Oxford Classics degree overhaul

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Oxford Classics degree overhaul

Post by jeidsath » Sat Feb 16, 2019 12:26 pm

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2 ... st-number/
Oxford University's Classics degree to be overhauled in bid to boost number of female students getting Firsts​

Camilla Turner, education editor Fin Kavanagh

9 FEBRUARY 2019 • 5:00PM

One of Oxford University's oldest degrees is to be overhauled in bid to boost number of female students getting top grades.

Classics dons who marked last year's exam papers said the gender gap is “very troubling”, adding that it must be addressed as a matter of "urgency".

More than double the number of men were awarded first class honours in their Finals last year than women, with 46.8 per cent of men achieving the top grade compared to 12.5 per cent of their female peers.

Academics noted that the gender gap in Finals - which was “already very noticeable” - had “dramatically increased” in the most recent cohort of students due to an a record number of men taking Firsts.

Meanwhile, in second year exams - known as "Mods" which is short for Moderations - 38 per cent of men got a First compared to 19.3 per cent of women.

Now plans are underway to re-design the syllabus to try to end the disparity between male and female students. Dr Pitcher, chair of the Classics Faculty, said that a working group has been set up to "recast" the syllabus as a way to “address the gender disparity”.

The move has been greeted by a mixed response among Oxford students, with one saying it is a “drastic and unhelpful” measure.

The third year Classics student added: “Instead of reformulating an entire syllabus, the department should take a closer look at how the style of teaching benefits male over female students.​

“This unsurprisingly relates to the public-school system of teaching that a number of male classics students benefit from, which acts as a jump-start to succeeding at Oxford.”

Alex Nash, another third year Classics student, said: “Reforming Mods should focus on closing the gap between candidates who begin the course having A- Levels in Latin and Greek and those who don’t.

“The real difference lies in language ability, with some students starting the course at a clear disadvantage.” The subject - also known as Literae Humaniores or Greats - has been studied at Oxford for over 900 years and its alumni include Oscar Wilde, C. S. Lewis and Boris Johnson.

Plans to reform the Classics syllabus is the latest in a string of overtures that university departments have made to women in recent years.

Last year, Oxford’s Philosophy Faculty introduced a raft of changes designed to increase the appeal of the subject to female students.

The Faculty introduced a new undergraduate paper on feminist philosophy, and requested that 40 per cent of recommended authors on philosophy reading lists are women.

Academics were also asked to use writers’ first names rather than their initials when compiling reading lists, to make it clearer which are female.

In 2017, Oxford introduced a “take home” History finals paper as a way to boost results for female students at Oxford, who are less likely to get a first-class degree in history than their male peers.

Students taking maths and computer science exams in the summer of 2017 were given an extra 15 minutes to complete their papers, after dons ruled that "female candidates might be more likely to be adversely affected by time pressure".

A University spokesperson said: “The Faculty of Classics is setting up a new working group to look at aspects of the Classics Course.

“The group will be considering a number of issues, including gender imbalances in exam outcomes. No proposals have as yet been made, discussed by the Faculty, or adopted.”
Joel Eidsath -- jeidsath@gmail.com

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Re: Oxford Classics degree overhaul

Post by Ursinus » Sun Feb 17, 2019 9:18 pm

Maybe women should do better? Women dominate college campuses in the United States at least in terms of total enrollment and degrees granted. Of course, no one cares about that.

This and the philosophy example cited is a prime example why collegiate education is being dumbed down to the point of stultification in our day.
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Re: Oxford Classics degree overhaul

Post by mwh » Sun Feb 17, 2019 11:38 pm

The only thing that seems initially odd about the figures(not counting the absurdly high number of Firsts, no longer odd) is that women do proportionately better in Mods than in Finals. But Finals require more competence in both languages, so it’s extra tough for women to catch up with the “public” school men.

It's a peculiarly Oxbridge problem I think.

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Re: Oxford Classics degree overhaul

Post by bedwere » Mon Feb 18, 2019 5:34 pm

Greek New Deal!

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Re: Oxford Classics degree overhaul

Post by seneca2008 » Tue Feb 19, 2019 10:29 am

What irks me about this article, which is of course a political provocation from a Tory paper, is that it elides so many points and puffs up a very small factual statement
"Dr Pitcher, chair of the Classics Faculty, said that a working group has been set up to "recast" the syllabus as a way to “address the gender disparity”
What is proposed is to look at the causes of this problem and see if changes to the syllabus can help improve attainment. How could anyone possibly imagine that was not a good idea?

