What’s education good for? – Isocrates on public service

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Sometimes it’s easy to sigh on a Tuesday morning and think, “What am I doing? What is the point anyway?”

Today, Isocrates reminds us of the point – or, at least, one point.

The Great Tradition: Classical Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being is a collection of the writings about education from Plato to the modern era, the writings that have informed the development of western civilization and classical education.

CH059: Where Education Begins & Ends

Education creates society, for good or ill.

Isocrates begins with a cynical approach to education in one selection, where he writes:

“I urge those who are inclined towards these disciplines to work hard and apply themselves to all of them, saying that even if this learning can accomplish no other good, at any rate it keeps the young out of many other things which are harmful.”

However, later he does clarify that education is truly necessary for the good of society, not only in what it prevents, but in what it does:

The government of the state is handed on by the older men to the youth of the coming generation; and that since the succession goes on without end, it follows of necessity that as is the education of our youth so from generation to generation will be the fortune of the state.

Can I hear an amen? Look around education and politics and see the truth of that.

What does this mean for us?

The best thing you can do for your country is educate your children.

If you think politics and the government is a mess, and you feel helpless to fix it, take a deep breath. There is something that matters more than your vote: Your children. You are preparing the next generation. If we raise them up to be principled, clear-thinking, and clear-speaking, that is the best service we can do for society.

I’d love for you to share either another implication you draw from this quote or your thoughts on my own musings.

Learning what classical education really means from primary sources.

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