Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Real Educational Trojan Horse: Deleting Western Civilization 101

The Real Educational Trojan Horse: Deleting Western Civilization 101
My daughter brought home an assignment for her 7th grade social studies class 'Ancient Civilizations'; I wish I had been able to make a copy of it. The worksheet was several pages long, with four or five parts which summarized legend of the Trojan War, and did so remarkably similar to how Wikipedia does (which came first, the wiki, or the rotten egg?)... with one, very notable exception.

The assignment was really an exercise in the typical sort of pap our schools passes off as 'preparation for success!', feeding the kids two or three sentences, then asking a few fill in the blank questions following the paragraph, you know the sort of stuff I mean, the stuff that ensures improved test scores!, such as this:
"The Ancient Greeks believed in many Gods. Zeus was the king of the Gods and was believed to have ruled the world from their home on Mt. Olympus.
Review questions:
1. The king of the Gods was ____ and he lived on ______________."
What a challenge, eh? Can you say building Excellence?! - but at least it was long, right? (sigh), Four or five parts & pages worth, that was sure to fill homework quotas.

Anyway, I don't know how familiar you are with Homer's The Iliad, but I've read it a few times, I've read the surrounding myths and histories often and have generally thought about it... more than a little, and I was curious how they would choose to present the topic - as myth? as murky history? Both?, but I was at least assuming that they would present it.

You know what they say about assuming.

It started off well enough, going into the back story with the goddess Discord discovering that she hadn't been invited to the big wedding, and then doing her thing by rolling a golden apple into the party that was inscribed with 'For the most beautiful', which of course soon pitted several of the Goddesses against each other and sent them looking for someone foolish enough to judge who was most beautiful. Zeus was too smart to step into that one, and directed them to a shepard boy, Paris, a judgment which would eventually lead to the Trojan War.

It went into the Greek kings competing to marry the beautiful Helen, talked about Helen deserting her husband to go to Troy with Paris, and how the Greeks went to war with the Trojans over the 'abduction'. It noted that the war dragged on for 10 long years, that Achilles was the Greeks greatest warrior - it doesn't mention that Achilles was the child born of that earlier wedding, or how important that was to other myths and later plays, but hey, what can you expect of such excellence, right? - and then it mentioned that Achilles was distraught when Patroclus was killed an...

sssSCREEEECHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! What?!!! What the... really?! It jumps from the war's 10th year, to Patroclus being killed.


For three thousand years, the heart and soul of Western Civilization began, and in many cases ended, with Homer's telling of this brief episode of the Trojan War. In the epic of 'The Iliad', its first famous line of
"Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles ...."
is amongst the most famous first lines in all of Western literature. The Iliad, which was essentially the equivalent of The Bible to the Greeks, was Homer's telling of the conflict which resulted when the high King Agamemnon, upset at having to return his captive to her father, a priest of Apollo, turns and demands that Achilles give up his reward, the captive Briseis, whom Achilles loved, that Achilles give her to Agamemnon because Agamemnon was the king, and as king, he had the authority to take her, and so he could and would.

The anger of Achilles at this unjust action, and how he deals with it IS the Iliad. How he turned away from his just rage and listened to the Goddess Athena, goddess of Reason, that he should not kill Agamemnon, but instead should listen to Reason and bide his time, is a vital core of Western Civilization. As is his defying his king by refusing to fight any further in Agamemnon's war against the Trojans, his refusing all entreaties and bribes to return. Achilles instead goes about preparing to abandon 'the unjust king', choosing to turn away from the undying fame and glory which prophecy said was his if he were to fight in the war, though at the cost of an early death; Achilles instead chose to return to a calm, happy and long life.

But then his dearest friend Patroclus is killed while fighting in his stead, fighting because the Greeks were so in need of Achilles that they would perish without him, and so partially yielding, he allows Patroclus to wear his own armor and go into turn the tide of battle as if he were Achilles... if he would promise to return then and there. Patroclus does this, and he turns the tide of battle... but then he forgets his promise and pursues glory and is killed by the Trojan Prince, Hector, and with that, in anguish and rage, Achilles returns to the war, kills Hector and continues to burn in near madness, until Hector's father, King Priam, comes to him alone, and begs for his son's body. Achilles anger is put out, he allows Priam to take his son's body and promises him sufficient time for a proper funeral rights, and that is the end of the Iliad.

