By Riley Lochhead, V Form
The Importance of Classics in the 21st Century
Editor’s Note: In Latin III Honors, the students wrote essays to submit to the Eidolon Essay Contest. The prompt called for an explanation and argument for why studying Classics is important in the 21st century.
Studying Classics has helped me with many things such as SAT vocabulary, gaining a better understanding of the foundation of the English language, and having a better grasp on the history of ancient Rome. Although all of these skills are valid examples of the importance of studying the Classics, they are not what makes studying Classics most valuable in the 21st century. It is crucial to continue to educate students in the area of Classics is because Latin and Greek create opportunities for students to be independent critical thinkers who are able to produce their own ideas and to ask questions that provoke them to question their previous assumptions about the topics being discussed. This skill can be applied to many other disciplines and is crucial to development of a growth mindset.
Being in the Classics program at my high school has had a positive impact on my development because I have learned that it is acceptable to question my own and others’ ideas and I have been encouraged to be okay with not fully understand something. In Greek, we often talk about being in a state of “aporia”, a word that literally means to be without a way or a path. The Socratic Method we use in our class discussions allows us to be comfortable with aporia. By accepting that we do not know something, we allow ourselves the opportunity to grow by changing our minds, thus allowing us to learn more than we initially thought possible. Comfort with “aporia” allows people to get clarity on their own opinions and to possibly even change their mind due to exposure of new ideas from peers or colleagues. While this is important, it is easy to get caught up in the group’s opinion and we can lose sight of our own values or ideas. Classics students are challenged daily to form their own opinions, even if their initial opinion is wrong. These opinions can be about anything from how to translate a word in context, to how to construe a sentence to make sense in English, to topics that could be discussed in a Socratic Circle. We live in a world where if we don’t know something, people turn to the internet to quickly access the information they need. This is causing people to become more and more reliant on other sources rather than trying to solve problems on their own. My Classics classes have taught me how to form my own true opinion, to share it respectfully and to ask deep and meaningful questions.
Just as we are becoming more reliant on the internet, we are also living in a world where people’s opinions are becoming more polarized. Studying Classics is extremely important in this respect because by learning to form individual opinions Classics students come out of their classes readily prepared for the complexity and collaborative nature of the real world. Collaborative environments in the workplace and in school settings are becoming more common, and being able to either stand up and defend your own idea or to compromise with other people are both two skills that studying the Classics can give you. Classics students are the ones who can stand out in a workplace because they will be the ones leading the group or discussion by expressing their own ideas.
It all goes back to “aporia” because that constant feeling of uncertainty is what forces Classics students to take educated guesses, and even if they are wrong, they are one step closer to the right answer. By being in a state of “aporia”, students have to figure out how to formulate the right questions in order to get to the answer. Often times, students will get into the habit of thinking they have hit a ceiling, or a point at which they can learn no more. This often happens when students find something to be particularly challenging. The idea of “aporia” couples nicely with the idea of having a growth mindset. A growth mindset is nurtured by “aporia” because students with a growth mindset do not give themselves a ceiling and challenge themselves to push through the times where material doesn’t come easily to them. In the 21st century the world is rapidly changing and we need more people who are able to reflect on the change and to have the flexibility and adaptability to change with it.
Riley Lochhead is a V Form day student who lives in Southborough, MA. She plays for the St. Mark’s Girls’ Varsity Soccer team and serves as a Peer Discussion Leader.