Thursday, April 17, 2014

Plato and Back-to-School Night

Our Latin II students are studying Greek right now, both the language and the culture.  Most educated Romans knew Greek, so it is fitting that our students get at least a passing familiarity with some of the highlights.  After having studied the language a bit, they are now reading bits of Plato in translation, and we recently had a fascinating discussion of Republic V.  They were not surprisingly quite excited to learn that Plato advocated the same kind of education for women as for men.  They were struck that someone from the 4th century B.C. could be so, as one student put it, "ahead of his time."

And then we read this.

And this lawful use of them seems likely to be often needed in the regulations of marriages and births. 

How so? 
Why, I said, the principle has been already laid down that the best of either sex should be united with the best as often, and the inferior with the inferior, as seldom as possible; and that they should rear the offspring of the one sort of union, but not of the other, if the flock is to be maintained in first-rate condition. Now these goings on must be a secret which the rulers only know, or there will be a further danger of our herd, as the guardians may be termed, breaking out into rebellion. 

Very true. 
Had we not better appoint certain festivals at which we will bring together the brides and bridegrooms, and sacrifices will be offered and suitable hymeneal songs composed by our poets: the number of weddings is a matter which must be left to the discretion of the rulers, whose aim will be to preserve the average of population? There are many other things which they will have to consider, such as the effects of wars and diseases and any similar agencies, in order as far as this is possible to prevent the State from becoming either too large or too small. 

Certainly, he replied. 
We shall have to invent some ingenious kind of lots which the less worthy may draw on each occasion of our bringing them together, and then they will accuse their own ill-luck and not the rulers. 

To be sure, he said. 
And I think that our braver and better youth, besides their other honours and rewards, might have greater facilities of intercourse with women giventhem; their bravery will be a reason, and such fathers ought to have as many sons as possible. 

And the proper officers, whether male or female or both, for offices are to be held by women as well as by men -- 

Yes -- 
The proper officers will take the offspring of the good parents to the pen or fold, and there they will deposit them with certain nurses who dwell in a separate quarter; but the offspring of the inferior, or of the better when they chance to be deformed, will be put away in some mysterious, unknown place, as they should be. 

Yes, he said, that must be done if the breed of the guardians is to be kept pure. 

They will provide for their nurture, and will bring the mothers to the fold when they are full of milk, taking the greatest possible care that no mother recognizes her own child; and other wet-nurses may be engaged if more are required. Care will also be taken that the process of suckling shall not be protracted too long; and the mothers will have no getting up at night or other trouble, but will hand over all this sort of thing to the nurses and attendants.

I am glad to say this section did not go over so well.  One student pointed out that this was eugenics, and we talked about that.  They observed that this was what the Nazis were after, and we talked about that.  The students were bothered that the weaker offspring would be done away with, and we talked about that.

And then I pointed out that the treatment of the good offspring, i.e. being taken to a separate place in the city away from their parents and being reared by agents of the state, described their own situation.  For indeed, what are public schools but places in the city, separate from students' homes, where children are taught by teachers who are paid via taxes?

Yeah, it got a bit uncomfortable.  They did not like seeing their own situation described in the midst of a passage with which most people profoundly disagree.  I was quick to point out that there can be things in a person's writings that we agree with and things that we do not.  You take the good and toss the bad.  Yet I also pointed out something else.  I know some of my students' parents from back-to-school night and a few more from other interactions, but for the most part, parents entrust their children for the most productive hours of the day, five days a week, during the most formative years of their lives, to people they do not know.

Teachers call home.  We make ourselves available at back-to-school night.  We reach out to our families.  It is, however, vitally important that parents be involved in the lives of their children by knowing what is going on at their schools.  They should know the names of their children's teachers, coaches, and principals.  They should be as engaged as they can be in the life of the school community.  Admittedly, this takes on as many different appearances as there are families in a school.  Some simply cannot be involved for any number of valid factors.  And some take the easy way out.  As they left my room, some were making verbal recognition of the responsibility they would one day need to take in the lives of their own children.


  1. Wow! When I was in Latin 2 we spent the whole year reading Caesar, which was fine; but I'd've loved to have learned some Greek as well. I think I was already able back then to recognize some of the Greek that showed up in Latin and English; a few hours of formal instruction would have busted that out exponentially.

  2. We do read Caesar in Latin II, but not as much as I remember reading in high school. I find the fourth quarter of Latin II to be the best time for some Greek. Those students for whom it is their last year in Latin get to round out their Classical education, and those who are going on get some good background for discussions of Horace, Catullus, and Vergil in the later years.


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