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With Mishana Hosseinioun

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Yes, Petronius, but where is it buried?

"Education is a treasure (Litterae thesaurum est)”
- Petronius, Satyricon, (c. 60 C.E.)

By Mishana Hosseinioun

July 7, 2005

It was the same roman writer who in later pages of his sole extant manuscript to-date, Satyricon, wrote, “I'm sure the reason such young nitwits are produced in our schools is because they have no contact with anything of any use in everyday life.” Today, Petronius might turn in his grave knowing that the tables have not entirely turned since then-at least not in our classrooms. While lines from his satiric piece could tragically apply as much to life in the year 2005 as it did back in that of the 60s C.E., what will be left to a separate treatise, however, is whether the nitwits of his days could measure up to ours.

From an archeological standpoint, these alleged nitwits have had centuries to mature and calcify within our antiquated schooling systems; a chilling prospect, perhaps, yet it may just be that they are, in fact, justified in their nitwitdom. What Petronius phrased more eloquently than any modern day school board member was that schools inevitably manufacture apathetic individuals when they fail to provide them with any tools for survival in the real world.

What such enduring patterns in our culture teach us is that there is a need for students to learn to build relevance between academics and their own lives if they are to become well rounded, thriving citizens of the globe. Ideally, schools-not the streets-are where survival skills should be taught. The motivational gap that permeates classrooms can be attributed, in large part, to the lack of tangible incentives for learning, currently available to students. The inability on the part of most students to find joy and excitement in their studies, therefore, cannot simply be written off as an unfortunate by-product of adolescence. The truth of the matter is that our youth lie in the dark of the back alleys, learning the things they should just as easily learn in the safety of the back row of class, if not, the very front.

Either we think we already know why so many students choose the streets over their diplomas, or we are not asking the right set of questions. For instance, is it possible that the streets are providing the kind of requisite knowledge-street smarts, as it were-that we, as human beings, naturally seek in our formative years and beyond? If so, it is clear to see why youth easily gravitate towards this non-organized brand of education, otherwise unavailable to them in the classrooms. How `misguided' their choices then really are, such as spending minimal time studying, or even dropping out of school, is thus open to debate. Perhaps, this population of youth, once dubbed delinquents or nitwits by society, might arguably be a generation more deeply dedicated to the pursuit of real-life wisdom and intellectual treasure than we will ever know.

Mishana Hosseinioun is the Program Director of International Convention on Human Rights (ICHR), a non-profit dedicated to drafting a legally enforceable international human rights document. She is a longstanding intern in Mayor Gavin Newsom's office in San Francisco and a recent graduate of Rhetoric and Near Eastern Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. Email Mishana at Mishana@ichr.org


Editor's Note: Views expressed by columnists published on FogCityJournal.com are not necessarily the views or beliefs of Fog City Journal. Fog City Journal supports free speech in all its varied forms and provides a forum for a complete spectrum of viewpoints.



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