As to dumbing down this is a claim often heard but difficult to substantiate. Compared to my own day at Oxford today's undergraduates work harder and more is expected of them. I don't think a request " that 40 per cent of recommended authors on philosophy reading lists are women" is unreasonable nor do I think the world will end because "the Faculty introduced a new undergraduate paper on feminist philosophy". In fact I wonder when this happened?I am frankly amazed that there was not already such a paper.

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Re: Oxford Classics degree overhaul

Post by ἑκηβόλος » Wed Feb 20, 2019 7:14 pm

Does the Classics programme there support an ab initio strand for those enrolling without a background in the languages or is it left up to the colleges to provide extra tuition to get "weaker" students up to scratch? Most language learning begun at school needs to be continued into adulthood to be of much use anyway.

The issue of public schools raised in the article seems odd. Do public schools accept only male students? The seems to be a confusion between gender and social status.
τί δὲ ἀγαθὸν τῇ πομφόλυγι συνεστώσῃ ἢ κακὸν διαλυθείσῃ;

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Re: Oxford Classics degree overhaul

Post by Callisper » Sat Feb 23, 2019 10:40 pm

seneca2008 wrote:
Tue Feb 19, 2019 10:29 am
I don't think a request " that 40 per cent of recommended authors on philosophy reading lists are women" is unreasonable nor do I think the world will end because "the Faculty introduced a new undergraduate paper on feminist philosophy".
What about the allegation - which I found in some online critiques of the move - that this will inevitably result in a loss of a large & invaluable portion of the canon?

Needless-to-say, this is directed at the first part of your statement. I can barely believe it is coordinated in a single sentence with the second (which strikes me as immensely more obvious).

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Re: Oxford Classics degree overhaul

Post by Callisper » Sat Feb 23, 2019 10:54 pm

ἑκηβόλος wrote:
Wed Feb 20, 2019 7:14 pm
Does the Classics programme there support an ab initio strand for those enrolling without a background in the languages or is it left up to the colleges to provide extra tuition to get "weaker" students up to scratch?
There are ab initio "strands" (actually I cannot think of a better word - maybe "path"? Certainly not "course"). The efficacy of any such efforts to get everyone 'up to scratch' - that is, even the playing-field - is limited by various fundamental constraints.
ἑκηβόλος wrote:
Wed Feb 20, 2019 7:14 pm
Most language learning begun at school needs to be continued into adulthood to be of much use anyway.
I'm not sure what this means really. They are young students about to embark full-time on one of the planet's best current undergrad classics programs. How could they not continue their studies of the languages at university?
ἑκηβόλος wrote:
Wed Feb 20, 2019 7:14 pm
The issue of public schools raised in the article seems odd. Do public schools accept only male students? The seems to be a confusion between gender and social status.
The "social status" issue is its own.

Perhaps the gender divide arises here because substantially more UK all-boys' schools teach Latin and Greek to A-level than all-girls' ...

But you are right that the real problem there sounds like one of social status - private school advantage over state school - rather than gender. The ab initio courses are an attempt to fix that but they can only go so far.

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Re: Oxford Classics degree overhaul

Post by ἑκηβόλος » Mon Feb 25, 2019 5:42 am

Callisper wrote:
Sat Feb 23, 2019 10:54 pm
ἑκηβόλος wrote:
Wed Feb 20, 2019 7:14 pm
Most language learning begun at school needs to be continued into adulthood to be of much use anyway.
I'm not sure what this means really. They are young students about to embark full-time on one of the planet's best current undergrad classics programs. How could they not continue their studies of the languages at university?
I was questioning the assumption that prior learning in school gave THAT much of an advantage. Also, broadening the scope of the concept of success from three milestones within three years, which the article makes out to be something, positing that sucess is something that is hypothetically tested years after graduation.

About a quarter of the introductions in this thread entail some school years background in a language (usually Latin). Given that about 90% of comprehensive school learning is irrelevant to various individuals as they go through life, I am saying that especially in skills oriented courses like languages, a high school graduate needs to continue with practice and skill development to keep what has been learnt. For a few of those who studied classical languages at school, going on to further study (eg. the programme at Oxford) will be an option, for others not.

The narrow focus of success in the article, focusing as it does on college exams serves the purpose of confirming the value of college exams. There are, however, other measures of success. How well one can read at 30 or 50 or in retirement is another type of testing that can be applied. It is a pity that many people who graduate, can only look back on a time that they were really good at something. Tertiary education as a step within the process of life-long learning makes more sense. I liken life-long learning (at a regular pace with steady development of knowledge and regular attainments) to people who do regular exercise and keep in shape. On the other hand, the pictures of some olympic level athletes whose physucal fitness goes to seed a few years after a major competition, reminds me of the process of getting over a degree that some graduates experience.

