What is Schooling For? Part 1: Ephebia

What is schooling for? Trickier question than it seems on the surface.

When the Greeks set up schools for their young men coming of age, they were addressing the need to train them so that they would be ready to fight if there were a war. The Greeks knew that a key part of being a good soldier is wanting to fight. A man can have all the training in arms and all the physical conditioning in the world, but it will mean little unless he also is willing to kill and risk death for his city-state. Therefore, a major part of the training received at an ephebia was in Greek culture, why it was something to be loved and a thing worth dying for. In this sense, Pericles’s famous funeral oration as related by Thucydides is the epitome and completion of the training of the ephebes – the young men – as it is meant to show that those who died did not do so in vain, and that the city would show its gratitude by caring for the families left behind.

Such schools, called ‘ephebia’ were part of a cultural whole – the ephebia, the army, the city – all were intertwined and supported each other. Pericles was performing an ancient duty when he gave his speech, something leaders of Athens had performed after battles for centuries. He was reinforcing what had been taught to generations of Athenians: that they should be proud to be Greeks, and proud of their sons who gave their lives in the service of their city.

Alexander, student of Aristotle, believed being Greek was a matter of culture, not of blood. Therefore, when he conquered, he both put worthy locals in charge and established ephebia that would accept as students not just the sons of the Greeks but the sons of the conquered as well. By these means, Alexander managed to build an empire without having to leave large garrisons in all conquered territories. More impressive still, he managed to instill a culture across vast areas from Macedonia to Egypt and east  to India that survived the collapse of his military empire.

Koine Greek became the language of commerce and eventually of everyday life in most of that empire. If you learned Greek, you could communicate with millions of people across thousands of square miles – the Greek world was a much larger world for all the conquered peoples. Jewish scholars in Alexandria had even translated the Hebrew scriptures into Greek within a century of Alexander’s conquest. This, despite the Jews resistance to Greekification, as recounted in Maccabees.

Alexander created and spread a culture that spoke a common language, valued personal merit above mere blood, held beauty and truth to be loved and excellence to be striven for. The Apostles traveled this world, able to communicate with Jews and pagans alike, and able to quote the Septuagint to make their points.

The ephebia began as military schools, and seemed to have always retained some of that character in most places. Around age 17, young men (1) would attend a year or two of  intense training, including physical training. This included all the usual Greek competitive sports – wrestling, running, javelin, and so on.(2) Yet passing on a culture not as a specimen to be studied, but as a set of shared passions to be lived, was always an indispensable part of these schools, so much so that, over time, as the military aspects waned, the cultural schooling if anything increased.

Ephebia date back probably to at least 500 B.C., and continued on in various forms for a thousand years. They existed for centuries before anyone bothered to write down much about how Greeks educated their sons before sending them off to boot camp. One comment by Plato via the mouth of Socrates expresses one attitude: Anyone who charges money to teach children what any competent adult knows is committing fraud. By Socrates’s time, it seems, people had set themselves up as teachers of children – and this seems to be some sort of departure from tradition.

Ephebia were often funded by a prominent citizen as an honor. A rich man could do nothing more patriotic than supporting the training of the youth. The headmaster was most often the gym teacher – physical training of future soldiers was a key aspect of this schooling. Even in later centuries, when the military aspect had shrunk, the headmaster retained his gym teacher title.

How Greeks taught their younger children reading and writing is less well understood, since, at least in the earlier days, no one thought it worth writing about. But that they could read and write seems to have been a given. A hint or datapoint may be found in  St. Jerome’s advise to Laeta on how best to teach her daughter to read. He was advising a literate mother on how to best pass that literacy on to her own child. There was no discussion of sending the child to school. Disintermediation, as it were.

Jerome lived very much toward the end, perhaps past the end, of the ancient Greek tradition of ephebia, although the spirit of that tradition does seem to have lived on into the Eastern Empire for a few centuries at least.

At least early on, the ancient Greeks devoted little ink to describing how one would get their younger children ready for future schooling in the ephebia. They expected a small body of experts to train their teenage sons in military discipline and patriotism in one or two years – and these expectations were met. Alexander spread this concept to his conquered territories, and extended it to include the sons of the worthier barbarians. Thus, Greek language and culture were spread all through the conquered territories, so much so that even Jews, highly and passionately protective of their own culture, learned to speak Greek and translated their Scriptures into it.

