08 June 2005

A Fabulous Summer Greek Course

I've had to be busy today checking proofs for Understanding Accounting Ethics (which, I must say, turned out very respectably, both in its formatting as simply as a book) and will return to the Parva Naturalia tomorrow.

But, in the meantime, here's something to appreciate and admire. Nick Denyer, a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge (and author of an excellent new commentary on the Alcibiades, well-known I am sure to many Dissoi Blogoi readers), is a tutor in a summer intensive Greek course for high-school students and particularly beginners, run by the Joint Association of Classical Teachers (JACT) of Britain. A link to the web-page is here.

Here's a fascinating excerpt from the report posted there on the 2003 session (nothing on 2004):

Report By The Director And Director Of Studies On The JACT Greek Summer School Held At Bryanston School 27th July - 9th August 2003

There were 271 students enrolled for the Summer School this year, the second largest ever. Of these 19 were undergraduates or postgraduates, including two from the Charles University in Prague and one from the Institute of Classical Studies, Warsaw. The remainder were school students, of whom 65 had attended maintained schools in the UK.

There were 104 Beginners (a record number) in eleven groups, 46 Intermediate (pre-GCSE) students in six groups, and 121 Advanced students (immediately post-GCSE to undergraduate level) in fourteen groups. The Beginners' and Intermediate groups studied appropriate sections of the Reading Greek course and its continuation volumes. Favourite texts among Advanced Groups were///ad 3, 9 and 18, Odyssey 6, Sophocles' Trachiniae, Euripides' Alcestis, and Thucydides 2.

There were 31 Tutors, 12 from universities (Bristol, Cambridge, Dublin, Glasgow, Harvard, Manchester and Oxford). One Tutorship was again generously sponsored by Trinity College, Cambridge. We were again very fortunate to have Mrs Jean Pollard as Matron: no time seems to be too late or early for her, and no trouble too great. Charles Sykes was Director's Assistant for the second year, joined now by Charlotte Ralph. They made a superb team. Visiting lecturers were Malcolm Schofield, Jasper Griffin, David Raebum and Tom Buckney; the home team was represented by Catherine Steel, Philomen Probert, John Berts and James Morwood. Subject-matter ranged from the Linear B tablets to Polybius. There were seminars on scansion and accentuation. There was a large and talented orchestra and an accomplished choir as well as many smaller groups and soloists to make the concert go well. The middle Sunday was marked by an amazing production of Knights in translation, directed by Judith Affleck, choreography by Regine May, music by David Carter, special effects by Clare Sharp and Jean Lee. This writer has never seen a more entertaining presentation of the play. At the end of the fortnight Judith Mossman and Holly Eckhardt presented Trachiniae on a balmy evening as a near-full moon rose above the Greek Theatre. It was a striking production with much imaginative and attractive use of the chorus and many moments of strong drama. Overall the sense of a huge amount of Greek being read, understood and enjoyed, and of everyone being involved in the course as a whole, was as great as or greater than it has ever been, and the lectures were so well-attended as to strain the seating resources of the Edwin Evans Room....

It sounds like something I'd love to send some of my own children to. Does anyone, I wonder, know of anything similar in the United States?

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

The University of Chicago has intensive summer courses in both elementary and intermediate (advanced by some standards) Greek (Attic), which High School students can attend. They will, however, be in the minority, as the program is geared toward undergraduate and graduate students. Type the following into google for more info: GREK languages Chicago.

By the way, the JACT textbooks (the "Reading" series) are pedagogically unsound. They use the "inductive method" -- i.e., shoddy grammatical explanations and readings that are always a step ahead of where they ought to be. Much more worthwhile are Hansen's _Greek: An Intensive Course_ or Francis Fobes's classic _Philosophical Greek_. --- The JACT texts are macronless, implicitly telling students that it is okay not to worry too much about pronunciation. The chances are that VERY few JACT graduate will have the motivation (or diligence) to go back and learn their long vowels. When the graduate of JACT, years down the line, chances upon a text like Allen's _Vox Graeca_ or hears a performance of Daitz (on cassette or online at SORGLL), his only word will be: schijten.

Anonymous said...

This comes receommended from a number of tutors at Thomas Aquinas College and a friend attending this summer. It uses, it appears, the Hansen text that the above anonymous suggests.

http://www.franciscan.edu/languages/

John Henry

Anonymous said...

