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Lessons-for-School-from-the-Ancients

Joanna Rifkin '05 and Bill Wharton

Lessons for School from the Ancients:
Classes with Mr. Wharton

Thursday, April 8, 7:00 p.m. EDT and

Saturday, April 17, 3:00 p.m. EDT

Thirty-six years ago, Bill Wharton began at Commonwealth as a teacher of Latin and ancient history. Now, as we mark his final semester at the school, we invite you to become a Commonwealth student in Bill's virtual classroom...

Most Greek and Roman philosophers from Socrates on saw philosophy not as primarily a theoretical endeavor, but as a practical enterprise that equipped one to live freely and fully in a community. Philosophy was a sort of extended therapeutic exercise, conducted not through engagement with the written word, but in association with others. 

In two sessions we will consider ways that Commonwealth’s culture reflects these lessons from the past:

  • Session 1: Plato and Rollerskating (Thursday, April 8, 7:00 p.m. EDT): Recording here. We will consider some passages from Plato’s dialogues and a letter he is believed to have written that portray philosophy as a living exercise, one that aims to awaken understanding. Though Commonwealth’s founder did not cite Plato, this kind of authentic dialogue and engagement between young people and adults, in the context of the daily life of the school, informed Commonwealth’s efforts to shape students’ minds and hearts through the school’s history. 

  • Session 2: Stoics, Emperors, and Headmasters (Saturday, April 17, 3:00 p.m. EDT): In the second session we will look at the Stoics, and particularly Epictetus and the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, whose Meditations comprise a diary of spiritual reflections that helped him perform his duties reasonably, justly, and humanely. Stoicism has enjoyed something of a revival in recent decades, and many of its principles and exercises, including some from the writings of Marcus Aurelius, provide useful guidance to leading a community, especially in challenging times. 

The hope is that these sessions will show that, far from being stodgy, fossilized formulations of privileged ancients (though privileged they were), these writings laid out practices and approaches to living and working that are as relevant and necessary today as they ever have been. 

These two classes will take place via Zoom and will include both lecture and time for questions and conversation. You may participate in either or both classes. Short readings will be shared with registered participants ahead of time. 

Register Now to Join Us

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