“States fail when they cannot distinguish fools from serious men”
τότ’ ἔφη τὰς πόλεις ἀπόλλυσθαι, ὅταν μὴ δύνωνται τοὺς φαύλους ἀπὸ τῶν σπουδαίων διακρίνειν.
-Antisthenes (D.L. 6.5)
In this conference we have covered many aspects of teaching material from the ancient world in a modern context. In the very interesting and productive responses, we have also had discussions about pedagogical issues like transparency. But we have also discussed some questions that trouble me every time I think about “teaching” and “leadership”. Can leadership be taught? (Wait, what is “leadership” to begin with?) Who should learn leadership? Who is qualified to teach it?
If I have not come to any firm answer, my own feelings on the issue are clearer thanks to the debate. And it may bring some solace to know that these questions are not new by any means. At one very basic level, it is clear that, while our political challenges have few solutions, education provides at least one type of response. It is not easy, it is not fast, and it is not always effective. But at least it provides the promise of making a somewhat better world.
Since this conference is ‘virtual’, it will not end, exactly. The talks and the responses will remain available as a type of text. The next few days, however, do provide an opportunity for those of us who have been talking to continue the conversation and for those who have been thinking about it to join in.
Aristotle talks about education in his Politics—both he and Plato (Republic) understand that if we are to examine the type of society we want teleologically, we need to start from the end and go back to the beginning. This is why both philosophers talk about education. According to a later biography of Aristotle, he believed that teachers were more important than parents:
Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers
“When asked what the difference was between those who were educated and those who were not, Aristotle said “as great as between the living and the dead.” He used to say that education was an ornament in good times and a refuge in bad. He also believed that teachers should be honored more than parents who merely gave birth. The latter give life, but the former help us live well. To a man boasting that he was from a great city, he said “Don’t look at this, but instead who is worthy of a great country.”
ἐρωτηθεὶς τίνι διαφέρουσιν οἱ πεπαιδευμένοι τῶν ἀπαιδεύτων, “ὅσῳ,” εἶπεν, “οἱ ζῶντες τῶν τεθνεώτων.” τὴν παιδείαν ἔλεγεν ἐν μὲν ταῖς εὐτυχίαις εἶναι κόσμον, ἐν δὲ ταῖς ἀτυχίαις καταφυγήν. τῶν γονέων τοὺς παιδεύσαντας ἐντιμοτέρους εἶναι τῶν μόνον γεννησάντων· τοὺς μὲν γὰρ τὸ ζῆν, τοὺς δὲ τὸ καλῶς ζῆν παρασχέσθαι. πρὸς τὸν καυχώμενον ὡς ἀπὸ μεγάλης πόλεως εἴη, “οὐ τοῦτο,” ἔφη, “δεῖ σκοπεῖν, ἀλλ’ ὅστις μεγάλης πατρίδος ἄξιός ἐστιν.”
The importance of education was not lost on the—admittedly super-educated—Plutarch who argues that a lack of education is a fatal flaw in leaders. By extension, can we say that fatally flawed leaders are a result from a faulty system of education?
Plutarch, To the Educated Ruler 780a-c
“The majority of kings and rulers are stupid–they imitate those artless sculptors who believe that their oversized figures seem large and solid if they make them with a wide stance, flexing their muscles, mouths gaped open. For these types of rulers seem merely to be imitating the impressiveness and seriousness of leadership with their deep voice, severe glance, bitter manners and their separate way of living: but they are not really any different from the sculpted colossus which is heroic and godly on the outside, but filled with dirt, stone or lead within.
The real difference is that the weight of the statue keeps it standing straight, never leaning; these untaught generals and leaders often wobble and overturn because of their native ignorance. For, because they have built their homes on a crooked foundation, they lean and slide with it. Just as a carpenter’s square, if it is straight and solid, straightens out everything else that is measured according to it, so too a leader must first master himself and correct his own character and only then try to guide his people. For one who is falling cannot lift others; one who is ignorant cannot teach; one who is simple cannot manage complicated affairs; one who is disordered cannot create order; and one who does not rule himself cannot rule.”