In short, the article's bottom line is that getting the highest marks in exams is what success is. I challenge that assumption, and "into adulthood" I am saying that the model of education where a student peaks at graduation is outmoded. What is needed is something useful for life after graduation. Other disciplines and faculties in more up to date intitutions offer extension programmes and short professinal development diplomas online for graduates wishing to develop certain skills.

I think that gender inequality is just one of the driving factor for change in higher education. Not only making programmes relevant to the learning needs of female students, but also to the needs of all students in their lives after graduation. The knowledge landscape in which higher education finds itself has changed remarkably over the past 85 years. Since the age of radio and television, and especially in the era of the internet, the value knowledge (and the exclusivity of knowing) that educations offers a citizen has been challenged. Technology has overcome distance, and overcome the need for physical presence to be able to attend lectures or seminars. Recording has conquered time (in one direction at least). The craft guild model, in which would be members attatch themselves to master craftspersons, and then graduate (gain admission to the guild) after getting the requisite knowledge and mastering skills is now situated within a lot of alternative sources of knowledge. Knowledge has become available to all. The authority of the teacher as an exclusive holder of knowledge has been turned around, and in that knowledge revolution the authority of intitutions of knowledge has been challenged too.

I think classical education provides opportunities to develop a few of the most important knowledge skills that are highly prized in the knowledge economy. The first of those is flexibility of thought. The second is highy developed analytical skills. A third is the ability to multiple significances for forms, dependent on variations in context. For most learners the classical languages are not languages in the sense that we might regard modern languages. They are, rather, learnt as highly complex puzzles requiring the greatest patience, the most extraordinary use of memory and high levels of concentration while developing the students' analytical skills.

Edit: I have rephrased much of this.
τί δὲ ἀγαθὸν τῇ πομφόλυγι συνεστώσῃ ἢ κακὸν διαλυθείσῃ;

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Re: Oxford Classics degree overhaul

Post by seneca2008 » Tue Feb 26, 2019 4:10 pm

What about the allegation - which I found in some online critiques of the move - that this will inevitably result in a loss of a large & invaluable portion of the canon?

Needless-to-say, this is directed at the first part of your statement. I can barely believe it is coordinated in a single sentence with the second (which strikes me as immensely more obvious).
I haven’t seen that “allegation”. Part of studying Classics is to understand the movable nature of the term “canon” which as I am sure you know derives from each age’s (dis)taste and (in)sensitivities. Recasting the syllabus does not necessarily mean that the tumbrils will be brought out of retirement. Again one of the advantages of studying classics is to be able to see “golden ages” as the myth they truly are.
Perhaps the gender divide arises here because substantially more UK all-boys' schools teach Latin and Greek to A-level than all-girls' ...
The issue maybe to do with the preparedness of girls compared to boys at the start of their studies. That may explain part of the disparity in mods but the increase amongst men getting firsts in finals and the decrease in women possibly has a more complex explanation. It has been suggested men do better at getting firsts because dons push men on the first/second border more than women. It could be a matter of expectations. It would make an interesting finals question to be set beside “Tragedy, When the feeling's gone and you can't go on It's tragedy” Discuss.

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Re: Oxford Classics degree overhaul

Post by seneca2008 » Tue Feb 26, 2019 4:22 pm

For most learners the classical languages are not languages in the sense that we might regard modern languages. They are, rather, learnt as highly complex puzzles requiring the greatest patience, the most extraordinary use of memory and high levels of concentration while developing the students' analytical skills.
I don’t see the evidence for this at University level. Clearly classical languages have no native speakers and that marks them out from modern languages. Most people study classical languages to read the literature and engage with the culture. All the tools available to study modern literature such as narratology, gender or any method of reading you care to name are brought to bear on the classics. It’s wrong to focus too much on a narrowly philological approach to the subject and suggest that is all that’s important.

