Leading out and leading in

To think that as one moves across the board, things don’t get lost is quite unrealistic. Something always gets lost, pieces get captured. the question is: what’s the trade-off? Has the strategy worked? Has the outcome been achieved?

There is always a cost. Sometimes the cost can be computed, sometimes it can’t.

The cost of education goes beyond the financial cost of education to the pupil or to the state. The cost of education is the total cost of cultural acquisition which led to what our education is supposed to stand for and achieve: the pursuit and cultivation of wisdom, the achievement of financial independence and support for kin and community, the responsible championing of the civilizational project of our species.

The ancient Romans collected all of these insights into the word they bestowed to us and which has already been used four times in this post: education.

At the head of the Roman troops was the dux, the leader, a name, an office and a title which was derived from the verb ducere, to lead. The English word ‘duke’ which evolved out of it doesn’t even begin to do justice to the Latin root.

Leading was so pivotal to Roman culture, and the military played such an important role in the construction of Ancient Roman state identity that leadership was seen as the mainstay of society. Role-modeling and the celebration of memorable styles and acts of leadership shaped the way in which the Romans understood their history and addressed the challenges of their time.

But leadership was even more foundational than the military. The way to bring up a child in Roman society was to educere, to educate them, from the verb ducere, to lead, and the separation particle ‘ex’ meaning ‘out of’. So to lead the child out of the wilderness of culturelessness into the life of a citizen. To bring them out of ignorance into the light of knowledge, skill and culture. Acculturation was understood as guiding the child out of whatever lies outside civilization, the barbaritas of those who can’t use the psycho-technologies of the wisdom tradition.

And the cost of ex-ducere? The schools of ancient Greece and Rome understood very well the value of education in the great insurance project of Mediterranean civilization. Grounded in role-modelling and centred around the spoken and written word – the words of grammar, rhetoric and philosophy, the gateway into effective and persuasive communication and access to the cultural capital of the past.

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