Ian Crawford, ’98
After a year in the world outside of Northfield, a year which included a stint in a large law firm in Manhattan and some time as a reading tutor for adults, I can say without a doubt that a classical education has provided me with some of the best help possible for making my way through New York city, through workdays and through city life itself.
A classical education accomplishes this seemingly impossible task by exercising both the left brain and the right brain. The languages themselves are highly inflected, so reading passages in Greek and Latin requires a highly sharpened analytical ability. Interpreting the passages, on the other hand, requires the fluid, right-brained imagination of a literature major. A Classics major is good for the head, because it forces its students to exercise both hemispheres of the brain, constantly.
A classics major is also good for the soul; specifically, it is good for the part of the soul responsible for being on top of any and every task that a boss could imagine. Classics courses at Carleton are small, and the introductory courses meet five days a week. One could be called on during any weekday in any given class period to translate. In short, one has to be prepared completely, Monday through Friday; there is no faking Thucydides. A Classics student has to be on top of the assignment every single day. As a result, I noticed in my first job after graduating that my level of preparedness in general was very high, regardless of the task.
Certainly, studying Greek and Roman civilization at Carleton instilled all these practical skills in me. I diagram sentences in my sleep. I use Aristotelian schemes to analyze arguments in the newspaper.
But the sense of perspective, the awareness of the history of things, that I developed in my four years of delving into ancient Mediterranean culture is of greater value to me, not simply because the knowledge is valuable in and of itself, but because studying this particular body of knowledge is an effective means of getting by in the world. Classics majors dip in to a river of human events that is several thousand years old things just don’t phase us. In a way, we’ve seen it all, all 2000 years of it, before.