Break out the Booze?

No healthy boy has ever wanted to go to school.  I know I did not.  Parents who are confronted with a son who has played hooky or feigned a stomachache will sometimes try to reason with him, explaining why it is important to get a good education.  These exercises never worked with me, and I would not trust a boy who said they did.

Why do we force our children to go to school or try to teach them at home?  This question first raised its ugly head in my mind about 25 years ago when I was giving a lecture to the faculty of a private school.  My theme was the importance of a classical education, and I had quoted, as I always do, Quintilian’s definition of the orator as the vir bonus peritus dicendi, a good man skilled in speaking, as the point of departure for my argument that the object of all education is to turn out a human being of a certain type, someone who is morally good and whose learning can be put to the use of his fellows.  This is the doctrine that was revived—and distorted—by the civic humanists of the Florentine Renaissance.

To me, the familiar argument seemed self-evident and, in its emphasis on civic utility at the expense of the higher purposes of humane learning, even a bit trivializing.  The headmaster, however, was offended.  He explained that his school was child-centered, meaning that there was no common objective, no single set of qualities that could...

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