Ἀλλὰ νοῦν οὐκ ἔχοντες οἱ πολλοὶ τῶν βασιλέων καὶ ἀρχόντων μιμοῦνται τοὺς ἀτέχνους ἀνδριαντοποιούς, οἳ νομίζουσι μεγάλους καὶ ἁδροὺς φαίνεσθαι τοὺς κολοσσούς, ἂν διαβεβηκότας σφόδρα καὶ διατεταμένους καὶ κεχηνότας πλάσωσι· καὶ γὰρ οὗτοι βαρύτητι φωνῆς καὶ βλέμματος τραχύτητι καὶ δυσκολίᾳ τρόπων καὶ ἀμιξίᾳ διαίτης ὄγκον ἡγεμονίας καὶ σεμνότητα μιμεῖσθαι δοκοῦσιν, οὐδ᾿ ὁτιοῦν τῶν κολοσσικῶν διαφέροντες ἀνδριάντων, οἳ τὴν ἔξωθεν ἡρωικὴν καὶ θεοπρεπῆ μορφὴν ἔχοντες ἐντός εἰσι γῆς μεστοὶ καὶ λίθου καὶ μολίβδου· πλὴν ὅτι τῶν μὲν ἀνδριάντων ταῦτα τὰ βάρη τὴν ὀρθότητα μόνιμον καὶ ἀκλινῆ διαφυλάττει, οἱ δ᾿ ἀπαίδευτοι στρατηγοὶ καὶ ἡγεμόνες ὑπὸ τῆς ἐντὸς ἀγνωμοσύνης πολλάκις σαλεύονται καὶ περιτρέπονται· βάσει γὰρ οὐ κειμένῃ πρὸς ὀρθὰς ἐξουσίαν ἐποικοδομοῦντες ὑψηλὴν συναπονεύουσι. δεῖ δέ, ὥσπερ ὁ κανὼν αὐτός, ἀστραβὴς γενόμενος καὶ ἀδιάστροφος, οὕτως ἀπευθύνει τὰ λοιπὰ τῇ πρὸς αὑτὸν ἐφαρμογῇ καὶ παραθέσει συνεξομοιῶν, παραπλησίως τὸν ἄρχοντα πρῶτον τὴν ἀρχὴν κτησάμενον ἐν ἑαυτῷ καὶ κατευθύναντα τὴν ψυχὴν καὶ καταστησάμενον τὸ ἦθος οὕτω συναρμόττειν τὸ ὑπήκοον· οὔτε γὰρ πίπτοντός ἐστιν ὀρθοῦν οὔτε διδάσκειν ἀγνοοῦντος οὔτε κοσμεῖν ἀκοσμοῦντος ἢ τάττειν ἀτακτοῦντος ἢ ἄρχειν μὴ ἀρχομένου·
It is interesting and telling, however, that later authors of the Roman Empire tend to write much about the virtues and education of a leader and very little about the education of the people as a whole. The early Athenian philosophers talk about the education of the whole community because they know that the community functions as a whole. For Aristotle, this means that leaders must know how to be led:
Aristotle, Politics 1333b
“We are forced to say that there are ways in which leaders and the led are the same, and ways in which they are different. As a result, their education must be both the same and different. For, as people say, one who is bound to lead well should have been led first. And government, as we saw before in the first discourse, is of both for the sake of the leader and for the sake of the led.”
ἔστι μὲν ἄρα ὡς τοὺς αὐτοὺς ἄρχειν καὶ ἄρχεσθαι φατέον, ἔστι δὲ ὡς ἑτέρους. ὥστε καὶ τὴν παιδείαν ἔστιν ὡς τὴν αὐτὴν ἀναγκαῖον, ἔστι δ᾿ ὡς ἑτέραν εἶναι. τόν τε γὰρ μέλλοντα καλῶς ἄρχειν ἀρχθῆναί φασι δεῖν πρῶτον (ἔστι δ᾿ ἀρχή, καθάπερ ἐν τοῖς πρώτοις εἴρηται λόγοις, ἡ μὲν τοῦ ἄρχοντος χάριν, ἡ δὲ τοῦ ἀρχομένου·
The kind of society we want—even if it is a nearly untouchable ideal—should be a result of the way we education our children. To put it another way, the way we educate our children should be a reflection of the type of society we want. As a parent of two young children, when I have observed our elementary classrooms and public discourse about early education, I realize I have so very confidence in our political future because our concerns are mainly about the jobs they will be positioned to acquire. This is, admittedly, a type of teleological thinking. But it is incredibly narrow and it discourages the pursuit of the big questions, the very questions we should be asking of ourselves and our governments.
