"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Judeo Christian Values Should Be Taught In Schools

Roscoe Egeets was the headmaster at Green Meadows Country Day School. He was a short, bald man with an explosive sneeze and a passion for the classics.  In all his introductions, valedictions, and ceremonial speeches, he was sure to quote Cicero, Ovid, or Plato. His favorite quote was by Cicero:

Wise men are instructed by reason; men of less understanding, by experience; the most ignorant, by necessity; the beasts, by nature

Mr. Egeets was a passionate defender of liberty but he was always quick to point out that freedom comes at a high cost.  Only if we are moral, ethical, and prudent can individualism be justified.  He second favorite quote was Jefferson’s on ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’.

“Jefferson was not talking about hedonism”, he said, losing most of us at this point but unable to resist a reference to another favorite theme of his – asceticism. “He meant that individualism, the heart and soul of the new Republic, was God’s gift and not to be squandered but used in the service of others.”

Egeets had a barking cough which appeared whenever he spoke about liberty. “The Founding Fathers (bark, bark) intended for us to express our will (bark, bark) in the context of society (bark, bark); not as amoral Supermen.” Nietzsche was another favorite.

Green Meadows was a small school, grades 7-9, with a student body of no more than fifty.  We were the sons and daughters of New Brighton’s captains of industry, and Roscoe Egeets felt it his duty to educate us to be the future leaders of America.  Not surprisingly, he based his educational philosophy on Cato the Elder, a Roman philosopher and educator who believed that children of the elite could never rule the Empire unless they adhered to the fundamental principles of duty, courage, honor, respect, honesty, and compassion.  Our Latin class was Mr. Egeets’ forum for Roman teaching.

His lessons fell largely on deaf ears.  Generations of inbreeding had not been kind to the Anglo-Saxon industrialists of New Brighton.  They married for breeding rather than brains, and before long the marriages among the Framptons, Barnstables, Flanders, and Lindens had produced ski-worthy, wealthy, and socially skilled slow-learners.  The children of these families all were expected to attend Green Meadows and none were refused. Except for a few Jewish and Italian outliers, the school was uniformly dull.

Mr. Egeets knew this when he signed up, but was never deterred. “They do have some brains”, he said to Mr. Smith, the math teacher, “and our job is to awaken them from their slumber.” A nice way of putting it, thought Smith, who labored to explain the most simple mathematical relationships.

“We’ll start them off easy”, said Egeets and gave Smith a list of Cato’s simplest aphorisms:

Be neat. 

Salute freely. 

Yield to him who is older than thou. 

Respect the magistrate. 

Preserve thy sense of shame. 

Practice diligence. 

Care for thy family. 

Indulge rarely in banquets. 

Sleep enough. 
“Once we have built the foundation”, Egeets went on, “we can demand more rigor.” 
Cato believed that rusticity, austerity, and asceticism were the marks of Sabine robustness and religion, and of the historic Roman integrity and love of order, and he and and he and his friends Fabius and Flaccus, were the leading men in the faction defending the traditional conservative values.  When he was appointed Censor of Rome, the office to promote and safeguard the morality of the Empire, he flourished; and rejecting charges of arrogance and inflexibility, he went on to codify and promote the principles of leadership and citizenship which are unchanged today. 
No one could take Roscoe Egeets seriously.  He spoke in aphorisms and Socratic riddles. “Don’t be dismayed by dualism”, he told his Latin class. “Plato was only distinguishing between the ideal and the real.  You can understand that, can’t you?”.  He went on to read passages from Plato’s Allegory of the Cave explaining that the shadows on the wall do not depict reality, only the image of it. 
“Will this be on the test?”, asked Lauren Nichols. 
Mr. Egeets, looking out over the blank stares of his 9th Grade Latin class, shook his head.  Convinced that as long as there was a scintilla of intelligence in those congenitally vacant brains, there was hope, he deferred his answer, went back to his text, and tried to simplify Plato’s words.  He could not.  The philosopher was a master of rhetoric who always followed the dictum reductio divinum est. The little dummies would simply have to learn. 
“There are no such thing as American values”, wrote a well-known American scholar from Duke University. “We live in a diverse, pluralistic, multicultural society, all of whose ethnicities subscribe to their own particular and culturally appropriate set of values. Any attempt to impose an arbitrary set of Anglo-Saxon values on them is cultural fascism.”
Roscoe Egeets would have thought this total nonsense. Anglo-Saxon values have been derived from Judeo-Christian values which in turn have their origins in ancient Greece and Rome. No civilization has ever existed without an application of Cato’s fundamental principles of right behavior. Honesty, respect, and duty are not relative terms.  Latinos, Arabs, and Papuan Indians understand them.
Herbie Bottoms, one of the few sharp knives in Green Meadows’ cutlery, caught up with me on Facebook a few months ago.  When we met, he asked if I had kept up with any of our old classmates.  “Only Roscoe Egeets”, I told him. “He was buried in Arlington Cemetery.  He had apparently won the Silver Star in the European theatre during the war and was buried with full honors.”
The military ignored his lapse into mental disorder and political extemism.  The more he taught at Green Meadows the more he was convinced of the rot at the core of American society. “If these baboons are any example of the best and the brightest, I am sailing to Borneo.” By the time he was dismissed by the school, he had lost any connection with his students.  His lectures had become tirades and his classes no more than venues for his fevered rants.  By the time he was forcibly retired and returned to Vermont to live out his retirement years, the Fifties were long gone. If he thought that Americans were losing their moral way then, it is no surprise that he saw only ‘a swamp of moral torpor’ many decades later. 
I visited Egeets in Burlington not that long ago, and he had lost all of his propriety and long-suffering patience. “Fuck ‘em”, he said to me. “Dysfunctional savage, immoral beasts, and social reprobates”, he said, referring to America’s troubled communities.  “A perversion of Jeffersonian ideals. inversions of Roman and Grecian rectitude.” 
“Inclusivity, entitlement, diversity, multiculturalism”, he yelled. “Fuck ‘em.” 
Despite what a lot of people thought, Roscoe Egeets was not a nut case – a congenitally or bio-chemically addled man. I had always thought that extremely aberrant social behavior stemmed from internal disorder; but once I got past Egeets’ wildly exercised tirades, bile, and anger, I was convinced that it was America that had driven him mad.  What was so simple to him – so Biblical, so classic, and so universal – was being twisted, deformed, and discarded.  It was painful for him to watch universal violence, divisiveness, and antipathy – all of which could have been avoided.  We let loose the moral reins, he told me. Gave up on holding the line. Gave in, and capitulated. 
Herbie Bottoms had written a book on the centrality of core values in Western civilization; but never got it published because of the progressive environment at Duke, where he taught, and at most other schools in the East.  “Did you cite Roscoe Egeets?”, I asked him. 
“I did indeed.  Remember the time he quoted Pliny the Elder: ‘The depth of darkness to which you can descend and still live is an exact measure of the height to which you can aspire to reach’? That was my salutation. I knew that when Egeets read it to our class, he must have thought that the dummies sitting in front of him had no farther to descend.”
One of the security questions on my Mutual Fund account is “Who was your favorite teacher?”.  Without hesitation I answered, “Roscoe Egeets.” 

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