This is a blog on ancient philosophy and not on greek philology, but I feel the need to respond to an earlier anonymous' disparaging comments about the JACT texts. To write off a method of learning that has the support of scholars whose Greek is as super-humanly good as Kenneth Dover is sheer arrogance. The explanation of the JACT's alleged unsuitability shows that the claim is not entirely ignorant, at least. It's just the same criticism that conservative philologists have been making of more modern methods for years. The inductive method has its weaknesses, of course, but to describe it as 'shoddy grammatical explanations' is to miss the point entirely, which is to teach Greek as a language and not as mere code to be deciphered by the application of deductive grammatical explanations. Hansen, for what it's worth, would count as applying 'the inductive method' in that sense. The complaint he makes in his introduction about not being able to read Greek as a language until well into his graduate work is the very common consequence of learning via a completely 'deductive' method. Anyone who actually knows how to read Greek is as adept as 'induction' as they are at 'deduction.' And really, to imagine that pronunciation of the sort aimed at by Allen and Daitz is a suitable goal for the standard study of ancient Greek is to put pedantry before pedagogy. Reconstruction and reproduction of the 'authentic' pronunciation of ancient Greek is a task for specialists, not for students whose aim is to read Greek with fluency. Erasthmian pronunciation works perfectly well for all but the most advanced students.

It's quite possible, of course, to disagree cogently with everything I've said. The point is that there is an argument to be made, and quite a bit of it revolves around what one takes the proper pedagogical aims to be. I would agree that the JACT grammar book is poor, but not that the readers are. They have their strengths and weaknesses like every other textbook, but they are far from being unqualifiedly 'pedagogically unsound.' The assumptions that prompted the previous writer's disparagement of the JACT texts, however, do seem to me to be pedagogically unsound.

That said, the summer intensive Greek and Latin courses at Franciscan are supposed to be very good. I would imagine that sending children to the campus there would evoke less anxiety in a parent than sending them to the University of Chicago campus. Notre Dame has a similar program, though I think they tailor it more to graduate students in philosophy, theology, and the like than to undergraduates, let alone high school students.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth--I imagine that one criterion of 'pedagogical soundness' is whether someone actually wants to continue in the language. The criticism that a student doesn't later go back to study proper pronuniciation implies, at least, that the student is still studying the language. Do we know how successful the JACT curriculum is in imparting a life-long love of Greek? 

Posted by Michael Pakaluk

Anonymous said...

Anon of 1 in response to Anon of 3:

The point, you say, is “to teach Greek as a language.” I deny this. This point is to teach Greek in such a way that will facilitate the best students eventually to experience Greek as a language. Some of these students will catch glimpses of this early enough, when, e.g., some sententia antiqua gives them a special feeling in their torso. Most of their early grounding will be grammatical – “by fire” as Eliot might say. The professor, having an intimate connaissance of the Greek language, will convey to his or her students something of that which they ought patiently to long for: the fruits of their labor, a knowledge of Greek that is both playful and erudite. One way for the professor to convey the beauty of the Greek is to read it aloud in a moving, restored manner. Erasmian pronunciation might do for a brute reading knowledge (particularly of philosophical texts), but for the person interested in the aural aspects of the language (which I take to be at least half the experience of poetry), it simply won’t do. – And it goes without saying that the telos of teaching Greek given above (i.e., to best facilitate the best) must be achieved in a context where, partly in order to keep Classics departments’ enrollment up, the professor will have to be polite and encouraging to all of his or her students, regardless of talent.

Here is an analogy. Mathematics is, in some ultimate sense, an art. True mathematicians use intuition, induction and stomach groans “as much as they use deduction.” But this mathematical freedom in the groove is contingent on talent and years of hard labor in learning the “grammar” of math (so to speak).

You say: “I would agree that the JACT grammar book is poor, but not that the readers are. They have their strengths and weaknesses like every other textbook, but they are far from being unqualifiedly 'pedagogically unsound.’” I am not sure if “they” refers to the readers or the conjunction of the readers and the grammar. In any case, good readers (though I am not sure that I approve of any macronless reader at the beginning level, unless perhaps there is a comprehensive glossary provided with all long vowels marked) are of little use without a sound grammar. A solid grounding in grammar justifies intuition; using untutored intuition to make sense of doctored Greek (or “carefully selected” passages) seems to me a waste of time. Even if the professor provides handouts and fills the chalkboard with sound explanations, this is not the same as a trustworthy textbook.

So I stand by my original statement: much more worthwhile is [my typo above has “is” as “are”] Hansen’s or Fobes’s text than those of the JACT. Hansen’s text is a bit deficient in morphology and Fobes’s chapters are too short, but both are wonderful achievements. (I very much hope that Fobes’s text will be reprinted.)

Although (as Anon 3 is right to point out) this is a blog devoted to Greek philosophy and not a place to debate Greek pedagogy, I have been thankful for the opportunity I have had to voice my opinions.

Anonymous said...

I'd forgotten that the point of teaching was to teach those who need teaching the least. Silly me.
Let's teach Greek in such a way that only those who are already well prepared for our methods will succeed while the rest will give up in frustration.

Why, when it is possible to use other methods to get students to the same level of facility? If students trained by methods other than the ones you prefer were demonstrably unable to come to understand Greek as a language, then your point might have some force. But that isn't the case.

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