The Triad Course or
Teaching Classics in the One-Room Schoolhouse
In 1990 the Committee on Education of the American Philological Association asked the three recipients of the 1989 APA Awards for Excellence in the Teaching of Classics to offer a workshop on small Classics program. This workshop was held before a standing-room-only crowd at the annual APA meeting in San Francisco in December, 1990. Dr. John Heath of Rollins College gave a presentation entitled "Establishing a New Classics Program,' Dr. Jane Crawford of Loyola Marymount University spoke on "Expanding the Program and Attracting New Majors," and I was been asked to focus my presentation on the triad courses and to describe their inception, reception, advantages and disadvantages.
When I came to Monmouth College in 1984, I found an ambivalent situation in Classics. On the one hand the institution had tangibly expressed its long-term commitment to the presence of Classics in the curriculum by establishing an endowed chair, the Minnie Billings Capron Chair in Classics. On the other hand, this small liberal arts college clearly lacked the financial resources to support the classics with additional staffing. A traditional Classics department, consisting of four full-time positions, namely a Latinist, a Hellenist, an historian and an archaeologist, was out of the question. The program could count on only occasional support from other departments. For example, for many years a colleague in the history dept. has taught Greek and Roman history in alternate years. More recently someone in Religious Studies has agreed to teach elementary Greek. But, other than that, one full-time classicist has to represent the entire classical world.
By 1984 a curricular overhaul was long overdue. The curriculum, a conservative mix of language courses plus classical mythology and word elements, had not changed for years. Emphasis was on a Latin language major. Enrollments in elementary Latin, classical mythology and word elements were respectable for a school of Monmouth's size, but the number of students enrolled in advanced language courses was low. Indeed, there was only one declared major in the department and this major was the only student enrolled in any advanced Latin and Greek courses.
What to do? One could rely on dynamic teaching to attract more students to the languages. But how do you get them in your classes if all you teach is Latin, Word Elements and Mythology? One could introduce more courses in translation. But how could a single Classicist do this and find time to teach advanced language courses? Did a choice have to be made between translation courses which could be taken by a wide variety of students and advanced language classes which only a few students have the skill and the inclination to take? Were the choices mutually self-exclusive?
I knew instinctively that I did not want to have to make a choice between majors and general education students. I was also sensitive to the fact that enrollment figures, the pet factor of all administrators, would quickly force a decision in favor of courses in translation.
In short I was sailing between Scylla and Charydbis. On the one hand, teaching only language courses meant impossibly small classes, at least at the advanced level, and the Sisyphean task of justifying such small classes to unsympathetic administrators. On the other hand, teaching courses only in-translation means that students, including Classics majors, lack the insight and knowledge brought by reading the ancients in their own languages. Indeed, without the language courses, could there even be a real Classics major?
The course I chose at Monmouth is a middle one, one which does not abandon advanced language study, but one which offers a wider selection of courses in classical civilization.
The solution was the triad course, a course taught simultaneously for Latin, Greek and Classics credit. This program recognizes and takes advantage of the common core of classical antiquity which surrounds courses which use translation and those which work with original texts. It allows the instructor to offer a coherent, interconnected teaching program for each term or semester, one which takes advantage of overlapping subject matter in advanced language and civilization courses. The basic premise of the triad course is that one teacher can meet together with Latin, Greek and Classics students several times a week for general lectures and discussion about common topics and then arrange for separate meetings with the language students to read related material in the original.
My colleagues at Monmouth often joke at the number of Classics courses which are offered in a given semester, but the key to this is the combining of student from related courses in one classroom. In other words, I really am talking about a variation on the traditional one-room school house. One aspect of this schoolroom is the principle that all language students beyond the elementary sequence participate in essentially the same course of study. There are no intermediate level language course, and reading courses are typically populated by students from a wide variety of languages backgrounds and abilities. Certainly, there are disadvantages to having a sophomore just out of 102 in a class with a senior who has taken three years of college Latin. But there are advantages, too. The more advanced student can serve as a model and as an aide for the less experienced student. At the same time, the more advanced student develops greater confidence in his or her translating abilities. In such a situation is is important for the instructor to be upfront from the beginning about expectations. Less advanced students must be reassured that they will be evaluated only upon their own abilities and progress, not on the accomplishments of others in the class, while the more advanced students must be challenged to work at their own level of ability and not at the level of the least common denominator.
These language courses not only have different levels of expectation. They can also be packaged in different groupings and combinations of credit hours. At Monmouth a student can enroll in Latin Directed Readings (LATN201), the basic advanced language course, for one, two, three, or four credits. Typically, students in LATN201 take one or two credits and meet with the instructor for an equivalent number of hours per week. These one- or two-credit alternatives allow students flexibility for fitting Latin into a busy schedule. I would argue that SOME Latin on a regular basis is better than NO Latin at all.