There is no significant trait of what has become known as The West, that does not find its origin in The Iliad. Our tendency to rebel at authority, the inventiveness and effectiveness at, and disgust over, war; our striving for excellence and our wariness at achieving what seems to be success, our wiliness... and so much more - it is our tie to the Greeks, to Philosophy, to our most famous plays, it connects us to Rome... the source and form of our culture, all traces back to The Iliad.

And all of that, except for Achilles killing Hector in revenge, which becomes trivial, a mere tit for tat reaction without the rest of the story to give it form... they left it all completely out.

That story, that passage IS the Iliad, it IS what makes the Trojan War worth recounting, That IS the only reason why any of the other myths and histories they did include, have endured over the last three millennium.This, the oldest tale in Western Civilization (bite me Gilgamesh), whose study was once considered the means, material and mark of Education even up through our Founding Father's time and beyond, this was deleted from their recounting of the Trojan War. They deleted it without even a hint of its existence, deleted it from the worksheet, and as I'm sure they hope, deleted it from your child's mind.

Why would anyone even bother with telling any of the other myths, without telling that portion? They are nothing but meaningless trivia without that key....

And that is more likely than not, exactly why it was deleted.

This was no accident. You could not possibly include what they did write about, without knowing about the conflict between Agamemnon and Achilles - absolutely Could Not. The deletion was deliberate, on purpose, intentional. There is not even the uber-feeble excuse of political correctness, for that part of the story contains no dicey PC issues, no non-multi-culti scenario, no further violence, no uncomfortable topic, which wasn't similarly included through the other parts as well... all that the Iliadic portions contain... is what gives them meaning, and it was simply and entirely omitted from the lesson.

Much Ado About Nothing?
Maybe you think I'm making a big deal out of nothing. Maybe there aren't many people who are left who'd know or care about this as I do, but... there is a reason for that as well - Western Civilization has been progressively bred out of Western Civilization for over a century, by those we entrusted our education to and the process is now nearly complete.

Gretchen Logue told me how she had just been talking with neighbors who recently put their kids in another school district, who told her that their child’s teachers were teaching them how another hero of the Iliad and the Odyssey, Odysseus, was being portrayed as a nasty, hater of women, the poor and of other cultures, as were the Greeks in general.

What a surprise.

Ladies and Gentleman, have a look around at the rest of the world... cast an admiring eye upon the cesspools... civilizations of the middle east, Africa, Cambodia, etc., drink it all in and familiarize yourselves with it, meet and greet their deep wells of decadence, poverty, hatred and above all, ignorance. You might as well do it now, their examples are soon to become your realities, because their world is all that will remain after the West has past beyond memory.

Your schools, your so called 'educational systems' have nearly succeeded in deleting what it is that makes the West, the West... and you really think that the most important issue of the day is whether we'll have Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney or Barack Obama as our President?

You really wonder why these are the only choices you have to choose from?

You goddamn idiots.

What kind of an education you get, is more important than getting a lot of education
You are being made into a people of Esau, eagerly disavowing their heritage for a bowl of pottage, which our Educational Czar, Arne Duncan, today calls 'life skills', and in so doing, you are becoming a people who are no longer descendants of the Greeks, but of the Trojans, and like the Trojans of Ilium, you have fallen for the ruse of the Trojan Horse, you have welcomed it in into your gates, disassembling them for the privilege, just as your spiritual ancestors did all those millenia ago.

But this time when we've all finally gone to sleep, while it won't be Greeks who crawl out of the bowels of this Trojan Horse, I garaundamntee you, they will bring you fire and sword and complete destruction. Had our education included more of the patrimony of the West, that which formed the education of our Founding Fathers, and was still significant even to my grand parents day, and for my parents education as well, treasures such as the Iliad, you might have guessed that.

But don't worry, I'm sure your kids will all get straight A's.


Mjolnir said...

Excellent post! Would that more would read this! I wqill pass this along!

Anonymous said...

