The Failure of Ancient and Modern Education
Former President Johnson, addressing the National Education Association at Madison Square Garden in 1965, said: “Education, more than any single force, will mold the citizen of the future. That citizen, in turn, will really determine the greatness of our society.”
In the student revolt of the 60’s, one national leader warned: “We live in an age of anarchy both abroad and at home. Here in the United States, great universities are being systematically destroyed.”
Even though momentarily fairly quiet, why are the centers of the dissemination of education seedbeds of civil disobedience, moral and sexual decay, looseness and drug experimentation?
Why, because there is something drastically wrong with modern education! Most of modern education teaches solutions to mankind’s problems by materialistic means – when man’s real problems lie in a wrong mental and spiritual approach.
Instead of disseminating knowledge capable of solving the nation’s mounting problems, education, itself, has become a major crisis! As much as any problem facing us, the problems of education from kindergarten on up are tearing away at the stability of the nation. Now ugly racial difficulties threaten major disruptions in our school systems.
Unparalleled in history, Americans (and other nations) have poured billions upon billions of high priority taxpayer dollars into behemoth modern education facilities – from grade schools to huge universities.
Civil and government leaders have looked to modern education to equip and inspire youth with proper goals, values, knowledge, understanding and self-discipline to strengthen their communities and nation. But something has gone wrong. Education has not produced what everyone hoped it would. Something is radically missing in modern education.
Modern education has failed to provide the right worthwhile goals and values that would inspire its youth to discipline themselves to meet national, community or personal crises or needs. The Romans gradually fell into the same educational trap.
Contrary to later developments, education in early Rome was closely related to clear-cut goals and values. It was clearly character and purpose oriented. It was education to meet clear-cut responsibility toward the family, the community and the nation; a preparation to meet realities head-on with strength and ability.
Later, in the Republic, under the influence of Greek culture, elementary, secondary and higher schools of rhetoric and philosophy were established. The latter were based on the words of so-called “great” pagan authors, especially Homer. The Romans wanted to be as cultured as conquered subjects and vassals, especially Greeks. Therefore, they set up schools after the Hellenist type to rival those in the East at Athens and Rhodes. But gradually, with the influence of wealth, ease and commercial life within the Empire, character training became forgotten.
The Roman’s Schools (leaving out of account the philosophers) did not profess to do anything more than inculcate a particular branch of learning. They did not claim to build character, to teach religion or patriotism or morality, and some ancient teachers were notoriously ill equipped for such teaching.
“Yet there was certainly a feeling abroad that a school master should be something more than a mere instructor, that he should take the place of a parent, perhaps even supply that moral guidance that some Roman homes conspicuously failed to provide” (Roman Civilization, p. 208, section by M. L. Clarke, edited by J.P.V.D Balsdon).
Looking at the education of Roman youths in the first century, “we find several conditions of good education sadly lacking. The moral, social and intellectual climate was not healthy; there was no grand conception of the education of the whole man” (E. B. Castle, Ancient Education and Today, p. 124).
They failed to “educate the whole man”! Schools had little or no emphasis on “character,” “morality,” “religion,” “patriotism”? How similar to the approach of much of modern public education today.
Several years ago, an elderly educator noted that American institutions of higher learning were turning out “splendid splinters” instead of well-rounded educated men and women. He said, “Nine-tenths of our faculties are bores, simply because they are nincompoops outside of their specialties.”
Following the pattern of later Rome, a state university professor (formerly a college president) said: “We’re not in the business of building character. I doubt if some of us are qualified. Colleges are not churches, clinics, or even parents. Whether or not a student participates in a civil rights march, engages in premarital or extramarital sexual activity, becomes pregnant, attends church, sleeps all day or drinks all night, is not really the concern of an educational institution.”
Just develop the ability to absorb materialistic knowledge is the modern concept of education.
Students are increasingly told there are “no moral absolutes,” no solid values to guide moral choices or decisions in life. They are taught there is no right or wrong! Is it then surprising that two out of every three college students think it is not wrong for men and women to engage in premarital sex, especially as long as participants say they are “in love”? Or that we have a V.D. epidemic among youth? One poll showed that even in those cases where participants do not claim to be “in love,” half of all these surveyed still accepted the idea of premarital sex. Much of modern education has been in the forefront of the moral and sexual revolution! Modern education must take its share of guilt for destroying true values!
“It gets pretty depressing to watch what is going on in the world,” said a University of California senior girl, “and realize that your education is not equipping you to do anything about it.” She is not a radical. She has never demonstrated. She, and millions like her, will graduate with honors and profound disillusionment.
Several years ago the editor of Harper’s Magazine, wrote that the fragments of knowledge, that most youths fritter away precious years to receive, are only “bits and pieces which don’t stick together and have no common purpose. The typical liberal-arts college has no clearly defined goals. It merely offers a smorgasbord of courses, in hopes that if a student nibbles at a few dishes from the humanities table, plus a snack of science, and a garnish of art or anthropology, he may emerge as ‘a cultivated man’ whatever that means” (Harper’s Magazine, Sept. 1969).
