Saturday, February 26, 2022 

University of Florida (Gainesville, FL) 

 

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Wed, 07/21/2021 - 12:12pm by Erik Shell.

Call for Proposals – Symposium Cumanum 2022

The Vergilian Society seeks proposals for the twenty-eighth annual Symposium Cumanum, to take place at the Harry Wilks Study Center at the Villa Vergiliana in Cuma, Italy in late June 2022. We will consider a proposal on any theme pertaining to Vergil and his times, although preference may be given to a subject that has not been treated recently. Descriptions of previous symposia can be found on the Vergilian Society website, at https://www.vergiliansociety.org/symposium_cumanum/

Each proposal should be prepared by the person who is intending to direct the symposium, or by the lead person if co-directors are envisioned.  The successful director will have logistical assistance from the Vergilian Society’s Italian staff and from the executive committee; a set of guidelines is available to assist in planning.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 07/12/2021 - 10:09am by Erik Shell.
Young man with a volumen, fresco from Pompeii, 1st c.C.E., Naples.

Our fifth interview in the Contingent Faculty Series is a virtual conversation between Dr. Taylor Coughlan and Dr. Daniel Libatique.  Dr. Libatique is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Classics at the College of the Holy Cross, from which he received his undergraduate degree and where he has taught since 2018. Daniel received his Ph.D. from Boston University in 2018, and his research interests include Augustan literature, Greek drama, gender politics and sexuality, reception studies, and student-centered pedagogy. In his research, Daniel’s approaches to texts often leverage various modern theoretical frameworks, including narratology and performance theory. His publications investigate topics like the cultural reception of Ovid in our modern #MeToo era, the creation of a Latin curriculum based on morphological and syntactic frequencies in real Latin texts, and attributions of speech in the fragments of Sophocles’ Tereus. Daniel is also heavily involved in the application of digital humanities to the study of Classics and is currently working with his colleagues at Holy Cross to restructure their introductory Greek curriculum. For more of Daniel’s work, check out his website.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 07/12/2021 - 10:02am by Daniel Libatique.

(Sent on behalf of Athanassios Vergados)

We are pleased to announce the programme of our upcoming conference on ‘Reflections on Language in Early Greece’ that will take place on-line via Zoom on 1st-3rd September 2021. To obtain the zoom details, please register at https://newcastleuniversity.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZArdO-uqzwsEtCNY8qTfKAbs9cvCEPsZr17.

Please note that all times are GMT+1 (UK time).

 

 

1st September

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Fri, 07/09/2021 - 9:07am by Erik Shell.

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An announcement from the organizers of the West Coast Plato Workshop:
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