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Re: Oxford Classics degree overhaul

Post by Callisper » Wed Feb 27, 2019 1:39 am

seneca2008 wrote:
Tue Feb 26, 2019 4:10 pm
I haven’t seen that “allegation”. Part of studying Classics is to understand the movable nature of the term “canon” which as I am sure you know derives from each age’s (dis)taste and (in)sensitivities. Recasting the syllabus does not necessarily mean that the tumbrils will be brought out of retirement. Again one of the advantages of studying classics is to be able to see “golden ages” as the myth they truly are.
I'm afraid this is quite untrue. Canonicity is a very real thing and that the canon is "movable" and "derives from each age’s (dis)taste and (in)sensitivities", while true, is true only in small part - it extends only a small degree of license. There is a reason why some of the same authors have been studied for half a millennium, and it is not a lack of "progressiveness". The idea that all writers are fundamentally equal, in their value to a student or reader, is pernicious and nothing more.

I particularly do not understand how you find classical studies (of all things) - a discipline whose key figures have remained fixed in stone since the time of Jesus - an apt background for the realization that canonicity is mutable.
seneca2008 wrote:
Tue Feb 26, 2019 4:10 pm
The issue maybe to do with the preparedness of girls compared to boys at the start of their studies. That may explain part of the disparity in mods but the increase amongst men getting firsts in finals and the decrease in women possibly has a more complex explanation. It has been suggested men do better at getting firsts because dons push men on the first/second border more than women. It could be a matter of expectations. It would make an interesting finals question to be set beside “Tragedy, When the feeling's gone and you can't go on It's tragedy” Discuss.
I don't really know how it works at Oxford but mwh mentioned the reason may be how both Greek and Latin are required at Finals, but only one of them earlier on?

I agree the explanation doesn't seem simple. I think (?) the numbers are pretty even for finalists at Cambridge. From my own experience at university I would be surprised if pressure from tutors ended up having a significant statistical effect. Quite likely the problem is in something more concrete. Maybe men tend to take options which, for whatever reason, the examiners tend to award higher marks (such as philologically challenging courses where they find their extra 5-7 years of Greek/Latin may come in handy).

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Re: Oxford Classics degree overhaul

Post by Callisper » Wed Feb 27, 2019 1:49 am

seneca2008 wrote:
Tue Feb 26, 2019 4:22 pm
I don’t see the evidence for this at University level. Clearly classical languages have no native speakers and that marks them out from modern languages. Most people study classical languages to read the literature and engage with the culture. All the tools available to study modern literature such as narratology, gender or any method of reading you care to name are brought to bear on the classics. It’s wrong to focus too much on a narrowly philological approach to the subject and suggest that is all that’s important.
In so far as people get through their degrees relying on translations and without actually learning to read the languages - I think the poster above did well in describing "classical education". As per the traditional use of this term, I think he would not view a person as "classically educated" if they had not actually learned to read the languages and their literatures - not even if they passed their degree with flying colours, or even went on to a successful academic career, due to great compensatory strengths in some other area of the modern classics. That is what he meant by "classical education". (He could correct me if I misunderstood)

He wasn't suggesting that philology is all that is important. (To the exclusion of other things, like literary theory.) He was saying that there's a lot of benefit to be garnered from the philological / taxing process of learning these two languages. If you "don’t see the evidence for this at University level" then you are conflating the fact that people can earn academic success in classics today without genuine competence in the languages with the idea that actually learning the languages doesn't bring any benefit to us.

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Re: Oxford Classics degree overhaul

Post by ἑκηβόλος » Wed Feb 27, 2019 8:38 pm

On the question of classical education;
Language only programs pose a problem for satisfying the requirements of the various national qualification frameworks. Well developed subject knowledge, analytical and communicative skills can't really be attained simply by learning language. Simply language learning would be what might be called vocational education. There has to be something more than that to justify the award of a degree. Besides that, one's reading texts from another culture can become very subjective if there is no development of the reader's background knowledge.

On the question of canon;
The alarm at the loss of the canon seems odd. Most of it has already been lost. What is left now is a representative sample. There simply isn't time in a 4 year programme to read very broadly. I am guessing that 5 to 10 times more text needs to be read per unit if study in a Modern Language than in an ancient one.
τί δὲ ἀγαθὸν τῇ πομφόλυγι συνεστώσῃ ἢ κακὸν διαλυθείσῃ;

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Re: Oxford Classics degree overhaul

Post by ἑκηβόλος » Wed Feb 27, 2019 8:43 pm

Callisper wrote:
Wed Feb 27, 2019 1:49 am
In so far as people get through their degrees relying on translations and without actually learning to read the languages ...
Time pressure placed upon students by requiring them to read quickly creates the need for coping mechanisms. Those coping mechanisms tend to keep things simple (sreamlining the process of translation).
τί δὲ ἀγαθὸν τῇ πομφόλυγι συνεστώσῃ ἢ κακὸν διαλυθείσῃ;

