Beware Greeks bearing gifts.
Thus the priest Laocoon famously warns his countrymen against the perfidious horse. The Trojans, in their hubris, ignore what hides in plain sight.
San Francisco Opera recently opened its resplendent production of The Trojans, the monumental work by Hector Berlioz based on episodes from Virgil’s Aeneid.
Some may recall – not so fondly, perhaps – parsing Virgil when it was still a matter of widespread academic pedigree to study Latin. The offering of Latin in high schools declined in the 60’s and 70’s, although there have been more recent spurts of renewed interest. It is a domain that has served many young people well throughout their formal education and into adult life.
Berlioz’s epic interpretation, composed to his own libretto, is thoroughly French and 19th century in its focus on passionate human relationships, although their impotence in the face of destiny still figures prominently. The power of these ancient texts never seems to wane, whether in the original or in the panoply of operatic, theatrical, and cinematic reimaginings through the ages.
An educational dilemma that has dogged us for a century: do we provide all students an equivalent curriculum, including, for example, classical languages and literature? Or do we steer young people into areas we deem more relevant to their day-to-day lives and what we foresee to be their likely futures?
“What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all its children.” This is John Dewey’s straightforward dictum from Democracy and Education published in 1916. Cited by Diane Ravitch at the front of Reign of Error, her 2013 polemic against charter schools, vouchers, and a range of federal education policies, she goes on to argue
Poor and immigrant children need the same sorts of schools that wealthy children have, only more so. Those who start life with the fewest advantages need even smaller classes, even more art, science, and music to engage them, to spark their creativity, and to fulfill their potential.
Not to diminish the importance of subjects at the focus of the growing batteries of tests, it seems to me our responsibility as educators to provide the widest and most varied curriculum, to “open vistas of possibility,” as Maxine Greene often said of the arts. In this way, young people may grow to see beyond what is in plain sight, both for themselves and for their communities.
An excerpt from an original music-theater work created by 4th & 5th graders at Ohlone Elementary School in Palo Alto as part of San Francisco Opera Guild’s Book to Bravo! program. NB: If you receive this post in an email, you will need to open it in a web browser to view the video.