I had one of those Watters World moments yesterday. Jesse Watters is an interviewer on Fox News, who frequently appears on the O’Reilly Factor. He’s known for his on-the-street interviews. Time and time again this segment on the show reveals the failure of the American public education system to actually educate our kids. When Watters goes to some of the nation’s premier college campuses and asks questions about rap music, or movie stars or the Kardashians, nearly each interviewee receives an A+ grade. But switch over and ask these same young people about world events, politics, history, or any number of other subject of substance, they are hard-pressed to earn a D–.
Anyway, my Watters World moment came yesterday when I was talking to an acquaintance and made the clever (so I thought) observation that it was the Ides of March. When I got a blank look I added, “You know, the 15th of March.” When that too didn’t seem to register, I continued, “the day Julius Caesar was murdered.” “Oh,” was the response, “You mean the movie.”
The Ides of March – or – the “Grand Experiment” didn’t just happen yesterday
It’s been a long time coming – this grand experiment we call our Public School System. It’s taken at least fifty years for the nation to fall to 36th in math, science and literacy of the 65 countries recently tested by the Program for International Student Assessment. Though we are all the way up to 19th when it comes to measuring educational efficiency, i.e.: the best value for the money spent. Classes in social revolution and so-called diversity now dominate our grammar schools, high schools and universities. Instead of studying subjects that are relevant to earning a living for the benefit of their future households, our kids are taught to question traditional values and to reject the history and the ideals that once made our nation great.
Just for the record: The Ides were supposed to be determined by the full moon, reflecting the lunar origin of the old Roman calendar. The Romans didn’t number days of a month sequentially from the first through the last day like we do. Instead, they counted back from three fixed points of the month: the Nones (5th or 7th, depending on the length of the month), the Ides (13th or 15th), and the Kalends (1st of the following month). The Ides occurred near the midpoint, on the 13th for most months, but on the 15th for March, May, July, and October.
I once questioned the real value of the Latin that I was forced to take in parochial high school. I thought its single virtue was that it gave me the ability to communicate with the Pope every time I talk with him. I’m thankful now that it also strengthened my knowledge of ancient Roman history; and not just the Gallic Wars.
Yes Kids! Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Mark Antony, Pompey, Augustus, Cicero, even Brutus, these were all real people. They weren’t characters invented by Cecil B. DeMille, or even William Shakespeare. They lived and made their marks in their world 2000 plus years ago. And for those of you with an interest in Biblical studies, when Jesus, held up a Roman coin and said, “Give unto Caesar, that which is Caesar’s, and to God, that which is God’s,” He was referring to an image on that coin of a real live Roman ruler. Not Julius Caesar, but one of his successors. Unlike Las Vegas, what happened in Rome didn’t always stay in Rome. Much of ancient Rome continues to influence our lives and culture today, even down to the structure of our government, our public institutions, our language and art. And by no means should we forget their excellence in plumbing.
So is it too late to turn this downward trend around? I hope not! And what possibly can one individual do, when that individual is not per se an educator? Well yesterday, while speaking on the subject of service, my Pastor again reminded our congregation that we have an obligation to share anything and everything that we’ve been blessed with. That extends to sharing our knowledge and talents. It clicked that I owe it to all the recent graduates of our wonderful public school system to plant some knowledge of history, something most are apparently lacking. So what follows is the planting of my first seed into that ground.
Gaius Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar [July 100 – 15 March 44 BC) was a Roman general, statesman, consul, and notable author of Latin prose. He is considered by many to be one of the greatest military commanders in history.
He played a critical role in the events that led to the demise of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire. In 60 BC, Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey formed a political alliance that was to dominate Roman politics for several years. Their attempts to amass power through populist tactics were opposed by the conservative ruling class within the Roman Senate. Caesar’s victories in Gaul (now France and Belgium), completed by 51 BC, extended Rome’s territory to the English Channel and the Rhine. Caesar became the first Roman general to cross both when he built a bridge across the Rhine and conducted the first invasion of Britain.
These achievements granted him unmatched military power and threatened to eclipse the standing of another great general, Pompey. With the Gallic Wars concluded, the Senate ordered Caesar to step down from his military command and return to Rome. Caesar refused the order, and instead marked his defiance in 49 BC by crossing the Rubicon with a legion, leaving his province and illegally entering Italy under arms. Civil war resulted, and Caesar’s victory in the war would put him in an unrivaled position of power and influence. By the end of 48 BC, Caesar had pushed his enemies out of Italy and pursued Pompey into Egypt, where he was eventually killed. There, Caesar aligned himself with Cleopatra, with whom he had a son.
After assuming control of government, Caesar greatly transformed the empire. Caesar began a program of social and governmental reforms. He reformed the Roman calendar creating the Julian calendar. [FYI: The difference in the average length of the year between the Julian (365.25 days) and our current Gregorian (365.2425 days) calendars is 0.002%.] He centralized the bureaucracy of the Republic and was eventually proclaimed “dictator in perpetuity,” giving him additional authority. He relieved debt and reformed the Senate by increasing its size and opening it up so that it better represented Romans as a whole. He reorganized how local government was constructed. In addition he resurrected two city-states, Carthage and Corinth, which had been destroyed by his predecessors, and he granted citizenship to a number of foreigners. He also proved to be a benevolent victor by inviting some of his defeated rivals to join him in the government.
Caesar was also careful to solidify his power and rule. He stuffed the Senate with allies, and required the same body to grant him honors and titles. He was allowed to speak first at assembly meetings, and Roman coins bore his face.
Yet the underlying political conflicts had not been resolved. Envy and concern over Caesar’s increasing power led to angst among a number of politicians who saw in him an aspiring king and Romans had no desire for monarchical rule. By the time Caesar came to power it had been five centuries since they’d last allowed a king to rule them.
Caesar’s wish to include his former Roman enemies in the government helped spell his downfall. Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus were both former enemies who’d joined the Senate. The two of them successfully conspired to assassinate Caesar on the Ides of March 44 BC.