January 15, 2014

Education and Why We are Like Rome

  Education these days is not what it used to be. Education used to be for the purposes of making better citizens, and these days, its more about making money. For example, a lot of teachers these days do not teach because they find it to be fun or 'their true passion'. They do it because its a paying job, and even though its not a very high pay job, they do it for the money. I am not saying this applies to all teachers, because it certainly doesn't, but this is the case in many schools other than mine. You might ask someone, "Why do we force people to go to school?" and hopefully they would reply, "To make the children better citizens." or something of the like. Unfortunately, these days that definition of education is not as true as it was 70 years ago. Now, people are forced to get an education in order to prepare them for the money-making world in front of them, and to set them on a path for a career. In some ways, this type of mentality was very Athenian. The Athenians based their whole economy and lifestyle around money and monetary status. But this is also very Roman.

  After the 3rd Punic War, Rome was receiving more and more influence from the Greeks and surrounding countries. The Greek idea of knowledge and education was philosophy and art. This contrasted with the Roman ideals because before this time period, the Romans had been centered around pietas, a Roman honor system which showed a man his place in the world. The first part of this system was respecting the gods, then came protecting and honoring the state, and then came family. Only after this order had been completed was a Roman 'allowed' to concern himself with his own well-being. But after the Punic Wars, the Romans had more slaves and Greeks living among them, and changing this mode of life. The cause for this: education. The Romans made their Greek slaves become the teachers of their children. But because they were not Roman, they taught their own ideals and ways to the children, and the next generation of Romans were more Greek than Roman.

  The Greeks taught the Romans how to use speech and persuasiveness to sway the crowds. This was a skill that only helped with the Roman demise. The young generation, those who had been taught these skills, were the next in line to be placed into politics. Once they got there, they used these new-found skills against their political opponents. Now they could sway the crowds with words and the people electing them were more interested in what they said than they were with how honorable a person was. Those being elected were able to turn the crowds they spoke to on their oppenent like a pack of dogs, only by saying a simple sentence. The fighting now turned inward as the people of Rome attacked each other with words. Honor turned from being won by wars to being won by politics. The Roman political system had much earlier been based upon how much money someone had. Just to see what kind of transition had happened, here is a small diagram:

  Before: Battles-->Honor-->Honor+Battles-->Money-->Politics
  After: Battles-->Greek Slaves-->Greek Education--> Sly Speech-->Politics (for which money was already necessary)--> Honor

  And so, now the Roman political system was more about money and speech than honor. Because this was the case, the Romans ended up much like the Athenians did, because their honor system centered around money. The Athenians fell becuase of their greed, and now that the Roman government was corrupted by money and greed, the Romans, the greatest empire in the Mediterranean, eventually fell as well. Now as to why this all relates back to us. Our education system is no longer about gaining knowledge, its about making good grades in order to be hired and make money. When our country was founded, the Founding Fathers based it off of a lot of the principles which the Romans used. They wanted it to be like Rome, the greatest and, so far, longest lasting empire the world has ever known. But they realized, if they based it entirely off of what the Romans did, this country would fall into the same problems Rome did, and thus fall. The Founding Fathers did not want this nation to fall, so they tried to correct the mistakes the Romans made with their government. The Founders were men with a good classical education, an education not corrupted by money, and so they did what the ancient historian, Livy, suggested: "The study of history is the best medicine for a sick mind; for in history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see; and in that record you can find yourself and your country both examples and warnings; fine things to take as models, base things rotten through and through, to avoid." And yet, in trying to correct the mistakes of the past, they ultimately fell victim to them. The Founders did not anticipate the problem to lie in education, and because they, and now we, are so unaware of this, we are slowly moving back into the rhythm of history and becoming both Roman and Athenian in their demise.

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