Eventually, the Greek-speaking culture extended from Rome to India and the Black Sea down to North Africa, even though the conquests that had started this change happened centuries earlier, and the empire they created had long since been conquered itself or dissolved or both. This spread of course depended on the military conquests, but was unlikely to spread and stick the way it did without a formal method of passing it on open to many of the conquered. And we should never forget the power and beauty of the Greek culture itself, which, excepting the Jews, seems to have impressed and attracted many of the conquered.

Ephebia were designed to create soldiers and pass on culture to ensure the city had a competent, patriotic military. Greek genius recognized that you could not separate the physical from the cultural training if you wanted young men who were willing to risk death to defend their city. Some level of literacy and probably numeracy was assumed in the young men attending these schools. At least, there is no evidence that the three Rs made up any of the curriculum.

References:

A History of Education in Antiquity by Henri Marrou. Source of most of the information.

Also, various biographies of Alexander the Great that are sitting on the shelves at home, 1 Maccabees, background on the Septuagint that I googled – obviously need to tighten up the scholarship around here.

  1. Similar schooling for young women was indeed present, just not always as widely or consistently as for young men. Women also needed to understand their culture to be good Greek daughters, wives and mothers. As far as I can figure, the position of women in Greek culture varied widely over time and space. Sometimes, women and girls were treated as property, but it seems more often that free women, at least, held positions of some honor and respect. It does seem true that it is hard to develop a very admirable culture in any broad sense that doesn’t honor women.
  2. As recounted in 1 Maccabees, Greek sports, done in the nude, were one thing that pushed the Jews over the edge: “14 They built in Jerusalem a stadium like those in the Greek cities. 15 They had surgery performed to hide their circumcision, abandoned the holy covenant, started associating with Gentiles, and did all sorts of other evil things.”
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Updates: Reading & Weekend

Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livius by [Machiavelli, Niccolò]1. Am reading Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy, about 25% through. This is a book Jefferson had in his library. Got to wonder: in the concrete sense of what structures and laws were enacted after the Revolution, most importantly the Constitution itself, is this book the most influential of all? Not Locke or Hume and that crowd, but the 16th century Italian patriot?

Consider:

I say, then, that all these six forms of government (monarchy, tyranny, aristocracy, oligarchy, democracy & anarchy – ed.) are pernicious—the three good kinds, from their brief duration the three bad, from their inherent badness. Wise legislators therefore, knowing these defects, and avoiding each of these forms in its simplicity, have made choice of a form which shares in the qualities of all the first three, and which they judge to be more stable and lasting than any of these separately. For where we have a monarchy, an aristocracy, and a democracy existing together in the same city, each of the three serves as a check upon the other.

 – CHAPTER II.—Of the various kinds of Government; and to which of them the Roman Commonwealth belonged.

Machiavelli is a fascinating guy. He points out that a new prince, having siezed the government, needs to destroy as much as possible all existing practices and institutions upon which people may resort in efforts to unseat him, going so far as to physically relocate people from their homes. Very The Prince, But then he says:

These indeed are most cruel expedients, contrary not merely to every Christian, but to every civilized rule of conduct, and such as every man should shun, choosing rather to lead a private life than to be a king on terms so hurtful to mankind. But he who will not keep to the fair path of virtue, must to maintain himself enter this path of evil. Men, however, not knowing how to be wholly good or wholly bad, choose for themselves certain middle ways, which of all others are the most pernicious, as shall be shown by an instance in the following Chapter.

– CHAPTER XXVI.—A new Prince in a City or Province of which he has taken Possession, ought to make Everything new.

The next chapter recounts tales of how even bad men flinch, and don’t do all the evil they should do were they without conscience and intent on ruling. This is the the kind of things that fuel the whole ‘Machiavelli is a patriot, and the Prince is a cautionary tale’ school of thought of which I am a member.

2. Ordered a couple more books that should get here early next week. I’m up to two stacks of books to read, one on the desk and another next to the bed,  that are approaching red tag status as they could kill somebody where they to collapse. OK, they could scare the heck out of the cat and cause a trip hazard – but it’s getting bad!

These two were on my wishlist from way back, saw them and said – I’ve got to read those! More education history stuff:

Designed to Fail: Catholic Education in America Don’t know who the author is, but I figure he’ll at least point me to source materials.

