College TUTORIAL for Freshmen?

A few remain and where to find them.

Highschool students thinking about college this year or next, may not realize how many of their Freshman courses will be large and relatively impersonal, often listed as college requirements for graduation, generally .with discussions led by Assistants and Adjuncts of various talents Even small colleges which stress a close personal contact between student and teacher will have small time for close association on the underclassman Fresh.- Soph. level. If college is supposed to be a personal experience for both student and institution, there may be surprise and disappointment in the first fast-moving term.

I can almost hear in the back of my memory Joan Baez singing "Where have all the Tutorials gone.......?" Well, that long tradition of a personal contact with your teacher once a week has evaporated in England where it was once the price of the great universities, and equally in American colleges which believed in the tutorial tradition some fifty years ago. We know the answer for this disappearance, which involves teachers' time with the cost of running a college program, also the large numbers of people who go to college in this new age where a college degree is required for anything above minimum wages. Regretting the losses of the last decades, we understand the reasons and usually resign ourselves to things as they stand as the casualties of necessity.

But there are still some undiscovered places in most college curricula where an entering Freshman can sign up for a class which is so small that it is a virtual tutorial experience. One on one is really not too different from one teacher working with three or even five students. The question is: Where can you find these fossil relics of the great Personal Education Tradition? And who can take advantage of their largely ignored persistence in this twenty-first century?

In Highschools throughout the country there are some 400,000 students studying Latin in private, public and parochial schools. But out of this surprising number, only about 20,000 persist to do that rewarding fourth year in which they read Vergil and the lyric poets. Many schools do not offer a Vergil level year, feeling that courses with less than a dozen students cannot be afforded anymore. Of the number of Vergil survivors only a fraction will go on to Latin in college, where the overall enrollment is under 20,000 with a good proportion if not the majority starting Latin in college.

Colleges administrators recognized many years ago that departments must show a good number of students in order to survive, and the Classics moved quickly after l950 into courses of The Classics in English Translation. With classes of fifty to a hundred students, the Classics Departments were secure with the Dean's office, and the work was interesting since it opened new doors in history and art, and it was also an exciting histrionic experience to lecture to a real audience. For a hundred students reading Vergil in English, there might be five reading him in Latin, and for Greek the trickle of language students would be even thinner.

But with good student enrollments on the rise, Classics Departments could also offer a series of courses in Greek and Latin language, both as the authentic core of the Classics and also as a way of keeping professional honesty alive. Such courses might be given in alternate years to conserve faculty time, or bracketed in the catalog until a few students happened by. But nobody in the Administration questioned these small classes, which are, as it were, financed by the larger lectures, and you will find them in every good college's course catalog.

How to find your Tutorial in the Classics

If you (the student) have been a Latin student in school, you did well and enjoyed the work, and were able to do an advanced fourth/fifth year at the Vergil and Poets level, you can get a virtual tutorial experience right off in your first term in college. Look over the Classics offerings beyond the courses in English Translation, and see what is available. These will be your Elysian Fields, but there may be briars in with the blooms, so here are some practical screening suggestions.

Don't let anyone tell you that HS and College Latin are different and you have to start at the elementary level to be sure you are well based. This may be a snob attitude of some college teachers against school Latin, or it may be a way of putting all the Latin students together and saving teaching that advanced course. This sounds bad but can occur, hence the warning.

Sign up tentatively and take a look at the class and at the teacher. If he or she is engaging, alive and interesting to talk with, you have something to look forward to. But if the teacher seems sour or perfunctory, and points to classes with each student translating into (bad) English pages studied the night before, this is probably not what you were looking for. See if any other teacher does another language course, if nothing turns up, drop quickly. In fact, most Classics teachers are highly motivated and supremely interested in their work, but there are left-over disciplinarian traditionalists in thinning numbers, who are but to be avoided.

If nothing suitable in Latin surfaces in terms of course or teacher, take a look at Greek. If you had any Greek in school where still offered, or did work on your own with a friendly tutor, inspect the Greek courses carefully. Here it will probably be introductory Greek, but there has been such a revival of interest in Greek studies these last years, that I suspect your Introd. Greek professor will be interesting and alive to students. Even if you did the HS Latin course, you may want to do Greek in college, remembering that the literature of ancient Greece is one of the finest and most interesting achievements of our Western Humanity.

Look at the students in those first classes, are they interested and excited, do they look to be top students in the college later? The student group is very important as a working community, and to get into a live and dedicated student ambiance in the first term in college will go a long way to balance some of the necessary doldrums which the first college years will always incur.

Tutorial Teaching in Small Groups

Why is this so important, and why am I stressing this so strongly for Latin students as you face college and a major course of studies which will not require Latin at all? If you are going to be a Pre-Med or Psychology major, why this talk about Latin on entering college, how does it fit into your plans for major study and your future working life?

In college we learn a great many things outside of our courses, and two of these extra items, which are of inestimable value, stem from personal contact with a teacher. We learn our teachers' stance toward the material at hand,. toward literature and the art of poetry, and furthermore something about their set of values in regard to life and wisdom. These things can only be learned in a close setting, in day by day exposure and conference. So this kind of experience is always in educational terms "costly" and in tight financial times it is going to be rare. Senior seminars in most academic majors will have this kind of communication, but this is quite late in the college experience, and some intimation of what this is like should be explored as soon as one enters the venerable halls of Academe.

Can you find close contact tutorial-style work in college in other Departments? Probably not. in fields like Mathematics which like Latin are also based on school preparation, but will have large introductory courses for a concentrated four-years Math major sequence. The science fields which have school preparation have their own large Introductions in multiple sections, and specialized field like Linguistics or Romance Philology will usually not be open to Freshmen. It is the present neglect and actual un-popularity of Latin and Greek as college language courses which keeps these alive and makes them one of the few avenues into close teaching-learning relationships for the highschool student just now embarking on the college scene.

Have a try, and the best of luck....

Bill Harris Prof. Em. Classics Middlebury College harris@middlebury.edy