CiRCE National Conference
The Liberating Affects of a Liberal Arts Education
The education of Alexander contrasted with the Spartans
Rodney J. Marshall
Classical schools advance great ideas with the prayerful hope for an American renaissance.
The education of youth for God in the great ideas will engender ethical leadership and wise thought which when spread widely will generate a rebirth of Christian life and thought. An education in less, where students become barely literate but are unable to consider deeply, will produce a society of followers in a day that needs wise and thoughtful leaders. Consider that the liberal education of Alexander the Great resulted in the Hellenization of his world while the education of subjection in Sparta resulted in a centuries long defensive slave state.
“The best education for the best is the best education for all.” (Hutchins)
The rich liberal arts education based on the great works of western civilization should not be reserved just for those that qualify for high end prep schools but be available to everyone. It should be restored as the core curriculum in all high schools. This education in great books stimulates the students to think and to consider and to ponder the great ideas; it develops the mind which is the fundamental purpose of any educational system. This approach respects a high view of human dignity and holds particular importance in our country where almost everyone enjoys some leisure and all adults have been vested with political power. How can a voting citizen expect to intelligently choose those that will govern or influence those in power to make the right choices without the ability to think well, to formulate arguments and to communicate persuasively? They cannot, and most then truckle behind pundits and well organized systems of mass media influence rather than making educated decisions that wisely influence the future of our county and our culture. This flawed approach will result in perpetual decay until the seeds of totalitarianism grow to strangle the whole plant. And, therefore we must immediately reform education to provide the best education in the best ideas to all with liberating affects.
Consider that the liberal education of Alexander the Great resulted in the Hellenization of his world while the education of subjection in Sparta resulted in a centuries long defensive slave state.
Philip of Macedon united the Greek states by conquest in preparation for a war of vengeance on Persia in the mid fourth century before Christ with his young anticipated heir, Alexander at his side.
But it was when Alexander tamed the untamable stallion that Philip called for the top tutor of the day to provide a liberal education of this up and coming prince.
From Plutarch’s Lives;
“Philonicus the Thessalian brought the horse Bucephalus to Philip, offering to sell him for thirteen talents; but when they went into the field to try him, they found him so very vicious and unmanageable, that he reared up when they endeavored to mount him, and would not so much as endure the voice of any of Philip’s attendants. Alexander stood by and said, “What an excellent horse do they lose for want of address and boldness to manage him.” When Alexander calmed and tamed the powerful steed the laughing company now silenced heard Philip say, “O my son, look thee out a kingdom equal to and worthy of thyself, for Macedonia is too little for thee.”
After this, considering him to be of a temper easy to be led to his duty by reason, but by no means to be compelled, he always endeavored to persuade rather than to command or force him to anything; and now looking upon the instruction and tuition of his youth to be of greater difficulty and importance than to be wholly trusted to the ordinary master in music and poetry, and the common school subjects, and to require as Sophocles says-the bridle and the rudder, too, he sent for Aristotle, the most learned and most celebrated philosopher of his time, and rewarded him with a munificence proportionable to and becoming the care he took to instruct his son…It would appear that Alexander received from him not only his doctrines of morals and politics, but also something of those more abstruse and profound theories which these philosophers, by the very names they gave them, professed to reserve for oral communications to the initiated, and did not allow many to become acquainted with…he was naturally a great lover of all kinds of learning and reading; and Onesicritus informs us that he constantly laid Homer’s Iliad according to the copy corrected by Aristotle, called the casket copy, with his dagger under his pillow, declaring that he esteemed it a perfect portable treasure of all military virtue and knowledge. When he was in upper Asia, being destitute of other books, he ordered Harpalus to send him some; who furnished him with Philistus’s History, a great many of the plays of Euripides, Sophocles, and Aeschylus, and some dithyrambic odes…His violent thirst after and passion for learning, which were once implanted, still grew up with him, and never decayed…
After the death of King Philip, twenty year old Alexander wasted no time in consolidating his power over the peninsula and organized at once a force for the invasion of Persia.
In just twelve years while vastly outnumbered he through superior strategy and fortitude defeated Darius the great king of kings and assumed the emperorship of Persia, subjecting all peoples and lands to the Indus River in what is now Pakistan. Egypt quickly acquiesced and proclaimed Alexander a son of god after the image of the Pharaohs. Yet, his liberal learning and confidence in victory compelled him not only to conquer but to Hellenize his new lands by the implantation of Greek culture. Indeed his age saw the extension of the Greek language and ideas to the non-Greek world of the ancient Near East and the enormous conquests created opportunities for Greek artists, architects and engineers, intellectuals, merchants and colonizing soldiers. The urban centers founded by Alexander and his successors became springboards for the diffusion of Greek culture including the greatest library of his day established at Alexandria on the Egyptian delta. Alexander’s love of learning even while campaigning is evidenced by the botanical samples he would return to Aristotle with notes of interest. He even had a baboon shipped so his tutor, who did not approve of his excessive exploits, could enjoy some of the curiosities in his plunder. These are the liberating affects of a liberal arts education in the life of Alexander the Great.
