The current state of the academic job market in the United States is catastrophic. The vast majority of recent PhDs in humanistic fields cannot secure a full-time job with a livable-salary in higher education. The realities of the academic job market for Classics PhDs, in particular, remain sobering, and much work and perhaps some legitimate soul-searching within the Classics community itself are needed to resolve the situation of chronic underemployment. This article announces one initiative for addressing this issue by leveraging the skills and training of individuals in the spirit of public service: the launch of the Paideia Institute’s Quintilian Society, a project whose aim is to encourage PhDs in Classics and related humanistic fields who take teaching seriously to pursue rewarding careers as Latin teachers in America’s public high schools.
In his 2017 Eidolon article, “Ne Plus Ultra: Classics Beyond the Tenure Track,” Jason Pedicone published the results of a study conducted in conjunction with the Paideia Institute’s Legion Project, examining the career outcomes of thousands of Classics PhDs. Of those Classics PhDs who gained employment in higher education between 1980–85, 68% secured tenure-track employment. Between 2011–2015, this number had dropped to 30%. Moreover, data from the Society for Classical Studies (SCS) confirms this trend. In 2015–16 there were 38 tenure-track jobs for 546 job seekers and in 2016–17, 41 tenure-track jobs for 639 applicants. The central question raised by Pedicone remains unanswered: What can and should be done both to improve the employment prospects of Classics PhDs and to benefit society at large?
Across humanities disciplines at many doctoral-granting institutions, the most common answer has been the rise of “alternative academic” or “alt-ac” career programming. But the soaring popularity of “alt-ac” belies hope for true institutional reforms in doctoral education, because though geared towards preparing PhD Students for career options outside of higher education, such programming takes place almost completely outside of academic departments and largely without faculty support. Thus “alt-ac” programming has become a cottage industry at top universities supported by professional organizations and nonprofits. Indeed, many strong initiatives have sprung up in this vein such as Versatile PhD, the American Historical Association’s Career Diversity for Historians initiative, Modern Language Association’s Connected Academics, the Mellon/American Council of Learned Societies Public Fellows Program, and at the most recent 2018 Archaeological Institute of America/Society for Classical Studies conference, the Paideia/SCS Career Networking Event for Classics PhDs.
In spite of these initiatives, there is a puzzling lack of engagement with public school teaching as a career option by most “alt-ac” programming. About one third of Classics PhDs who leave higher education become high school Latin teachers. This migration is happening despite the fact that a great majority of Classics PhD programs do not offer a pedagogy track, though education courses are frequently available in other programs within the same institutions. In addition, professional development resources for PhDs to become certified secondary public school teachers upon graduation through the alternative route processes available in most states are often withheld. This is all the more perplexing given the fact that there is an acute shortage of certified public high school Latin teachers in the United States. In addition, there is a national shortage of teachers of Social Studies, English, Art, and Music — subjects in which many Classics PhDs have not only passion but certifiable expertise.
The noteworthy absence of a focus on secondary teaching as a worthwhile and legitimate career option for humanities PhDs raises the question of how to treat the cultural assumptions within academia itself. Are professors preparing graduate students, in the words of Leonard Cassuto, for “jobs that don’t exist?” Are graduate students being misled about their employment prospects, or even pressured to “foreclose the prospects that actually exist for them?”² Success in any career requires personal sacrifice, yet this tenure-track tunnel vision is powerful and evidenced by the fact that a majority of PhDs remain on the academic job market or in underemployed capacities in higher education for years. The numbers speak for themselves. According to the American Association of University Professors, over 70% of faculty positions in higher-education (and growing) are now contingent, 31% of part-time faculty are living near the poverty line, and their long-term chances of securing full-employment are utterly abysmal. According to the Legion Project research, Classics PhDs seem to reflect this reality, as only 24% of Classics PhDs between 1980 and 2015 left academia, whereas the majority remained in underemployed capacities. Indeed, the task of reforming cultural attitudes within higher education is a daunting one, and it begins with the process of challenging academia’s myopic vision and untenable expectations. What, then, is at once the most personally fulfilling, and most socially beneficial solution to the underemployment of Classics PhDs who wish to remain serious Classicists by profession? More importantly, how might any solution rejuvenate the academic field of the Classics and the values of humanistic education while employing more people with the requisite talents and undeniable expertise?
