Sunday, February 8, 2009

Education: the Classics Project

Why were America's Founding Fathers brilliant and two hundred years later our leaders are duds? How can it be that farmers in the days of horse drawn plows, candle light, and sailing ships were smarter than the best educated Americans in today's world of jet planes, nuclear power, and computers?

The difference must lie within the education our leaders receive and the impact upon decision making due to the educational differences. We must also surmise that some of the advances made in the theory of education that have contributed to our decline must not be real advances, but unrecognized mistakes.

We can see the positive influences on the Founding Fathers by looking at their own words. Federalist papers were signed "Publius", after the Roman Consul Publius Valerius Publicola. So I've started reading Plutarch's depiction of Publicola's life. Anti-Federalist papers were signed "Cato" and "Brutus." Patrick Henry is famous for shouting, "Give me liberty or give me death," but that was a line from the play, "The Cato."

The Founding Fathers were well versed in Roman history. Abraham Lincoln was one of our most capable Presidents. His Gettysberg Address shows he was familiar with the Funeral Oration of Pericles, meaning he had read Thucydides'masterpiece, History of the Peloponnesian War.

So it seems we should study the classics if we want capable leadership. But, why does reading about dead white men help us today? These books lay out the successes and failures of great civilizations. In Plutarch you can learn about greatness by studying Alexander the Great. Livy's History of Early Rome describes the treachery, the murders, of the ruling class of Rome. Cicero, in the last part of On Duties, lays out a catalog of the frauds and swindles the Roman ruling class perpetrated. Even Plato warns how oligarchs use bad loans to swindle people out of their property and their liberty, which is very pertinent to the sub-prime mortgage swindles in contemporary American finance.

If we are going to make Texas Ascendant, I propose a Classics Project to bring the classics back into public education. To rear up great leaders and restore America to greatness, we need to study the greatest leaders and the greatest civilizations in history, we need to study the classics.

Robert Canright

PS: Remember I have degrees in mathematics and engineering. I am not a history grad. I have used my analytical skills from mathematics and engineering to deduce a solution to our leadership problem.

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