The Language of Learning

David Schenker, associate professor of classical studies
David Schenker, associate professor of classical studies, has taught classes in the Honors College humanities series.

Associate Professor of Classical Studies David Schenker jokes that after winning a small monetary prize for a language translation contest in high school, he decided to study Greek and Latin. In reality, he just enjoyed learning these languages –– and he was good at it.

Schenker never gave up on his early passion; he has worked for more than 25 years in MU’s Ancient Mediterranean Studies department, in which he has served as director of undergraduate studies.

In light of his passion for teaching and dedication to MU and the Honors College, Schenker is the 2020 Honors College Faculty of the Year Award recipient.

Schenker has taught a variety of Honors courses, including Elementary Ancient Greek; Classical Mythology; Black Dionysus: Greek Drama in Africa and the African Diaspora; and an Honors Tutorial on translating Homer’s Odyssey. He has also served on multiple curriculum committees.

When learning languages, Schenker acknowledges there is often a learning curve. He says he enjoys helping students learn languages because of the rapid growth in skills.

“The nice thing about teaching beginning Greek or beginning language is that these students begin at zero, and after a few weeks, I would stop them and say, ‘Can you believe it? You’re already this far along,’” Schenker says. “At the end of the semester, they’re astounded when they stop and take stock.”

Schenker feels there is a more profound importance of teaching ancient languages and content than what may seem apparent, especially when learning from history and applying the knowledge to present events.

“I’ve sort of changed through the years to realize that the real purpose for teaching this ancient material is not for an antiquarian reason of memorizing the dates of when every Roman emperor was ruling,” Schenker says. “But rather to try to get some context and insight into the way things are now.”

Throughout his time teaching at MU, Schenker credits his students with creating a mutually enjoyable learning environment, one that values the views of his students and also challenges him to learn from them.

“Honors students typically are coming in with something that they’re very good at, that they know about,” Schenker says. “It’s not necessarily related to my class at all, but if I can find some sort of connection to that so they share their excitement with me and with the class, it’s suddenly becoming much more of a conversation between us.”