We believe that the answer to this question is to bring more Classicists into American public school teaching. The Quintilian Society will attempt to do this through a series of initiatives, including: making teacher training easily accessible and culturally acceptable in PhD programs; connecting PhD holders with school districts striving to maintain or begin a Latin program; and building a professional and personal network of public school Classicists.
The goal of our work, therefore, is an urgent one of persuading our peers to consider the wide open and rewarding career opportunities available for practicing Classicists in America’s public secondary education system and of combating the cultural bias prevalent amongst PhDs against teaching at the secondary level. These are the central issues to which the Paideia Institute’s Quintilian Society seeks to provide solutions.
The founding aim and objective of the Quintilian Society, then, is to encourage PhDs in Classics who are dedicated to the craft of teaching Latin to be true to themselves and their vocation as Classicists, humanists, and intellectuals by making it easier for underemployed and unemployed PhDs in Classics (as well as related fields where mastery of Latin is a required component) to enter the public secondary education system. A career of teaching Latin in public schools allows Classics PhDs to adhere to their vocation as Classicists while simultaneously providing a much-needed public service.
Interest in and the instruction of Latin has experienced a Renaissance over the past generation in our public secondary education system and, for this reason, the Latin teacher shortage in the United States is real. Its popularity stems from the fact that studying Latin helps develop greater skills in critical thinking and cultural literacy from a young age; offers a rigorous training in grammar, syntax, and vocabulary; and has been shown to enhance student performance across the board on standardized tests. According to the College Board’s 2016 College-Bound Seniors Total Group Profile Report, students of Latin had the highest mean critical reading and writing scores, as well as the second highest mean score on the math portion of the SAT (CR: 561, W: 542 M: 559; other languages cited include Chinese, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian and Spanish). In the same report, students who took the Latin SAT II Subject Test had the highest overall SAT scores of all language students, as well as the highest critical reading and writing scores and the third highest math scores (Total: 2050; CR: 685, M: 683, W: 682). Other sources indicate that students who study classics have significantly higher GRE and LSAT scores.
There is significant risk, however, to the future of classical studies in America if qualified teachers cannot be found. The shortage of dedicated Latin teachers need not be an issue at all and is perhaps ironic given the number of unemployed Classics PhDs seeking contingent employment in the higher education. Moreover, there is a striking need for quality humanities teachers in America’s public schools as an education grounded in the humanities is being both challenged and savaged by those who seek to diminish its value in favor of STEM fields or business training.
Furthermore, increasing the pipeline of qualified teachers from academia to our public schools is of critical importance for our democracy. It has long been the perception that elitism and privilege are associated with an education in Classics. As a community of teachers who care deeply about the future of our discipline and the advantages that it has been proven to deliver to our students, it is our obligation to expand classical education into as many public schools as possible to make the classical world, its patrimony, and its benefits accessible to all children, regardless of socioeconomic status. Our public schools educate 90% of America’s students. This is where we need the humanities the most.
Ultimately, the ancient Roman teacher and rhetorician Quintilian himself is an inspiration for those of us who believe in the public education system and that every child is capable of learning. He believed that expert orators have a moral duty to teach every child they can — in our context, not merely the elites or the wealthy — because every child has a potential that can and should be actualized: “For there is absolutely no foundation for the complaint that but few men have the power to take in the knowledge that is imparted to them, and that the majority are so slow of understanding that education is a waste of time and labor.” It is our duty to provide the best education possible to our country’s youth. Accepting the vocation of teaching Classics in our public schools is to accept the duty — the officium — to educate every child every day with a view to our public benefit as a society; to validate and enact, in the words of Cicero, the sort of education that might make a young person “want to be an author of public policy, a guide in governing the community, and a leader who employs eloquence in formulating his thoughts in the senate, before the people, and in public causes.”
Francis R. Hittinger teaches Latin and Social Studies at Mountain Lakes High School in Mountain Lakes, NJ. He has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Society (Italian Studies) from Columbia University.
(Special thanks to Jason Pedicone, Ted Zarrow, and Mark Mash for their feedback on this article)