The one useful thing I learned at school

Despite being a good student, I never had a high opinion of school. I felt, and still mostly feel, that school is where you learn to feign respect to superiors who are less smart than yourself, and get used to spending half your day indoors, sitting at a desk. That’s what school is for. It’s to prepare intelligent, active, vibrant kinds for an adult life of compliance and submission.

Despite this, somehow, the Greek school system managed to give me one valuable teaching.

It was the story of Antigone, by Sophocles. The story opens after an insurgency. Antigone’s brother, who had attempted to overthrow the king, has been defeated and lies dead on the street. The king declares that he is not to be buried, as a form of debasement. Antigone insists that he has to be buried, because that is their duty to the gods. They both insist, and the substance of the play is them making their case. The king sets out the formal, legal right. Antigone, the individual, argues that there is a moral right. The legal and the moral right are not always the same. And when they differ the moral right is compelling.

I don’t know how this 2500 year old brazen story of humanist conviction and rebellion managed to make it through the stolid, reactionary school system and be taught saliently in substance. But I’m grateful.

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