From a WSJ op-ed: “As Tennessee expands possibilities for new charter schools, critics are assailing classical education. Some of these schools teach students about the sages and scoundrels of ancient Greece and Rome.” In The New Republic, a public school teacher from New York seems concerned that classics-focused schools promote “retreat from the public sphere” along with sundry bad things such as “nationalistic exaltation of Western civilization.”
Now, a little thought and historical reading will demonstrate that study of the classics is entirely consistent with participation in the public sphere, including participation at very high levels–in the US and in other countries as well. But the issue is more fundamental than this. Is participation in the public sphere–which I read in this context to largely mean political activism–really the only thing that matters in life?
In his superb memoir, the Russian rocket developer Boris Chertok mentions a friend who was a Red Army officer and was also an excellent poet. It was understood that he would never be promoted. Why–did the Red Army have something against poetry? By no means. Did this man write poems that criticized the regime? No–he did not mention Stalin, did not mention political affairs at all. And that was his offense. Writing good poetry was not sufficient, every poet had to sing the praises of Stalin and of the regime. Unfortunately, we have people in America today who believe that every subject, whether poetry, history, science, or music, must be viewed only through the lens of an endless group-against-group struggle for power. And education in these–and all–subjects should focus on that power struggle and on what is perceived as the urgent need to put everything in a form that will be ‘relevant’ to the daily lives of students and to whatever are the hot topics and issues of the time.