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Also, see the numerous articles at Thinking Classics by Erling B. Holtsmark

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High School Greek

From the Athenaze Newsletter, Fall 1995

by John D. Towle, Ph.D. Williams School New London, Connecticut

So you want to teach Greek. Now that is a serious proposition. Although Latin is on the rise in high schools, especially in private schools, Greek is another question. Administrators are pressed by financial considerations, curriculum committees, by the most efficacious program, and students, by science, math, history, and English. No one, it would seem, is eager for more. Yet, while Greek may be another question, it is not out of the question, especially if you are now teaching Latin. 

You must begin by persuading yourself that Classics is more important than just Latin. For all the significance that Latin has, it is less than half of what's possible. A student who knows both Greek and Latin has equal access to the entire bedrock of Western Civilization. If you do Classics at all, you know that such equal access is synergistic in its educational results. Secondly, you must recognize that your administrators are not going to have more money and more teachers to help you introduce Greek. You must be content with the number of classes and teachers now at your disposal. Curriculum committees can ask hard questions, but the members will be more easily reconciled if they are assured that you will not be snatching students from other programs and that you are not putting up Classics to replace anything else. Finally, if you have students who are willing to enter a Latin class, it should not be hard to convince them that Greek is the other half of the subject they came to study. 

There were some advantages at the Williams School (285 students) in New London, Connecticut, when I decided to introduce a Classics program there three years ago. Latin was well embedded in the school. It was required of all 8th graders, and there was a three-year language requirement of all students in grades 9 through 12. They could do French, Spanish, or Latin. There were Latin classes in each grade level, and there were enough students in each class to make it a working program. A Greek I class for seniors had been introduced a few years earlier, but the results were not good. In one year so little was done that no student graduated knowing enough Greek to use it in college. Consequently, it seemed best to drop Greek or to introduce it at an earlier level. 

I began with the Headmaster by persuading him that Greek could be introduced into the current Latin classes at the sophomore level without detrimental effect upon the quality of Latin instruction. I argued that the similarity in grammatical structures between the two languages would reinforce each other, and as a result the Latin students would be better. When he determined that no additional money, teachers, or sections would be needed, he agreed to send me to the curriculum committee. He recommended that Greek be introduced on a provisional basis. He said that the committee would want to know how the program would begin, what each step in its development would involve, and how it would operate when fully in place. He suggested that some way be found to test the program which would indicate that Latin instruction was not being hindered by the time spent on Greek. 

At the curriculum committee it was pointed out that Williams used the three volumes of the Oxford Latin Course as texts for Latin I (8th grade), and Latin II and Latin III. Latin IV was given to the reading of Latin authors (usually two), and Latin V was the Vergil AP class. I recommended the introduction of volume I of the Greek text Athenaze (Balme and Lawall, Oxford University press, 1991) into Latin III (the sophomore section). During this year 10 of the 16 chapters in this book would be done. In the next year the remaining 6 chapters of this text would be finished together with 4 chapters of volume II of Athenaze. In the senior year a new course, Greek III, would replace the then-current Greek I class. Latin V would continue as a Latin-only section for AP preparation. The result would be that over three years the two volumes of Athenaze would be completed by those students who finished Greek III. Since the senior course load was less restrictive than the lower years, it would be possible for students to take both Greek III and Latin V, but it would not be possible for seniors in other languages to abandon Spanish or French to enter Greek III, a process which had been happening with the Greek I course. The committee was assured that the amount of Latin done in all the affected classes would not be lessened. The Greek would be in addition to the usual Latin requirements. To provide a check on the program, the National Latin Examination and the Connecticut State Latin Contest would be administered to all Classics students each year (about 140 students). At least 20% of the Classics students should score in the top 20% of these two exams. In addition, junior Classics students would be encouraged to take the Latin Achievement Test (SAT II). 

The matter went far better with the students than expected. I told them that the G in Greek stood for grades and that they had better get good ones. A test in Latin and a test in Greek were equal, and from the outset it was shown exactly where they were going in each language. The enthusiasm was outstanding. In that first year more Latin was read than in the previous year, and all required Greek was completed. The grades were good all around, and the external exams had results better than predicted to the curriculum committee. The second year of the program went as well as the first with all students at least completing the required materials and some doing more than required in the Greek. The school year ending in June 1995 completed the third year of the provisional program. The first group of Greek III students (5 of them) graduated. So successful has the program been that not one person (student, faculty, or administrator) has suggested that it should not continue. 

The results foreshadow more than I expected. Since lower-class students keep a close eye on what their older fellows are doing, the standards of achievement set by the first group have been broken each year by the class behind them. This last year was the first opportunity for larger numbers to show themselves at the sophomore level. As opposed to 10 sophomores, I had 16. Next year 24 students are signed up for Classical Languages III. To keep the class size appropriate, I have had to resort to 2 sections. Furthermore, 19 of these students are overloaded, carrying a full list of courses including either French or Spanish. If all carry through in Classics into their junior year, and if a similar number sign up for Classical Languages III next year, I will have more sections than can be taught by the present staff. Then it will be necessary to see the Headmaster about a third, full-time, Classics teacher. 

In some ways it might be thought that teaching Latin and Greek in the same class is a compromise, and that would certainly be true at the college level. But in a small private school, or in a large school with a small department, it is not the case. I have found that the best road to success is the treatment of these languages as a serious academic study. I tell my students that we are not here for toga parties but to become educated human beings. To that end their job is to learn these languages now. Since it is put up seriously, the students take it seriously. They appear in my classes more excited, more enthusiastic, and more willing to work than ever. So if you want to teach Greek, and you are strapped by money, staff, sections and even dubious colleagues, don't give up. Double the load, and make it serious.

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Last updated: September 29, 2000. 
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