The blurb:

Catholic education in America seems to have degenerated over the last few decades into a morass of modern humanism and secularism. How did we get to this point? This book provides the answers. By tying the relevant Magisterial documents into American history, we see how Catholic education began in America, why it suddenly changed in the late 1800s, and how those changes essentially guaranteed the failures we see in the 21st century.

This lines up with the impression I was getting from my other readings – that Shields and the experimental psychologists at Catholic University made an end-run around the bishops, slipping modernism into the Catholic schools by controlling the texts books and training of teachers.

And: American writers on education before 1865  just because. 

3. Writing this post to avoid cleaning up for another Brick Oven Blowout!!! (read in an epic Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! voice). Yep, having 20+ people over for some pizza, steak and ciabatta. Also going to try roast chicken. Got 3.5 hours to clean and prep, more than enough, if  – and only if – I get up RIGHT NOW and do it. Yummy fun!

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In Today’s Education News

Via Twitter:

First Things has a little piece on the always interesting Camille Paglia – she’s not down with special snowflakes, and thinks kids need to learn some history:

 “‘Presentism’ is a major affliction—an over-absorption in the present or near past, which produces a distortion of perspective and a sky-is-falling Chicken Little hysteria.”

and

[students have not had a] “realistic introduction to the barbarities of human history . . . . Ancient history must be taught . . . . I believe in introducing young people to the disasters of history.”

This only reinforces my bad habit of asking people sympathetic to Marx and Communism if they’ve read or even heard of Gramsci or the Fabian Society. I’ve yet to find one who had even heard of them, let alone was familiar with what they did. (Not hanging out in the faculty lounge these days, I must admit. I’m not entirely sure it would matter.)

And then there’s this, where I back Dr. Paglia by noting that the abundant good times we live in perversely enough seem to get in the way of our recognizing that we live in abundant good times.

Is better education the solution? Can virtue be taught? Whatever else are we supposed to try? A good many saints seemed to have died in something of despair – of this world, not of the next. Still, we’re not allowed to give up – on people, that is. All institutions are as grass, all we think so compelling in this world today withers tomorrow.

And how do we learn this? How teach it?

 

Sunday Musings: The Point of 1984

Like others, I too have wondered if anyone has actually read 1984. Two answers: 1st, no, not many people have read 1984; and 2nd, nothing in the experience of a conventionally educated American prepares him to understand it even if he did go through the motions of looking at the text. All required  readings are accompanied by specific questions at the back of the book, the acceptable answers to which are in teacher’s copy. If it were not so, how could you test on the text?

So, no: as Briggs points out, some small fraction of people are insane, and so truly believe men can be women if they say so 2 + 2 = 5. A much larger fraction have learned the survival value of group cohesion in school, and so just want to know the answer teacher wants. On the one hand, such folks won’t give much of a thought to whether or not what teacher wants to hear is true (“Truth? What is that?” as was famously quipped); on the other hand, anyone who dares dispute the claim is attacking the order carefully established through 12 or more years of schooling.

These people will act as crazy as the true believers when challenged, since their place in the world has been established by that same schooling that tells what the right answer is. The final irony: this exact same education has rendered them all but incapable of seeing that this reaction is what they are doing. (Example, for the thrill-seeker: try to have a rational discussion with a Marxist in which you challenge Marxism – watch the shields go up and the photon torpedoes brought online. It’s not the arguments that are being defended against – it’s the very concept of a challenge. Your interlocutor won’t even notice he’s doing it.)

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“For Heaven’s sake, did anybody not read 1984? What the purpose of torturing Winston to say 2 + 2 = 5? That the Party really believed that mathematical fiction? No! It was to subjugate and for no other reason.” William Briggs 

The use of nonsense as dogma is less critical than its use as a shibboleth – it matters much more that you say whatever everybody in the group says than what particular thing it is that you say. If you say, for example, that gender is a social construct, it’s very clear that you are a member in good standing, and, if you say there are only 2 sexes and gender is a term of grammatical art, you are excluded just as decisively.

Just as the Ministry of Truth regularly changes the shibboleths – we’ve always been at war with Eastasia! – to see who is really on board, we have politicians with their fingers in the air, declaring against, say, gay marriage right up until they declare for it.

And it’s totally out of line to notice, or to call liar. To do that is, again, proof you’re not of the tribe. That’s a price few will pay.