The triad course is the second aspect of the one-room Classics schoolhouse at Monmouth. That is, students enrolled in LATN240 are not only expected to read Latin with LATN201 students. They are also expected to attend the lectures with CLAS240 students.
CLAS240, Ancient Societies, illustrates how a triad course works. Taught once every year, Ancient Societies fulfills a general education requirement but it also serves Classics major and minors, both in translation and in the original languages. This course can be offered in a variety of topics. In previous years I have done "The Ancient Family" and "Sport and Recreation in the Ancient World." In 1990-91 the topic was "Africa and Blacks in Antiquity." Of the 27 students enrolled in this course, 25 took the course in translation to satisfy their Human Societies general education requirement. The two students, one Classics major and one Classics minor, took the course for Latin credit and read selections from Livy Book 21 in Latin. We could equally have read a play of Terence, the Moretum from the Appendix Vergiliana or any of a number of others texts related to the course topic. If any students had been interested in reading Greek for this course, I probably would have selected Aeschylus' Suppliant Women or perhaps appropriate selections from Aristotle, depending upon the need and interest of the students. Triad courses offer both the teach and the student the advantages of a coherent semester program in which translation courses and language courses have the same focus. That is, once can read Livy's story of the Punic Wars in Latin while studying about the Punic wars in the civilization course. Students in LATN240 attend all the the lectures in CLAS240 and take all exams However, instead of writing papers, they meet separately to read Latin. Thus, their work is a combination of reading and translating Latin and background work on the readings.
It is also possible for students to enroll in both CLAS240 and LATN201. In that case students earn four credits and are responsible for all the paper requirements outlined in CLAS 240 in addition to the readings in Latin.
When discussing Classical texts in triad course, I occasionally bring in a translation which is accompanied by the original language version. In this way, language students see their texts used in other contexts than vocabulary and syntax while non-language students are reminded that the texts they read were not written in English.
I made an effort to include in the triad course a variety of collateral subjects, such as art, archaeology, history and literature. I do not hesitate, for example, to show an important Latin inscription or manuscript in a mixed audience. The presence in the classroom of some students who read Latin is my excuse. These students might never see this inscription if they had taken a traditional reading course. At the same time, my hope is that the non-language students will appreciate the value of reading in the original languages. Of course, I always translate or paraphrase the inscriptions for their benefit.
Thus, the triad course is, by nature, a course of interconnections. Rather than reading individual authors, or periods, or even genres, the emphasis is on an overview of Classical civilization. How often have we traditionally introduced Vergil's Aeneid to Latin students who have never read Homer? In a triad course this doesn't happen. Instead of just reading Vergil, for example, Latin students also read the Iliad and the Odyssey in translation. Typical Latin student may not read as much Vergil in a triad course, but they may appreciate what they do read more fully. On the other hand, they may be so inspired by this increased appreciation that they may go on to read more Vergil.
The triad course is the core of the Classics curriculum at Monmouth. Taught simultaneously in translation and in the original languages, the course brings student who can work in the original languages together with those who cannot and provides benefits to each course. Since the triad course focuses not on an ancient language or its literature but on the study of an ancient culture it its fullest context, students who take several of these triad courses develop a solid foundation in the Classical world in its broadest scope. For those students who also study Latin or Greek, such a broadly based curriculum offers a valuable blend of language and literature.
Some may argue that I am trying to have it all, that I am burning the candle at both ends. Others may protest that my curricular response to the situation at Monmouth represents a watering-down of the traditional Classics program, that Classics majors cannot possibly acquire sufficient language skills to prepare them for graduate school. To this I can only respond that I am fully aware that the Triad course is not necessarily ideal, but it does suggest ways to adapt reality to the ideal. There is no doubt that the Monmouth Classics program would be a better program if there was a larger staff. No one individual can be all things to all people. My students certainly need additional perspectives on the classics. At the same time, however, I ask you to consider that the typical student interested in Classics, even as a major, will probably not purse graduate study in a traditional Classics program. These students are more likely to go to law school or into collateral fields like archaeology, museum studies, etc.
The curriculum I developed out of necessity in 1984 has become a virtue. After teaching triad courses for six years, I have become a believer in its merits. I have become convinced that there is a pedagogical advantage to bringing together general education students and more serious students of the Classics. Both benefit from the process. In-translation students are exposed to textual analysis in the original languages, and language students have the advantage of broader discussions of the readings than a language course usually permits. My language students may not translate all translate all of Livy 21 in a semester, but they will be able to place the text in a broad historical and cultural context, something few students trained in traditional language-based courses would be able to do.
In sum, even if there were three or four members in my department now, I would still use some form of the triad course. It has proven its worth in Classics. It could be adopted in other disciplines as well.