Classic decision-making

The world would be better off if we had more classics majors.

This past weekend, with so many universities in the Triangle showcasing their accomplished faculty and alumni as part of commencement celebrations, I couldn’t help but notice that innovation and entrepreneurship took the spotlight. Applied sciences got the glory, along with the plethora of business start-ups. Faculty, long used to the pressure of publish-or-perish, now must have a start-up on their resumes to be competitive. A majority in the General Assembly and many of their appointees on the UNC System Board of Governors push “job-readiness” as a goal of university graduates, essentially aiming to turn universities into vocational-training schools.

Governing bodies of late seem to dismiss the importance of the ability to recognize facts, analyze data, think critically, learn from history, see situations from various viewpoints and grasp the far-reaching consequences of decisions. For some reason, governing bodies don’t see those skills as relevant to job-readiness. But classics majors know differently.

Leaders in ancient Rome made a point of seating people of diverse opinions and “skill sets,” as it were, on their ruling body. For a long time, their civilization flourished. It broke down as the aristocracy separated itself from the rest of the population and began making decisions that would benefit the wealthy.

The founding fathers of the U.S. also aimed for diversity of thought among its members, and the U.S. rose to the point where it was considered the leader of the free world. Then elected officials began making decisions that benefited the wealthy primarily, and we have been spiraling downward ever since.

We’re all watching Washington burn during the current administration. And the smoke has filtered down to the local level, as judged by the Orange County commissioners’ recent decision to spend another $70 million on a light rail that will serve primarily those financially well off.

My hope is that Town Council can avoid those mistakes.

A classics major not only understands history but examines what sets humans apart from other life on earth; what made civilizations rise and fall; what is important to quality of life beyond access to clean water and food, safeguarding people and a way to connect with other communities.

Many of us on council benefited from a liberal arts education; some of us concentrated on the humanities. I would hope our decisions reflect the depth of thought and the respect for diverse opinions that we learned decades ago at the beginning of our careers.
— Nancy Oates

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1 Comment

  1. plurimus

     /  May 15, 2017

    Nancy, agreed.

    Education is a gift from previous generations to the next. Two of the most important lessons are the ability to learn on ones own and the realization that learning is neither restricted in time nor place.

    The Greeks main accomplishment was a multi-generational assemblage and resulting synergies of other ancient peoples’ achievements and a cogent way to communicate the same. Babylonians, Hittites, Egyptians, Syrians, Persians, Turks and others learnings are assembled into the Athenian democracy, theater, philosophy and logic. In turn, our systems have leveraged the Greek achievements. Without learning the why of these ideas, we risk the very foundations of our freedom, democracy and the laws that codify them.

    There are crucial questions that should be pondered by everyone and most of that debate is contained in formulations and applications by the Greeks.

    Distinctions between moral decency and contingent legislation, the relationship of religion to the state, the ideal of the pursuit of happiness, the difference between the truth and opinion, the danger of fomenting revolution under the slogan of liberty, the tyranny of the majority and at the same time the dangers of a pure democracy, the schism between rich and poor………I could go on.

    The debate about, and best answers to questions as the ones above is in turn critical thought. The ability to make informed comparisons of constitutions, utopian thinking, innovation, critical, lateral and relativist thinking, are all skills needed for the ability to argue cogently.

    Thomas Jefferson argued in “Notes on the State of Virginia” that the main goal of education in a democracy is to enable us to defend our liberty. History, he proposed, is the subject that equips citizens for this and Greek and other classics are foundational to that history.

    History does not support LRT as a 3.3 Billion dollar solution to public transportation on the route or the regressive financial and insufficient density conditions that exist now or in the projected future. I am still waiting for a cogent argument in support of DOLRT (see previous thread) and clear rational reason why the decision was made to proceed.