Thursday, August 19, 2010

Going Old School.

When I say "old school," I mean really old school.

I just rediscovered some lovely complaints about the joys of lecturing. These are from Petronius, a lovely chap who was probably writing under our good friend, the Emperor Nero (c. 60 AD). It comes from a very, very strange work called the Satyricon. I'll spare you the details, but there are pirates, witches, werewolves, jilted lovers and pederasty galore. Ah, Roman Lit.

In any case, the 'hero' of the story has complained to a wandering professor (an adjunct?) that academia is all but useless, that the educational system teaches nothing about common sense or that could have applicability in the real world, and that the language employed is more concerned with sounding fancy and clever than it is in conveying any real information. (Does this sound familiar to anyone else?)

The lecturer responds:

"Allow me to observe that we teachers should not be saddled with the blame for this bombast of which you've complained. Unless we professors spout the sort of twaddle [or assign the type of grades...] our students admire, we run the risk of being left alone at our lecterns. We are like fishermen. Unless we bait our hooks with the sort of tidbits the little fishes like, we are doomed to spend eternity sitting on our rocks without the chance of a bite.

In my opinion, those parents who refuse to impose a stern discipline upon their sons must bear the blame. As with everything else, even their children are sacrificed on the altar of their ambition. They shove these callow, newborn babies into the public arena and eloquence (which they claim is the crown of a liberal education) is chopped down to fit the size of a fetus. We find our schoolrooms packed with children wasting their time and playing at learning; our recent graduates disgracing themselves in public life and, what is worst of all, the very things that they mislearned when young, they are reluctant to confess in old age."*

I take great comfort knowing that there has always been some sort of pressure for educators to cater to the whims of the masses and that professors have long held parents responsible for the immature, vapid little monsters they send us.

*Translation by William Arrowsmith (1987), adapted slightly.


  1. Of course Rome under Nero was in the same state of decline that many say America is now.

  2. I love this. Erasmus, too, has a nice rant somewhere about college boys carousing through the streets hassling townies, spending their folks' cash, and drinking til they puke.


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