Reading Unadapted Ancient Texts: Whose Goal?

It seems that reading Unadapted Ancient Texts—what some people call “Authentic Texts”—has been a universal goal in Classics for quite some time.

Whose goal is this?

Many teachers would actually say that it’s their students’ goal. If you would say that, and you also teach K-12 Latin, you only have like ~5 students—actual students with that goal–because that’s the percentage of the percentage of the percentage who come close to reading Unadapted Ancient Texts at all (i.e. students who continue beyond year 2 in high school, who take AP Latin, and who score a 5, but even that doesn’t mean students can actually read these texts!). I even had that goal as a college student, yet still haven’t been able to read whatever interests me in Latin without supplementary resources. Oh, and it’s been over a decade (see Justin Slocum Bailey’s learner goals)!

I certainly understand the obsession with ancient texts, especially as primary sources on some profound ideas and strange practices. We even know that many students take Latin because they like Myth and think Romans are cool, too (Kevin Ballestrini has shared survey results with the us in the past, and we can get similar responses anytime in our own classrooms).

Let’s take a moment, however, to recognize that learning about the Romans in no way requires students to read exactly what Romans—only the well-educated ones, that is—read themselves. In fact, that idea is a little crazy, outdated, and leads to exclusion, NOT inclusion. FYI, exclusivity isn’t very popular these days, in case you’ve been living under a rock while teaching in the kind of school Betsy DeVos promotes.

If you’re stuck between pursuing your own goals and being a responsible educator who truly teaches all students, the solution is to adapt ancient texts to a developmentally appropriate language level using Tiered Readings, or especially parallel Embedded ones if you have the time. The wake up call continues, however, seeing as after all that work, even some students will have no interest in reading the texts you adapted anyway.

So, if it’s your personal goal to read Unadapted Ancient Texts, that’s great, but realize that if you teach you might be the only one in that classroom who thinks that way.

N.B. reading Unadapted Ancient Texts knowing that A) it’s not an end goal for all students, and B) all students can truly read them—not just “deal with translating them”—is completely encouraged! If those conditions aren’t true, consider reading something else, adapting those ancient texts, or risk excluding students. Your call.

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3 thoughts on “Reading Unadapted Ancient Texts: Whose Goal?

  1. Pingback: Lance’s thoughts on Lance’s Criticism of “Can’t Read Greek…” | Magister P.

  2. I’m curious about how many students there are who would choose to learn Latin with different goals apart from reading unadapted texts, and what those goals might ultimately be. Are you thinking of students who enroll in classical languages courses simply because such courses are required academically? Or are you thinking of students who might want to write original compositions in Greek or Latin, or speak either conversationally? Or students who might want to read the ancient texts for pleasure, and therefore could be happy reading adapted versions?

    My concern is that any scholarship in classics involves working with the unadapted ancient texts. Obviously some students (or many, or most, depending on the setting) have no interest in professional classical research, but particularly in college settings, how should teachers deal with the issue that the primary utility of knowing a classical language is text-reading?

    I agree that students of Greek and Latin are often very poorly served by the methods employed by the range of standard textbooks, but it seems unavoidable that the end goal, for at least some (I assert most) students, is reading unadapted ancient texts.

    • Kathryn, note the target audience of the post—K-12 teachers (i.e. US school before college). I would agree with you that it’s different for college students, and everyone suffers from poor methods.

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