Faculty Blog – October
The Faculty October Blog
Mrs. Katie James -Director of Fine Arts
Faculty – Latin, Orchestra, and Strings
B.A., Baylor University;M.M. in Music Education Baylor University
Food for Thought: Responsible Citizenship?
During this election year, questions concerning civic duty and patriotism demand much of the public attention. Americans have overwhelmingly agreed in the last 33 years of polling that “educating young people for responsible citizenship” should be the primary goal of our schools. So I ask: What does it mean to educate for responsible citizenship? In 44B.C., Roman orator and statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero reflected upon this very question in his writings entitled De Officiis [On Civic Duties]:
For whoever makes something his highest good that has no connection with virtue measures it not with honesty but by his own convenience. If he himself is agreeable to it and if he is not meanwhile conquered by his good nature, this person will never be able to cultivate neither friendship or justice or generosity. (Cicero Off. 1.5, my translation, emphasis added)
Here Cicero, whose depth of influence upon American government and policy is profound, claims that one cannot be a productive if he or she lives by convenience. Cicero’s underlying claim in De Officiis is that one’s highest patriotic duty is to do the right thing in all circumstances.
Responsible citizenship has been more recently defined by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings in the following way:
As parents, we all want our children to grow up to be responsible citizens and good people. We want them to learn to feel, think and act with respect for themselves and for other people. We want them to pursue their own well-being, while also being considerate of the needs and feelings of others. We want them to recognize and honor the democratic principles upon which our country was founded. We want them, in short, to develop strong character (2007, emphasis added).
In the words of Secretary Spellings, an educator’s primary goal should be to build character in his or her students. Both Spellings and Cicero purport that the goal of character is more worthy of our consideration than goals such as competition, performance, efficiency, or progress. These are merely side effects of producing good citizens.
It is as if Secretary Spellings was writing Vanguard’s vision. Responsibility and respect are core parts of what we teach in every classroom every day. The rigorous pursuit of studies and extracurricular activities demanded at Vanguard produces students who understand that to be good at anything, one must exhibit perseverance, diligence, and self-control. All of these qualities contribute to individual character.
While competition, performance, high standardized test scores, and other such things are important, they do not add up to much in the life of an individual without character. Cicero continues De Officiis by clarifying the purpose of citizenship:
But since…we have not only been born for ourselves, for our country claims a part of our birthright…, we ought to contribute to the common good by an exchange of duties toward each other, by giving and receiving first our works, then our talents, and in so doing, to bind a society of citizens among each other. (Cicero Off. 1.22, my translation)
According to Cicero, talent is directly linked to citizenship because our talents and abilities are not for ourselves but for our country.
The Vanguard Fine Arts program serves to develop the natural talents of all students. Beyond merely playing cello, painting a picture, or performing a monologue, one’s talent is a means by which he or she can affect others in a positive way. Our hope is that, through art, each student begins to realize that he or she has much to offer the world (and should offer it). The abilities to read, to write, to create, to solve, to think, to name a few, are a means by which one can bind society together.
In a polarized political climate, this attitude is exactly what our society needs. It is easy to focus on the things which divide us. Through a responsible, respectful, and rigorous mindset, one is able to see more clearly the things which unite us. This generation of students is what can keep the vision alive.
I hope that the Vanguard classroom is the springboard from which students can lead lives of character, confidence, and most importantly, good citizenship. I hope that Cicero’s mantras can be manifested in the 21st century citizenry, for then we will see a world in which people are bound together in a society of peace and progress.