Ancient Common Sense on Education

Every page of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius offers something profound, something personally challenging, something lovely, or something disputable in the most ennobling sense of the word, namely the sense of engaging the reader in thoughtful discussion with a deeply probing and relentlessly frank mind. 

Interestingly, the work — actually a collection of short observations written for himself, rather than for a public — begins with a list of personal debts to various people from whom he learned important lessons in living. And the fourth of these always gives pleases me with its unembellished directness, as though it were expressing the most obvious observation in the world:

From my great-grandfather, not to have frequented public schools, and to have had good teachers at home, and to know that on such things a man should spend liberally.

Meditations, Long translation, London: Blackie & Son, Ltd., 1910, p. 1

This is the simplest statement of educational common sense one could ever hope to find, all the more striking for being so out of step with the temper of our era of great general wealth, in which millions of people who can afford “good teachers at home,” should they desire such things, instead create endless excuses and rationalizations to obscure the modern parent’s startling irresponsibility about the most important concerns, and his petty devotion to “other priorities,” as though the character and thought processes of his own child were a mere tangential matter by comparison with trips to the amusement park, the newest electronics equipment, or a bigger bathroom.

And we must remember that the “public schools” to which Marcus Aurelius refers as places to be shunned in favor of home education were a great many stages of degradation away from our state-micromanaged progressive worker unit conditioning centers and moral enslavement camps. In today’s environment, as I have argued at length, the claim that properly educating children at home is unrealistic for most people — fine for an emperor, but not for an office worker or farmer — carries no weight, since even the most unskilled and inexperienced parents will themselves be able to provide far more of the real educational opportunity a child needs, with far less of the calculated harm built into our compulsory mass retardation factories.

For my full treatment of this issue, see The Case Against Public Education.

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