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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May, 2020

Below is a list of the most recent NEH grantees and their Classically-themed projects. The NEH helps fund a number of SCS initiatives, and their support affects the field of Classics at a national and local level.

Grantees

  • Michael Leese (University of New Hampshire) - "Institutions and Economic Development in Ancient Greece"
  • Angelos Chaniotis (Institute for Advanced Study) - "Reconstructing Ancient History through Squeeze Digitization at the Institute for Advanced Study"
  • Roslyn Weiss (Lehigh University) - "Justice in Plato's Republic: The Lessons of Book 1"
  • Elizabeth Baltes (Coastal Carolina University) - "Portrait Statuary from the Athenian Agora Excavations"
  • Richard Armstrong (University of Houston) - "Theory and Theatricality in the Early Work of Sigmund Freud"
  • Michael Brumbaugh (Tulane University) - "Plato and the Guaraní Republics of Colonial Paraguay"
  • Evan Rodriguez (Idaho State University) - "Rivals or Relatives? Tracking Truth and Ways of Knowing among Plato and the Sophists in Classical Greece"

Congratulations to all grantees!

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(Photo: "Logo of the United States National Endowment for the Humanities" by National Endowment for the Humanities, public domain, edited to fit thumbnail template)

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Mon, 05/04/2020 - 11:54am by Erik Shell.

Update on COVID-19 Joint Relief Fund

The SCS and WCC are delighted to announce that CAMWS, CANE, and CAAS have joined forces with us in sponsoring the SCS/WCC COVID-19 Relief Fund. This fund will support microgrants of up to $500 to graduate students and contingent faculty based in North America. Each organization will additionally offer free membership for the remainder of 2020 to successful applicants.

Already, only a week after the April 23 launch of this initiative, we have much to report. As we noted in our initial announcement, the WCC and SCS started this fund together with $15,000. Within eight hours of launching the fund, we had more than thirty applicants, enough to consume our entire seed money. At the same time, individual donations started pouring in, as did substantial pledges from the regional organizations CAMWS, CANE, and CAAS. Thanks to all their generosity, the fund has now doubled in value, allowing us to help more people. Yet we are still not able to meet the need: as of today, there are seventy-eight applicants to the fund, with more arriving daily. 

Due to the high demand, the COVID-19 Fund Selection Committee met this week on an accelerated schedule and selected twenty-five individuals with urgent needs, mostly graduate students but also contingent faculty, to receive this award in an initial round. The committee will meet again to consider applications on May 10th for disbursement by May 20th.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 05/01/2020 - 12:13pm by Erik Shell.

How has the field of Classics changed with the growth of digital writing and social media? How can this writing reframe how ancient languages function online?

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 05/01/2020 - 6:45am by Patrick J. Burns.

Call for Proposals

Lessons from COVID-19: Reflections on Teaching and Learning Remotely

Special Issue of Teaching Classical Languages

As the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced classes to move to “remote delivery,” students and teachers alike are fearful that both “Everything Will Change” and “Nothing Will Change.” For teachers concerned about the rise of online and distance education, this emergency foray into online teaching prefigures a turn to more permanent and widespread online delivery of coursework: everything will change. For underserved students for whom school serves as a safe place and provides the possibility for socio-economic mobility, the emphasis on technology in remote delivery reiterates geographic and class disparities: nothing will change.

The world over, we are hoping that we will emerge from this period somehow changed for the better: that we will learn lessons about what really matters and how better to do what matters most. We are concerned to make the best use of this bizarre opportunity to reconsider our lives, our priorities, our work, our teaching.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 04/28/2020 - 9:25am by Erik Shell.

The SCS Board has endorsed a statement from the American Sociological Association calling on higher education administrations to revise a number of their academic policies.

Two main policy recommendations include recommending "that institutions make temporary adjustments to timelines for student progression and completion, including revising funding timelines as appropriate" and to adjust "expectations for learning and scholarship during this period...[including] alternate grading options or amended graduation requirements."

You can read the full statement here.

View full article. | Posted in Public Statements on Fri, 04/24/2020 - 10:53am by Erik Shell.

The 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. In this post we focus on three projects that continue their activity through the COVID-19 pandemic.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 04/24/2020 - 4:39am by .

The Society for Classical Studies (SCS) and the Women’s Classical Caucus (WCC) would like to announce the creation of the SCS-WCC COVID-19 Relief Fund, a new award fund to support classicists, particularly graduate students and contingent faculty, experiencing precarity as a result of the pandemic. Applicants do not have to be current members of the SCS or WCC but do need to be currently active scholars or graduate students who study the ancient Mediterranean world. We know that what we can offer is unlikely to match the needs arising from the crisis, but we hope that these microgrants can give immediate, unrestricted financial support.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 04/22/2020 - 8:19pm by Helen Cullyer.

Each year the SCS holds a roundtable at regional classics meetings across the country to speak directly with members and non-members about a particular issue that looms large in the field. Due to the cancelation, postponement, or virtual movement of regional classics association meetings, the SCS would like to hold an additional, virtual roundtable with this year's topic: "The 'Limits' of Classical Studies," where we consider what geographies, cultures, and time periods fall into the loose category that we call the classics.

This roundtable will take place on May 12 at 1:00 p.m. EST. Please RSVP for the Zoom meeting using this form. You will be contacted 24 hours before the roundtable with a Zoom access link and other supplementary information as needed.

We look forward to a lively and substantive discussion!

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 04/20/2020 - 10:35am by Erik Shell.

Dear SCS Members,

We would like to remind you of the approaching deadlines for submissions for the 2021 AIA/SCS Annual Meeting.  Please see below for relevant deadlines associated with submission type, plus an update to the deadline for reports from Category II Affiliated Groups that have issued a call for abstracts. We would like to remind you that, unless stated otherwise, submissions should be made via the SCS submission website at https://program.classicalstudies.org.  

DEADLINES:  

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 04/16/2020 - 9:20am by Erik Shell.

In  her ‘art of translation’ column, Adrienne K.H. Rose interviews Jinyu Liu, Professor of Classical Studies at Depauw University, about translating texts across cultures, Ovid, and the translation space as a “contact zone.” 

____________________________________________________

AKHR: For readers who are learning about cross-cultural translation for the first time, could you say a little bit in general about what it encompasses, as well as how it is a feature in your current projects? Isn't all translation cross-cultural?

View full article. | Posted in on Wed, 04/15/2020 - 6:17am by Adrienne K.H. Rose.

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