The cynical tone of Thomas Fleming’s disparagement of “modern” education and its theories from the point of view of the classicist (“Counting People, and People Who Count,” Perspective, September) is entertaining reading with a moral of sorts to boot. He describes the generally bad lot of contemporary educational theory and practice and posits the saving graces of the thousands of years that perfected traditional learning modes and curricula often referred to as classical. Only the latter, he argues, may produce “people who count,” and whose presence is essential to a civilized society. We may conclude that, given modern education as it is, not many such people may be expected to emerge, and so decadence must ensue. Are we so different really? Think of Alcibiades as the paradigm of education gone wrong. More, the Sophists were deemed as morally disreputable and money-hungry as the faddist gurus of modern education.
I would argue that the “people who count” are rare birds indeed, and always have been. Yet there is a need for them no less than there is a need for plumbers and shoemakers. Fortunately, even in our day, these rarities discover themselves, usually through some inner need for enlightenment that is unfathomable to their more pedestrian fellows. Some have the good fortune to come across a mentor capable of smoothing their growth into principled civility of thought and action. Some slog through on their own, to emerge blinking upon the realization that they are not alone as they discover and share some community of scholars or statesmen who speak of Troy on familiar terms.
The beauty of the piece is that it exposes education as not a matter of indoctrination or training, or even of the ethereal goal of learning for learning’s sake, but as intending the generation of “a good man who can be useful to his neighbors and to his community.”
For that matter, so is a plumber.