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Re: Oxford Classics degree overhaul

Post by seneca2008 » Sat Mar 02, 2019 1:52 pm

'm afraid this is quite untrue. Canonicity is a very real thing and that the canon is "movable" and "derives from each age’s (dis)taste and (in)sensitivities", while true, is true only in small part - it extends only a small degree of license. There is a reason why some of the same authors have been studied for half a millennium, and it is not a lack of "progressiveness". The idea that all writers are fundamentally equal, in their value to a student or reader, is pernicious and nothing more.
Passing over the contradiction in this I think we all agree that there is a thing called the Canon. ἑκηβόλος seems to regard it as the sum of all surviving literature. I think more commonly it is taken to be a value judgement on what is "worth reading" and I took you to mean this. Your contention that what has been regarded as "worth reading" has remained immutable over any particular period doesn't square with the facts. To take your example of the last 500 years (or so) Seneca, much read in the 16 and 17 centuries, was much derided in the 19th and first half of the 20 century. Indeed Senecan drama has consistently been undervalued like most Roman stage works compared to their supposed Greek models until finally we can appreciate their worth and originality in their own right. Ovid too is a writer whose fortunes have been very variable as has Lucan's.

I think you might be interested in "‘Our Debt to Greece and Rome’: Canon, Class and Ideology" by Seth L. Schein in "A Companion to Classical Receptions" Editor(s): Lorna Hardwick Christopher Stray 2008 for a discussion of the development of the meaning "classical" and the origin of the term "canon" as applied to lists of literary works. (By the Dutch Scholar David Ruhken in 1768). Schein quotes Easterling as observing that "Out of the ancient works that were known or rediscovered during the Renaissance, markedly different "canonical" selections were made in different periods, and the changing process of reception continues, with new theoretical and political implications as western culture itself is held up to scrutiny." (Easterling 1996: 286). He illustrates "the changing process of reception" by examining the way in which, "in the USA during the past two centuries, the content and authority of the canonical and the classical" has changed in response to changes in the class, educational background and indeed culture of successive waves of new students.

Finally, I would never assert that "all writers are fundamentally equal" because, like most slogans, I don't think it means much.

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Re: Oxford Classics degree overhaul

Post by ἑκηβόλος » Sun Mar 03, 2019 3:33 am

seneca2008 wrote:
Sat Mar 02, 2019 1:52 pm
... Canon. ἑκηβόλος seems to regard it as the sum of all surviving literature. I think more commonly it is taken to be a value judgement on what is "worth reading" and I took you to mean this.
While this characterisation is clearly an exageration (or a caricature), it is unlikely that Callisper or anybody else will correctly guess my views like as happened previously in this thread, so I will state them myself. My primary interest is in Greek, so I'll talk mostly about that.

Besides a reduction in the intensity of study / quantity of texts read, there is the issue of forming one's understanding and apprecuation of the texts, and then the use of one's knowledge for some purpose.

Within the classical (ancient) education model, memorisation and recitation was important, and so was the reading of both classical and Koine works. In addition to the basic reading of texts, students read commentaries on the texts in Greek (and Latin). Developing oratorical skills - speaking fluently and convincingly - in Greek was fostered as part of the teaching of classical languages. These days, listening skills are closey tied to the text being read, and generally limited to following what is happening in the translation / teaching-learning process, rather than serving social functions such as part of the conveyance of information. Those aspects of the language education process (that are common to Modern language teaching) were present in the Roman (including Byzantium) classical educational model, but have not been retained in most modern models.

The modern emphasis on simply reading texts in the original and discussing them in English is a fine aim, but only perhaps only reaches the second step within the 4 step model of (1) reading / memorisation of texts, (2) interpretation and appreciation of texts, (3) production of polished language, and (4) appreciation of philosophy.

Of course, I realise that neither the government or the legal system requires the use of classical languages, so the "vocational" training aspects of a classical education are of no direct relevance to graduates. I do think however, that the complete loss of secondary texts (commentaries) in Greek and public speaking (meaningful use of the language) from the curriculum is a serious omission. Even if they don't improve one's employment prospects in the modern / vernacular world, there is intrinsic, personal and educational value in retaining the development of the full range of aral/oral skills in addition to those presently promoted. I don't know of other languages that are not used for teaching or the expression of knowledge at some point in their courses of study.
τί δὲ ἀγαθὸν τῇ πομφόλυγι συνεστώσῃ ἢ κακὸν διαλυθείσῃ;

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