In contrast Lycurgus the lawgiver of Sparta described the training of their youth as, “Reading and writing they gave them, just enough to serve their turn;
their chief care was to make them good subjects, and to teach them to endure pain and conquer in battle.”Their chief care was to make them good subjects not liberally minded leaders. Taken from their homes and mothers at age 7, Spartan boys lived in the military barracks of this fully militarized society in which some eighty percent of the population were Helot slaves who supported the elite troops. “No one was allowed to live after his own fancy; but the city was a sort of [military] camp.” The Spartans so despised outside influence that at one time they used lead as coinage so that no one would trade with them. Yes, and so they maintained themselves for centuries until they were conquered by the Macedonians.
The Spartans were not liberators, but defenders; they did not possess grand vision, but sought to preserve what they had. As soldiers they could read, and they did sing, but they could do nothing but soldier. They could not even garden. Their truncated education purposefully did not liberate them, as did the liberal education of Alexander. In like manner, Paula Bonhoeffer chose to educate her children in their early years at home, observing that “Germans have their backbones broken twice in life: first in the schools, secondly in the military.”“ Their mother presided over a well appointed home, the staff including a governess, a nursemaid, a house maid, a parlor maid, and a cook. Upstairs was the schoolroom, with desks where Paula taught the children their lessons. It was somewhat shocking when Paula Bonhoeffer chose to take the teacher’s examination as a single woman, but as a married woman, she used what she learned to great effect. (She received her diploma in April 1896 from the Royal Provincial School College in Breslau.) She was openly distrustful of the German public schools and their Prussian educational methods. She subscribed to the maxim that Germans had their backs broken twice, once at school and once in the military, she wasn’t about to entrust her children to the care of others less sensitive than she during their earliest years. When they were a bit older she sent them to the local public schools, where they invariably excelled. But until each was seven or eight, she was the sole educator. ( From Bonhoeffer, Pastor Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas, page9)
So, we are left these great contrasts, an education rich in the liberal arts given to someone with a violent thirst for learning who becomes the empire builder while those educated legalistically maintained a military elite within a society of slaves. Which will you choose?
But let us become practical…for if we are to bring a renaissance to our country as our Lord has taught us we must employ vigorous classical learning in the great ideas with excellence from the kindergarten through high school as well as in our own growing professional lives.
And we must organize ourselves for success, moving from Boutique to Bodacious.
Let us think as big as the Kingdom would allow us to think, for did not our Savior teach us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, the will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We have His support no matter how difficult and no matter how long the project takes, until He returns to consummate His Kingdom.
The socio-political benefits of providing the best education to all far outweigh all the expected opposition.
When thousands and then hundreds of thousands of American students learn this way over time think of the culture shifting tsunami that could cleanse, refresh and improve life and living for the entire country. What if the intellectual capacity of those living here becomes remarkably higher and we add robust debate about applied solutions for our most difficult, socio-economic, political and scientific problems right next to football as a contact sport. Instead of rising crime, national debt, and mental illness we could experience an American renaissance.
An adaption of Winston Churchill’s We Will Fight of the Beaches
Even though large tracts of America and many old and famous bastions of learning have fallen or may fall into the grip of industrialized and trivialized forms and all the odious apparatus of statist education, we shall not flag or fail.
We shall go on to the end, we shall build the classical schools we have started, we shall build in other towns and cities, we shall build with growing confidence and growing strength in the Christ, we shall defend our heritage, whatever the cost may be, we shall build the world of Christian ideas, we shall build on copious and paid for campuses, we shall build in church facilities, we shall build with the homeschool movement; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this movement or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our children who will live beyond us, armed and guarded by thousands of years of legacy, will carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”
Well, I know I am in, because this is what I do; I know you are in because this is what you do. Now we beseech thousands more parents, educators, and visionary leaders, and philanthropists to join this counter-revolution by providing the best education for the best to all with culture changing implications.
Rodney J. Marshall is Founder of Coram Deo Academy in Dallas/Fort Worth and President and Owner of Marshall Education Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.marshalleducationgroup.com