The schools are where this experiment is being run. I’m struck by how many dystopias include the idea that our evil overlords are experimenting on us, killing some and bending others to their wills. We are trying to resist and escape, but cannot! Why does such an idea lurk in our minds, such that it apparently rings true enough to a huge enough percentage of people to sell a lot of movie tickets and YA novels? Where, in the real world, would a cognate to such behavior be found? Dragons and sea monsters, sure, even werewolves and vampires seem like extensions of some at least marginally imaginable fear. But organizations torturing us into puppet-hood, and maybe killing us? What? Then there’s zombies, undead and lusting for brains…. Where do such ideas come from?

Then there are those who understand the latest insanity is, in fact, insane, but are unwilling to pay the price of open opposition, hoping, I suppose, that the problem will go away on its own. Finally, there are those who know exactly what they’re doing. This last group may to some degree believe this or that shibboleth, but that’s not the important part – it’s doing whatever they need to do to bring down the beast, as they see it, truth be damned! I think Alinsky and his ilk fall into this camp, as do all real Communists and some of their more self-involved useful idiots – that’s the impression I get from some feminists leaders, that they want to destroy the patriarchy more than they care about if what they say is true, let alone results in the happiness of any real women.

It’s a mess out there. As mentioned in an earlier post, things are so good in general that it’s possible to promote such anti-reality, anti-survival nonsense – and yet live. I think of the imaginary Merlin from That Hideous Strength, who was prepared to simply kill Mrs Studduck for the crime of not having the baby she was destined to have, or of real-life Charlemagne, who would have dealt with people promoting such nonsense promptly – maybe send them off to a monastery for the rest of their lives, he was merciful that way – and never given it a second thought.  But even these musings miss the point: people promoting such ideas as are common today would have been locked up, at best, by their own families or lords.

Here and now, we can afford (!) to let them run loose, evidently.

 

A Psychological Aside

Once upon a time, I read way too much psychology (general conclusion: 98% claptrap), but one writer who impressed me (1) was fallen away Freudian Alice Miller. Her basic argument was that the instinct to belong and to learn the ropes are so strong – it’s a life or death issue for children – that abused kids 1) believe whatever they need to believe in order to have a place in the ‘family’ and 2) will incorporate the behaviors they observe and suffer under into their view of themselves and the world. Result: excuses get perpetuated, and abuse gets passed on from generation to generation.

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Alice Miller

What I like about this argument is that it’s fundamentally Darwinian: we’re not asked to believe based on ‘insights’ available only to the enlightened, we are asked to consider a child’s environment from an evolutionary/survival perspective. What have human children had to do to survive to reproduce? They need to stay joined to the family/tribe that assures their survival. They’re dead if they don’t. They need to find mates and raise children themselves or they’re out of the gene pool. The tribe (broadly considered) is where they’ll do those things, if they do them.

Now we reach the modern age, where simple survival is so easy that almost any amount of crazy behavior doesn’t get one killed. Parents used to need to take great care that their children would not only survive to adulthood, but had a place in the tribe once they did – otherwise, they lose the survival game one step removed, when their offspring fail to produce offspring.  We all come from a long line of successful reproducers.

Raised, as one woman I know was, by a single mom with 4 siblings each by different fathers? She has a baby, who is very likely to survive. Raised by the crazy grandmother who raised your even crazier mom? Still on the market. Cast aside like garbage when mom decides she’s tired of dad, and then given an ultimatum: actively approve of mom’s actions if you want to have any relationship with her? Done! And these are comparatively minor issues, almost beneath the notice of the properly conditioned modern mind. The bar keeps getting lower. The more serious abusers – Marion Zimmer Bradley, for example – are having their behavior normalized. Miller would have predicted this.

The scary part, according to Miller: these kids are very likely to repeat exactly what was done to them, because that’s what they absorbed as children! To do otherwise is to break the treaty, to reopen the wounds. Besides, what else would they do? What other behavior do they know? Thus, children left with relatives who molested them are very likely to leave their own children with relatives who will molest them; children molested by parents are likely to molest their children. Sadly, I have personally seen this type of behavior.

