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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Our second interview in the Contingent Faculty Series is with Ryan C. Fowler, who is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Classics at Franklin & Marshall College. Ryan teaches a wide variety of classes, including Ancient Medicine and Ancient Rhetoric and Persuasion. He has written a number of articles and books on Platonism in the early Roman Empire.  Ryan held a residential fellowship at the Center for Hellenic Studies in 2014, was Sunoikisis fellow for curricular development from 2012-2016, and has also taught at Grinnell College and Knox College.  He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from Rutgers University, an M.A. in Classical Greek from Columbia University, and an M.A. in philosophy from San Francisco State University.

How has working in a contingent position affected your work as a teacher? And do you think working in such a position has given you a different perspective on teaching or working at a college or university?

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 03/06/2020 - 6:23am by Andrew G. Scott.
"Empty Theatre (almost)"by Kevin Jaako, licensed under CC BY 2.0

A Forum on Thornton Wilder's Alcestiad at Fordham University

The Dean's Office of Fordham College at Lincoln Center, the Fordham Theatre Program, and the Fordham Department of Classics will present A Forum on Thornton Wilder’s Alcestiad on March 6, 2020. This June, Fordham Artist-in-Residence and Artistic Director of Magis Theatre Company, George Drance S.J., will stage Thornton Wilder’s Alcestiad at Four Freedoms Park in New York City.  In anticipation of the production, a panel discussion of the script will be held on March 6, 2020 at 6:30pm. The event will be held at the Twelfth Floor Lounge at Fordham Lincoln Center. Panelists will include George Drance, S.J. (Fordham University and Magis Theatre Company), Elizabeth Scharffenberger (Columbia University) and Jerise Fogel (Montclair State University).  Actors from Magis Theatre will also present a few scenes from the upcoming production.  The event is free and open to the public.

View full article. | Posted in Performances on Thu, 03/05/2020 - 1:06pm by Erik Shell.

The 2020 SCS Election Slate and narrative report of the 2019-2020 Nominating Committee are now available on our website. 

Thank you to our Nominating Committee members and to all those who have agreed to stand in summer 2020.

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

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 03/05/2020 - 9:13am by Helen Cullyer.

As previously announced, Patrice Rankine and Sasha-Mae Eccleston will serve as guest editors of a future issue of TAPA with the theme of race, racism, and Classics (issue 153:1, to appear April 2023). Their detailed call for papers, along with instructions and deadlines for submission, follows.

Race and Racism: Beyond the Spectacular

…the “cultural logic” of lynching enables it to emerge and persist throughout the modern era because its violence “fit” within the broader, national cultural developments. This synchronicity captures why I refer to lynching as “spectacular”: the violence made certain cultural developments and tensions visible for Americans to confront.

Jacqueline Goldsby, A Spectacular Secret: Lynching in American Life and Literature

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Wed, 03/04/2020 - 9:28am by Helen Cullyer.

The program submission system is now open and accepting proposals.

You can visit the main page at https://program.classicalstudies.org/

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View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 03/03/2020 - 8:29am by Erik Shell.

Workshop: Socratic eudaimonia and the care for others

An event sponsored by the International Society for Socratic Studies

Verona, April 8-9, 2020

Despite the appearances given by certain texts, the moral psychology of Socrates need not imply selfishness. On the contrary, a close look at passages in Plato and Xenophon (see Plato, Meno 77-78, Protagoras 358, Gorgias 466-468, Euthydemus 278, Lysis 219; Xenophon, Memorabilia 3.9.4-5) suggests that the egoist’s welfare depends upon the welfare of others (i.e. family or friends). Since the welfare of the egoist’s family and friends is part of the egoist’s own eudaimonia, the egoist has a direct and intrinsic motive to promote the welfare of these others.

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Mon, 03/02/2020 - 9:03am by Erik Shell.

The new Classics Everywhere initiative, launched by the SCS in 2019, supports projects that seek to engage communities worldwide with the study of Greek and Roman antiquity in new and meaningful ways. As part of this initiative the SCS has been funding a variety of projects ranging from reading groups comparing ancient to modern leadership practices to collaborations with artists in theater, music, and dance. In this post we honor Black History Month and focus on programs that support and encourage the engagement of black communities globally with the study of classical antiquity.

Advocacy, growth, and inclusion are the three new strategic priorities that the SCS is committing to for the immediate future. The following programs, funded by Classics Everywhere, exemplify these priorities by seeking out and fostering the perspective of black students, scholars, and artists in the study of classical antiquity and its legacy: an event celebrating the release of a new book on classical reception, a public panel in Ghana, and the creation of a new curriculum for young African Americans in New Orleans.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 02/28/2020 - 6:54am by .

“BA Program in the Archaeology, History, and Literature of Ancient Greece”

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 02/27/2020 - 10:15am by Erik Shell.

Languages of Ecology: Ancient and Early Modern Approaches to Nature

Colloquium at the Getty Research Institute
Getty Research Institute & Volkswagen Foundation
 
March 18, 2020 | Museum Lecture Hall
Organized by Jesús Muñoz Morcillo, GRI Volkswagen Foundation Fellow

Languages of Ecology: Ancient and Early Modern Approaches to Nature focuses on the origins, variety, and transformations of notions of ecology in antiquity and the early modern period.

The colloquium aims to initiate an interdisciplinar debate about epistemic and literary-based image production that led to popular, symbolic, and new scientific notions of ecology. Studies into the foundations and traditions of environmental thinking and ancient experiences of nature, including eco-critical attitudes, enable a better understanding of the different languages of ecology that emerged and co-existed during the early modern period and beyond.

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Thu, 02/27/2020 - 9:02am by Erik Shell.

AGAMBEN AND HIS INTERLOCUTORS

April 2-3, 2020, Marshall University

Call for papers

The inaugural Agamben and His Interlocutors Conference will take place April 2-3, 2020, on the Huntington, WV campus of Marshall University. Giorgio Agamben is a contemporary political philosopher whose scholarship has had a lasting impact on a wide variety of fields, from political theory to classics and anthropology. The conference is being organized by three Marshall University faculty: Professor Robin Conley Riner (Anthropology), Professor Christina Franzen (Classics), and Professor Jeffrey Powell (Philosophy). As is suggested by the conference title and its organizers, it will be an inherently interdisciplinary affair, drawing from the various interlocutors with whom Agamben has engaged.

Abstract submissions should be no longer than 250 words and are due via email to conleyr@marshall.edu by March 16, 2020. Presenters will have an hour each for presentation and discussion. Abstracts will be accepted from undergraduate and graduate students and faculty.

Keynote speakers

  • Dr. Kevin Attell, Cornell University, English
  • Dr. Thomas Biggs, University of Georgia, Classics

Contact

Robin Riner

Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Marshall University

One John Marshall Drive

Huntington, WV 25701

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 02/25/2020 - 3:16pm by Erik Shell.

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