I spend probably more time than is healthy wondering what benefit the study of Classics (or liberal arts education generally) confers on the many many students who go through my classes but don’t go on in the field. I’m confident (most days) that it is greater than zero, but much less able to articulate what sorts of things I hope might result from the things I teach.
So I was struck by this quote from a master at Eton (and, as it turns out, expert writer of Latin verse) called William Johnson Cory:
At school you are engaged not so much in acquiring knowledge as in making mental efforts under criticism. A certain amount of knowledge you can indeed with average faculties acquire so as to retain; nor need you regret the hours you spent on much that is forgotten, for the shadow of lost knowledge at least protects you from many illusions. But you go to a great school not so much for knowledge as for arts and habits; for the habit of attention, for the art of expression, for the art of assuming at a moment’s notice a new intellectual position, for the art of entering quickly into another person’s thoughts, for the habit of submitting to censure and refutation, for the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms, for the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy, for the art of working out what is possible in a given time, for taste, for discrimination, for mental courage, and for mental soberness.
Isn’t that lovely? Is that, do you think, what we can say we do? Alas, I can see no assessment measure that will capture it.