This is not rational – not something people understand and decide to do – but is rather the result of seeing no other option – if, in fact, the behavior even rises to a conscious level. Miller says that, in her experience, the presence of some sympathetic witness is key. If somebody at some point is able to let the kid know that this is not normal nor acceptable, that the kid is not crazy or evil, then the likelihood of resistance and recovery is greatly increased.(2) Other than that, we hope and pray for a miracle of healing.

All of these horror stories have introduced a line of reasoning which,  when applied in general and to less traumatic situations, leads to and converges with a lot of what’s going on in the world. Here’s a brief list of topics where I think Miller’s logic is enlightening:

  • The tribalism of American politics. The level of vehemence is pre-rational. Rare is the person, it seems, whose political positions are based on anything other than tribal allegiance, which is instilled in the cradle.
  • Stockholm Syndrome. You believe what you need to believe to survive and belong.
  • Public Schooling. Defended on purely theoretical grounds, even when real-world criticism is acknowledged. It’s one thing to admit mommy and daddy have flaws, another entirely to suggest we get rid of them. Thus, public schooling is routinely admitted to be a disaster AND something we must enthusiastically support. To admit it is merely an abusive system of control would be to question our own place in the tribe.
  • Attacks on marriage. What could be more hurtful (and a greater cause of painful cognitive dissonance) than to insist that marriage is between a man and a woman for the sake of children and culture, when we all know it’s just an arrangement of convenience for any number of more or less serial mommies and daddies?

When I write about school, politics, and culture, Alice Miller’s analysis is always there, more or less in the background.

  1. My main problem with Miller is that she had not fallen away enough from Freud. She realized that his theorizing was wild overreach, but often failed to stop herself from doing the same sort of stuff. She did an entire book where she applied her modified form of psychoanalysis on a bunch of dead people – you know, based on their writings or art and other people’s biographies. Iffy, to put it mildly.
  2. I wonder if a particularly resilient and intelligent child couldn’t find his sympathetic witness through reading? Seems possible.

St. Jerome’s Tips on Teaching a Child to Read

Via Twitter:

403 A.D., St. Jerome instructing Laeta how she should teach her daughter Paula to read. Over 1500 yrs later I got the exact same education.

First, this is utterly charming, especially given Jerome’s well-earned curmudgeonly reputation. Second, a literate woman teaching her daughter to read is given encouraging advise by a Church Father – those evil misogynistic Catholics at it again! Almost as bad as Francis de Sale’s obvious care and affection for “Philothea”.

But third, here is clear evidence that people believed that a mom could teach her own young daughter to read.  Everybody in every culture always believed that any responsible adult could teach their own children anything that similarly competent adults knew – reading, say, or basic math. Plato, 2400 years ago: Charging money to teach children what every competent adult knows is fraud.  The amazing thing: over the course of 150 years in the West, the newly developed class known as educators have managed to convince hundreds of millions of adults that they are *incompetent* to teach their own kids much of anything at all.

Recall that Horace Mann’s complaint, following Fichte, wasn’t that kids were deficient in reading and writing – they were *morally* deficient. No, really.

So, professional educators, from Day 1, with more or less personal awareness on the part of the personnel involved, have been committed to the *moral* education of our kids. Mann found out that this idea was repulsive to the citizens of Massachusetts, who would not vote for compulsory, tax-funded schools – for their kids. Once the Potato Famine sent a million Irish Catholics their way, then the good solid Americans were ready to make *those* people, patently morally inferior to *our* people,  attend moral reeducation camps – schools. In order to sell this, people had to be convinced, or at least cowed into silence on this issue, that parents, grandparents and so on are incompetent to teach their own children. Talk ‘performing to grade level’, don’t talk about educators’ more or less conscious contempt for the morality of the peons. See: the current phase of the sexual revolution, or critical theory, or ‘truth is relative’ or – you get the drift.

What constitutes morality may have changed, but the puritanical zeal of our betters to educate us, the unwashed masses, in it only keeps growing.

Graduation: Cakes

My beloved younger daughter made cakes for the Diablo Valley School graduation and 20th anniversary party. First the graduation cake:

Raspberry cream filling and frosting on a vanilla cake. Even more delicious than it looks!

And my lovely daughter.

The theme for the 20th anniversary party was disco tea party. My daughter responded:


On one side and she put silhouettes of disco dancers:


She also handed detailed the flowers:


All I can say is that I hope somebody at school ask for a death Star cake some year, because I’d really like to see that!

We had fun. People were duly impressed.