Now we see the shocking parallel in the Roman record: “On the whole we are compelled to admit that at the most glorious period of the empire the schools entirely failed to fulfill the duties which we expect of our schools today. They undermined, instead of strengthened, the children’s morals, they mishandled the children’s bodies instead of developing them, and if they succeeded in furnishing their minds with a certain amount of information, they were not calculated to perform any loftier or nobler task.” In other words, the bits of knowledge Roman children learned did not relate with any high idea of personal character, national goals or system of values.
Continuing, the historian Carcopino writes: “The pupils left school with the heavy luggage of a few practical and commonplace notions laboriously acquired and of so little value that in the fourth century Vegetius could not take for granted that new recruits for the army would be literate enough to keep the books of the corps. Popular education then in Rome was a failure” (Jerome Carcopino, Daily Life in Ancient Rome, pp. 1-6-107).
What do we see today? High school and college graduates who cannot read, write or spell, who are unprepared to earn a living, that are often as unfit morally as they are physically. I heard a teacher recently on a talk show state that he was fired from his teaching job because he tried to teach students in his sixth grade class to spell. He was told not to mark the words incorrectly spelled as it may give the student low self esteem! This is not the exception, it is the rule.
As for higher education, the Romans paid undue attention to rhetoric in training men for higher offices as lawyers and administrators.
“So, far from preparing young men for practice in the courts the schools (of rhetoric) accustomed them to a thoroughly unreal atmosphere and sent them into the world with much to unlearn” (Roman Civilization, p. 209, section by M. L. Clarke).
Again Roman historian Carcopino tells us: “The Romans saw no long-term usefulness in disinterested research. They made a collection of the results research had achieved and lifted science ready-made into their books, without feeling any need to increase it or even verify it” (op. cit, p. 113).
In other words, Roman students gullibly swallowed anything poked at them as “knowledge,” but rarely ever checked its validity. Students today are taught to accept what is in the textbook and recite it back to them on their tests.
The philosophic school of thought apparently even circulated the idea that there was no such thing as unchangeable truth. The Roman governor, Pilate, confronting Jesus Christ who brought up the matter of the concept of truth, retorted: “What is truth?” (John 18:38.) Pilate was a product of Roman education. He, like many sophisticated students today, didn’t believe in unchangeable truths or values!
By the way, the answer to Pilate’s question about truth is found in the Gospel of John: “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17).
With this education and the overemphasis on luxury living and materialism, the minds of Rome’s educated citizens were dulled.
“In this atmosphere of indolent contentment the privileged classes, and especially the urban middle class, came to find their ideas in pleasure, and the pursuit of gain. Creative genius dwindled (which education should have sparked). No new artistic discoveries were made – the pen and pencil produced highly spiced work, able to attract and amuse the mind, but incapable of elevating and inspiring it” (M. Rostovtzeff, Rome, p. 322).
Historians remark with astonishment that apart from a few religious writings, no outstanding literary works were produced in the 400’s A.D. Yet that period was filled with monumental events.
There were few great men or works of literature to inspire others to high levels of accomplishment, no Abraham Lincolns, no Winston Churchills. And today, it seems the works most attractive and popular are publications of titillating sex, pornography or violence, not of character or nation-building. As of this writing, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” a perverted sex novel, is a worldwide best seller, even replacing the Bible in some hotel bedside tables.
Rome was indifferent: “Under the brilliant exterior of the Roman Empire, we feel the failure of creative power. We feel the weariness and indifference which undermined, not merely the culture of the state, but also its political system, its military strength, and its economic progress” (Rostovtzeff, pp. 322-323).
Uninspiring materialistic education played a part in warping the time-honored values of the Roman Empire!
A tree is known by its fruits. What have been the fruits of education – both ancient and modern? Has education solved mankind’s ills?
In 1964, Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, president of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, said at a conference at the University of Michigan: “We have more educated people than at any time in history; we have more people with college degrees, yet our humanity is a diseased humanity. It isn’t knowledge we need; knowledge we have. Humanity is in need of something spiritual.”
Yet, paradoxically, God says: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). The” lack” being described here is not in material, scientific knowledge; however it is in the knowledge of the true values. It is a lack of knowledge of God and His way of life. This kind of knowledge the world has rejected (same verse last part). One has to but follow the news stories of lawsuits filed by liberals and atheists to ban prayer, Bible study, and even the mention of God in our public schools. And, sadly enough, the courts are agreeing with them. Yes, our people are being destroyed because we are not receiving the only knowledge that can mold character in an individual. There is a “right” but our students are not being taught what it is.
A strong durable nation needs much more than wealth and material technological knowledge! Obviously there has been a missing dimension in education. Education should answer the most important question of all: What is man? Why is he here? What motivates him? What is the purpose of life? What is the way to peace? How should a nation use its resources? How should we deal with our fellowman?
Can a man or woman claim to be fully educated without knowledge of the God-intended purpose of life? Too often education answers, “There aren’t any ultimate values or answers. We can never know absolutely.” Is there any wonder Western civilization is floundering directionless? One has to but look at Rome’s demise, brought about through her education system, to see where we are headed as a nation today! Do you think we can change the direction we are headed? The Bible says we can but we won’t, how about you? Are you seeking true knowledge from the only source of truth? You can find the truth here on our website if you are willing to read and accept it.
Part 4 of this series will follow soon.