If we are morally outraged by slavery and racism; we feel how they are wrong and apply that emotion to any information on this topic, whether historical or contemporary. When we experience the confidence of Portia, we not only better understand one of Shakespeare’s characters; we also connect with a pioneeringly clever female role model. If we can comprehend the impact competition and control have had on shaping historical events, we can recognize patterns in human behavior, and choose to learn from them.
Dr. Montessori believed that the young engage in constructing themselves; that’s part of our philosophy. To be our best selves, we have to be open to challenges, comfortable with gray areas, as willing to say what we don’t know as what we do, and ever ready to address all kinds of questions.
How and why can learning from The Iliad help contemporary veterans struggling with their memories and experiences? Why is a false ‘blood libel’ from the Middle Ages relevant to Nazism, The Merchant of Venice, and a 2018 attack in an American synagogue? How can a Chinese poem by Li Po be related to the lyrics of a Beatle’s song?
In an increasingly technologically-equipped world, it can be difficult to comprehend the degree that effort is involved in learning and living. We have Google and Wikipedia; we have a wealth of resources at our fingertips, and when we voice a question, we can often speak it or write it into a search engine and ‘get’ the answer. Because this process seems so seamless, we can lose our appreciation of the joyful growth that comes from intellectual and creative exertion. However, the fundamental benefit that comes from the work we put into something cannot be replicated by technology; rather, technology can be used to enhance what we think, do, wonder, make, need to know, want to understand. Anyone can ask something of a search engine; what matters is how we ask it, why we ask it, whether we can use it, and how we use it. Those questions are where we are putting in our work: our time, our energy, and our effort.
The plays of Sophocles, the philosophy of Plato, the math of Pythagoras are very much alive. Oedipus the King provides a life lesson in hubris; the Allegory of the Cave provides by analogy a way to contemplate the journey from ignorance into understanding; the Pythagorean Theorem provides the basis for analyzing right triangles. The character of Iago is an outstanding example of the hazards manipulators pose. The trial of John Peter Zenger shows us a fight for freedom of the press that preceded the formulation of the First Amendment; the verdict gives us a substantial basis for believing that this freedom and the right to question government leaders is woven into the fabric of the nation.