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Posts Tagged ‘education’

One aspect of classical culture that some of its admirers may prefer to gloss over was its contempt for the poor. They were seen to lack the leisure that was essential for the development of true virtue, to be incapable of serving the community in any useful manner, and to have no choice but to labour in occupations and under conditions that degraded their weak claim to full human status still further. Little wonder that polities where the masses had any influence or access to power, however limited or illusory, were regarded with suspicion; the poor lacked the education to rule themselves properly or control their base appetites, so how could they possibly rule others? Antiquity gave us the concept of ‘aristocracy’, the rule of the best men, as a justification for the continuing exclusion of the masses from meaningful participation, and presented the alleged incapacity of ordinary men as moral inadequacy on their part.

When I say that ‘some’ of the admirers of antiquity might feel uncomfortable about this set of assumptions, this is because I suspect that by no means all of them would. This was certainly the case well into the twentieth century, when ancient tropes about the ignorant, amoral, appetite-driven plebs (and their bread and circuses) were invoked time and again in the face of the rising power of the masses. It’s also echoed – albeit, in the extant reports, without any explicit references to ancient precedents – in the pronouncements of the Chairman of the Independent Schools Association, Richard Walden. (more…)

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Elitism, especially in education, is almost universally acknowledged today to be a Bad Thing, to the extent that even those who actually believe in it feel called upon to explain that they mean a kind of meritocracy (in opposition to socialistic leveling) in which unavoidable natural differences in intellectual ability and talent are recognised and properly supported, rather than the bad sort of elitism that just protects the privileges of the already privileged. This being the case, it’s scarcely surprising that accusations and imputations of ‘elitism’ have become a conventional means of discrediting one’s opponents in any education- or culture-related debate; the only interesting thing is the particular grounds named or implied as justification for slapping on such a label. Looking back on the whole RIII thing from the perspective of a week and a half, one of the more striking aspects of the discussion – above all in the responses to critical comments made by myself and others – was the prevalence of the term ‘elitism’, even more than accusations of jealousy and petty-mindedness. Further, the same ideas surfaced in discussions of the proposals for a revised National Curriculum for History; again, not in the initial criticisms, but in the response to the criticisms, exemplified by Niall Ferguson’s piece in the Guardian: Why Michael Gove Is Right (And Not Just Because I’m One Of His Chosen Gurus).

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Introducing the T3 Project, a spin-off from the Bristol research project on the reception of Thucydides.

The ancient Greek historian Thucydides famously claimed that his work would be ‘a possession for all time’: not just the history of a single war between the Athenians and the Spartans, but a guide to the way that the world works, and especially to politics and war.  He was right. Over the last two hundred years, Thucydides has been one of the most frequently quoted ancient writers. His ideas have influenced historians, politicians, international relations experts and soldiers; all agree that his work is useful and important.

Thucydides does not offer simple lessons, but a training course in analysis and deliberation. He demands that his readers follow his narrative of events and think about how things could have turned out differently; he asks them to listen to opposing arguments and to weigh up the issues – and then to think about how those arguments relate what actually happened.  He shows how the world is complicated – and how we can make sense of that complexity. In brief, he aims to help his readers to develop the skills that every citizen of a democracy needs. (more…)

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One of the obvious disadvantages in having as a research interest the place of antiquity in the modern world is the regular flow of new material – and, still more, the expectation of a regular flow of new material, so that I now scour every op-ed article on Iran for traces of Thucydidean power-politics that I can then anatomise. Since I’m a great admirer of Peter Handke as a writer I’d be reading interviews with him anyway – but I now find myself leaping on every passing reference to something classical, even if it’s nothing to do with Thucydides, and worrying away at it. I can’t claim that this is legitimate research activity, e.g. for a piece on his broader reception of ancient texts like Homer or tragedy, as I don’t remotely have time for that at the moment. Instead it feels like a peculiar sort of cyber-stalking… (more…)

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