While I agree with many of your points....allow me to make one myself. I teach Western Civilization in a poor community where many of our kids spend 45-50 days NOT in school. I am not an expert in Greek literature nor do I present as one. You spoke of teaching to the test....yes there are too many restrictions on us when it comes to curriculum and how we deliver the state standards. This September marks the third principal in our school who will surely bring in new policies, procedures, yadda yadda. My point, I this - I teach because I sincerely wish for my students a healthy and happy life. Do I believe that an A student is all that matters - no. I try to show each student that I am there for them...every day for 8 hours without fail. I deliver my material in a varied way where rote memorization is not mandated. We have a short amount of time to "introduce" historical 5W's of ancient civ. It is unfortunate that Homer's work is not taught in totality. In an utopian society all adults would be able to have great discourse regarding heroes and villains of the ancient world and where many may state that Hammurabi had the right idea. Let's cut down on the the cost of incarceration, right? My post turned into a mouth of marbles. Let me finish by clearing our name as teachers. While you many have encountered some that are not as versed as you in many accounts, please understand that teaching, in many ways, is not a glorious profession nor does it have a timeclock with punchcards. I know many teachers that teach for all the right reasons. Myself included. My students may not tell their grandchildren about the beautiful Helen or that the promogranite fruit can be a curse. Many of my boys will be able to tell you about flanking strategies used by past great armies and the names of Roman weaponry. Lots of girls will think about being married at a mom at age 13 and wearing metal ribbons in their hair. Whatever the case may be, when I see them 5, 10, 15 years after the seventh grade, I ask how they are, what they are doing for school/work and most especially....are they remembering the things I tried to instill in them. Being polite, caring, friendly, respectful, responsible....... Thank you.

Van Harvey said...

Anonymous, this post was not directed towards the teachers, but what, how & why it is that what they are having to teach, is being taught. Let me put it this way, you mentioned something at the end, which I believe is absolutely critical, you said:

"Whatever the case may be, when I see them 5, 10, 15 years after the seventh grade, I ask how they are, what they are doing for school/work and most especially....are they remembering the things I tried to instill in them. Being polite, caring, friendly, respectful, responsible....... Thank you."

, which is something that marks You as being a TEACHER, and I thank you for that.

But here's my point, how does something like this:

"The Ancient Greeks believed in many Gods. Zeus was the king of the Gods and was believed to have ruled the world from their home on Mt. Olympus.
Review questions:
1. The king of the Gods was ____ and he lived on ______________."

, help you to teach what you know are to be the most important lessons to be taught? How does being quizzed on a name and place or date, help to teach that?

How is any child possibly going to pick up an inclination towards, a passion for, a resolve to be, someone who is 'polite, caring, friendly, respectful, responsible', from filling in the blankety-blank space with the most likely word from the sentence above?

What you speak of, teaching a student to be polite, caring, friendly, respectful, responsible, that is the stuff of an actual Education, and it will not, it Cannot, come from this desiccated gray textbook pap peddled as 'educational materials'; any child that does manage learn such things at school, does so not because of the what, how & why's of their particular school district policies, but because some Teacher who actually cares for their students and their responsibility to them, managed to Teach, in spite of the what, how & why's of their school district policies.

The entire point of Homer, was to teach. To teach how to live and why, and through imaginative plot and action, the Iliad teaches that above all; it teaches how 'God like Achilles' was brought face to face, by the staying hand of reason, with the uselessness of his glory, brought to the realization that great and fearsome as he was, if blustering Agamemnon could take from him who he loved, then he had nothing; and that his last nod to that glory cost him the life of his dearest friend Patroclus, and then he had less than nothing left, but rage at life itself.

And of 'man-killing Hector', who loved his wife and his dearest son, and knew himself and they were soon to be lost, and yet he had to do what must be done nonetheless.

And Priam, a king and a father, who lost several sons and his dearest son Hector, to Achilles, had to bend his knee to the man who killed them, in order to retrieve his body and bury him properly, before the loss of all he had spent his life in building. And to 'Godlike' Achilles, that and all else broke in on him at that moment, quenched his rage, and brought back his humanity to him, his own loss, and the importance of repaying the sorrow of the old king with decency and respect and generosity because that was truly all that mattered and was worthy of glory.

Homer, despite the teaching of some fools, did not glorify war, the Iliad reads far more like something written from the Vietnam era, than a gung-ho WWII movie, it teaches - if its story is allowed to be fully communicated, rather than chopped into freeze dried spoonful’s - the importance of "being polite, caring, friendly, respectful, responsible", and what the world is like with and without those lessons being learned.

The fact that Teachers such as yourself are deprived of the best materials ever conceived for your purposes, and instead must find some way to manage to teach such things Despite the materials, purposes and motives of their 'curriculum', is an epic tragedy all its own.