Monday, March 02, 2009

Ancient Rome

Close to 15 years ago now, I taught gifted middle schoolers the subjects of reading and Social Studies. It was a dream job, in that I was in the position to help shape the curriculum for this class, which was a nice place to be as a teacher. It enabled me to teach to my strengths, and also guide the curriculum in sequences that make sense.

I taught sixth, seventh and eighth grades, two class periods each, one for each subject. We (my mentor Pam Pickard...the most creative person alive!) decided to start with Ancient Studies in the sixth grade class ending with the Fall of Rome, the Middle Ages went to the seventh grade class, and then the 8th graders learned about the founding of America and even ended with a civics course in which they ran a presidential election, building their platforms on well researched topics because, well, they were gifted students. The future leaders, movers and shakers. Since I taught them all three years, I was able to follow the continuum of the curriculum, knowing what they had been taught and what we could build on.

I've been thinking of that curriculum lately. In hearing about the new budget for our country, and all that it is attempting to provide for everyone, it brings me back to "Bread and Games" toward the end of the Roman Empire. Now, I realize there were many things that brought about the Fall of Rome, but to me, one of the most dangerous things during that time was the numbing of the citizens through this "Bread and Games" strategy. See, the mindset was, if we keep the masses fed and entertained, they will be pacified and won't care how we run the country. I'm not sure it was an overt strategy, but could have been part of human nature that plays out in situations like this. So the government of the time provided over 200 holidays during the year, endless games in the coliseum, and free bread for the masses. Because their basic needs were met, and they were happy, the upper eschelon could do as they wished, living far above the means of the people they were there to "serve."

There are a lot of differences between us and the Ancient Romans, but there are a lot of similarities as well. And, like it or not, history does repeats itself. Because we have the benefit of hindsight, our responsibilities are even greater to prevent this from happening again. Democracy allows people to serve us and represent us, not the other way around. I'm seeing some steps down that Ancient Roman path, and it's got me concerned.