Plato and Aristotle anticipated some of the best early childhood experts of the 20th centuries by making ‘play’ central to a child’s education. They learn how to function in a society even before they enter school. As I mention in my talk, I worry that we are in part predisposed to an overpowering ruler—the king as father metaphor—because of our experiences as children. We long for that safety and accept imperfect rulers just as we accept and love imperfect parents.
Aristotle, Politics 1336a
“Concerning both arguments and narratives—what sort of tales it is right that children of this age hear—let this be a special concern for those who govern education the men they call Teachers [paidonomoi]. For children should pretend to do all those things which are akin to their later occupations: for this reason it is necessary that children’s games are mostly imitations of things they will attend seriously later in life.”
καὶ περὶ λόγων δὲ καὶ μύθων, ποίους τινὰς ἀκούειν δεῖ τοὺς τηλικούτους, ἐπιμελὲς ἔστω τοῖς ἄρχουσιν οὓς καλοῦσι παιδονόμους. πάντα γὰρ δεῖ τὰ τοιαῦτα προοδοποιεῖν πρὸς τὰς ὕστερον διατριβάς· διὸ τὰς παιδιὰς εἶναι δεῖ τὰς πολλὰς μιμήσεις τῶν ὕστερον σπουδαζομένων.
Plato, Republic, 536e6-537a11
“And I said, “Certainly do not train children in their lessons by force, but have them play so that you will be better able to observe for what type of activity each has inborn ability.”
Then he said, “What you say has logic.”
I replied “Do you remember what we were saying, that it is necessary that children be taken to battle as observers on horseback, and that, if all were safe, they should be brought near to taste the blood just like puppies?”
“I remember” he said.
“Indeed,” I said “in all these practices—in labors, learning, and dangers—whoever appears to be the most suited for them ought to be enrolled in this very number.”
Μὴ τοίνυν βίᾳ, εἶπον, ὦ ἄριστε, τοὺς παῖδας ἐν τοῖς μαθήμασιν ἀλλὰ παίζοντας τρέφε, ἵνα καὶ μᾶλλον οἷός τ’ ᾖς καθορᾶν ἐφ’ ὃ ἕκαστος πέφυκεν.
῎Εχει ὃ λέγεις, ἔφη, λόγον.
Οὐκοῦν μνημονεύεις, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, ὅτι καὶ εἰς τὸν πόλεμον ἔφαμεν τοὺς παῖδας εἶναι ἀκτέον ἐπὶ τῶν ἵππων θεωρούς, καὶ ἐάν που ἀσφαλὲς ᾖ, προσακτέον ἐγγὺς καὶ γευστέον αἵματος, ὥσπερ τοὺς σκύλακας;
᾿Εν πᾶσι δὴ τούτοις, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, τοῖς τε πόνοις καὶ μαθήμασι καὶ φόβοις ὃς ἂν ἐντρεχέστατος ἀεὶ φαίνηται, εἰς ἀριθμόν τινα ἐγκριτέον.
One of the finest contributions of this virtual conference is the inclusion of so many different voices and perspectives. We all know how much work these is left to do—but the burden seems a little lighter when we know how many others are leaning into it. Our conversations need to keep focusing on how we engage with these issues at specific junctures (i.e. our courses) as well as on how we can impact education for all ages. If we only worry about engaging with adolescents and adults, we actually make our tasks much harder. As Seneca writes in the Troades, “The mind unlearns slowly what it has learned over a long time” (dediscit animus sero quod didicit diu, 633).
Thank you to everyone who presented and commented on this virtual conference. Also, thanks to Mallory, Norman, and John for their tremendous work in organizing it.