Monday, August 26, 2013

Education for the Future

Today our second-year Latin students looked at a period of Roman history in which the people of Rome had expelled their king and were in the process of establishing a republic.  Rather than reinvent the wheel, they sent a commission to Greece to study the laws of Athens. This group returned to Rome, and a larger commission set about the work of codifying Rome's first laws.  The year was 509 B.C.

As we talked about the value of seeing what others have done and then building on that, I suggested that this is in fact the principal reason why we study history and languages.  The purpose is not a test, whether A.P., I.B., or E.C.A.  We learn from the past and we learn from other cultures so can expand on their achievements and continue the grand human adventure.

To illustrate this, I shared with them a link that a former student had shared with me over the weekend.  This former student earned a double major in physics and mathematics with a minor in Classics at Purdue and about a week ago successfully defended his Ph.D. in nuclear physics at I.U.  The article he shared was this one, which describes recent developments in chemical, DNA, and protein analysis at the University of Illinois that have made use of a discovery made by the ancient Romans.  Somewhere in the 4th century A.D., the Romans created a form of glass that appears a different color depending on whether light is passing through it from the front or from the back.  Researchers at Illinois are now using this technique to make chemical, DNA, and protein analysis able to be understood by the naked eye.

This is what learning is all about.  This is why we offer Latin.  It is why studying Classics, which is the field of ancient Greek and Roman studies, is as relevant today as ever.  While education is never about something as trivial as a test, nor is it even principally about getting a job (that is what training is for, and while necessary, it is quite different from education), it is about making connections and helping students see how to build upon them.  In 509 B.C. the Romans knew this and sent a delegation to Greece to study its laws.  In 2013, we continue their story.

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