I suppose it’s no surprise that, as a publication for lovers of Classics, we would have to be drawn into the continued fallout from this year’s SCS meeting at some point. Politics has a way of doing this regardless of one’s own personal intentions. That happened this past weekend. Roger Kimball, Editor-in-Chief of The New Criterion, wrote a provoking editorial about the world of Classics, entitled “Decline and Fall: Classics Edition.” The article viciously attacks Eidolon and its Editor-in-Chief Donna Zuckerberg, Sarah Bond, and Dan-El Padilla Peralta, and their responses to the recent and highly controversial SCS annual meeting in San Diego. It is a very aggressive piece, and patently offensive on multiple occasions. It also gets a few things factually wrong. On Sunday, Donna Zuckerberg responded, tweeting that it was “obvious to anyone familiar with the situation” that the article was “written after tips from/in consultation with staff of Paideia,” and that “the entire piece should be read as aligned with the ideology of Paideia.”
These assertions are completely untrue. Roger Kimball, the author of the editorial, emailed me for a quote; I turned him down flat. I then forwarded the email to Jason Pedicone, president of the Paideia Institute, who told Kimball we wanted no part in such an editorial and should be left out entirely. Kimball wrote on his own steam and any criticisms (which are deserved) should be sent directly to him. Pedicone also issued a public correction, that the separation of Paideia and Eidolon could not be described as a “palace coup.” No one at Paideia would describe it that way. We feel the separation has proven mutually beneficial.
There are reasons why the separation makes sense for Paideia. There are students who would want to study at a summer program designed by Eidolon, and students who would want to study at a summer program designed by The New Criterion; but also many who would specifically avoid such programs because of their politics. At present, neither of them run student programs. They are journals, and they profit by having a unified and focused message, even if that message might offend certain constituencies.
Paideia’s role is different. As our mission states, the Paideia Institute has always been committed to teaching all students to love Latin, Greek, and the ancient world, to helping them form their own personal relationships with antiquity, and to expanding access to Greek and Latin to those who might not otherwise have it. We are not a monolith capable of espousing one ideology, we are a collection of people with different visions of what Classics means and why it is important, and we learn from one another and try to cultivate an atmosphere of mutual respect and good will. We have always been proud that the Institute’s programs provide fora (and ἀγοραί) where different types of people can come together in beautiful, historic places, and, around a shared passion for ancient languages, can become familiar with and interrogate each others’ ideas, hopefully becoming more learned, wiser, and more empathetic. This is something I think our society needs right now. A recent incarnation of Living Greek in Greece produced a moment which for us is emblematic: a conservative Catholic from Dallas was walking along the beach in Greece with a very liberal New Yorker. Their social and religious views could not have been more different. They were trying together to figure out the sixth principal part of βοηθέω.
Academics often speak fatalistically about an “economy of scarcity.” There are only so many university jobs and publishers out there. Any success on the part of one Classicist will have to come at another’s expense. There will be fewer and fewer seats at the table, and those who are left will have to fight it out for the scraps.
Paideia’s goal is to change this paradigm. We are trying to create a new paradigm of growth. We unequivocally condemn any interpretations or appropriations of the Classics that are racist, sexist, or exclusionary. We are trying to bring the Classics to new audiences — and we are finding that this growth is in fact possible. In 2010, The Paideia Institute did not exist; now more than a thousand students learn in Paideia programs each year, and courses, materials, teacher training, and other initiatives of ours help teachers have an effect on the lives of many more. 2018 saw the addition of a summer ancient Greek program for high school students, in order to give students whose high schools do not offer Greek a chance to learn it. A year ago, Aequora, our Classics-based literacy program for underprivileged students, operated in 25 sites. Now it operates in 45, and is in the midst of dialogue with the Departments of Education in Washington, D.C. and New York, as well as the Archdiocese of New York, to continue expanding. Every year Paideia’s Rome Prize brings students with extreme financial need from classical high schools in under-resourced neighborhoods in New York, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia to Italy to participate in its summer high school Latin program, and provides them with free tutoring and college advising when they return to the U.S. The Legion Project has created a professional network placing classicists in jobs outside of academia. Telepaideia allows anyone with an internet connection to access qualified Classics teachers at an affordable price. All of this represents growth within the field of Classics. But Paideia is far from alone. SALVI, the Sportula, the Polis Institute, Pharos Classics, the various Conventicula, the Itinera Podcast, and others are all new and growing movements, and most of them are coming from graduate students, non-tenured professors or from outside the university entirely. Eidolon is itself an example: the editors of Eidolon have created a completely new space within the world of Classics publishing, and made it a success. We do not need to accept a zero-sum vision for the future of Classics or a narrative of decline. We can create new opportunities and redefine what Classics is and to whom it belongs.
If anyone wants to know more about Paideia and In Medias Res’s approach to Eidolon, you can look at the articles published here: you will find no animus against Eidolon at all. As editor of In Medias Res, I regularly link to and retweet its articles (as does the Online Public Classics Archive, another Paideia creation). I just recently encouraged one of my best writers to submit to Eidolon, as I think writers should always keep publishing in new venues to reach new readers. I’m proud to say that I’ve written three pieces for Eidolon, and I’m grateful to Donna for publishing them. I have also written three pieces for The New Criterion. That does not mean that I agree with the editorial page at either publication. In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas. So anyway, yes, there are people in the field of Classics who don’t like what Eidolon is doing, but — ask anyone who knows me — I’m not one of them.
The fear, anger, judgement, and defensiveness, not to mention bigotry, misogyny, elitism, and other forms of intolerance abroad in the world right now will continue to cause rifts in friendships, families, and organizations. The field of Classics is no exception. At Paideia, we have always felt that the best way to deal with situations like this is to throw ourselves with redoubled effort into work which we believe helps people and makes the world better. As I wrote in my welcoming editorial for In Medias Res, “ultimately we believe that our work as students and teachers has thrown us all in medias res, that middle ground between the past and the future, where we learn as students and share as teachers.” The mission of Paideia is to cultivate precisely that locus of understanding, where we can all be students, and all be teachers.
[This editorial was written in consultation with Paideia staff and approved by Paideia’s President and Executive Director.]
John Byron Kuhner is former president of SALVI, the North American Institute of Living Latin Studies, and editor of In Medias Res.