So Much for a ‘Classical Education’

I wanted to attend St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., after graduating high school. But my admission application was rejected, and attendance costs would have been too high, regardless. But I tried. Mine is a “don’t give up” attitude, until there is no other choice. The school specializes in a classical education in the truest sense: Learning from and thinking like dead Greeks or Renaissance-era Europeans, among others.

“Through close engagement with the works of some of the world’s greatest writers and thinkers—from Homer, Plato, and Euclid to Nietzsche, Einstein, and Woolf—students at St. John’s College grapple with fundamental questions that confront us as human beings”, the school’s website explains. “As they participate in lively discussions and throw themselves into the activity of translating, writing, demonstrating, conducting experiments, and analyzing musical compositions, St. John’s students learn to speak articulately, read attentively, reason effectively, and think creatively”.

Maybe attending the school would have prevented thinking myself so clever today—only to be rightly, and smartly, corrected later on. Live and learn, eh? 

I shall explain.

Today my BetaNews colleague Mihaita Bamburic opines: “Cross-platform support is key to Spartan’s success“. He refers to Microsoft’s new web browser, previewed with Windows 10 earlier this week. He had my attention at “cross-platform”. Will Microsoft keep Spartan for Windows 10 or release it to freely compete on other platforms? Mihaita writes: “Today, a good browser is available on more than one platform, it’s available where you need it to be. It doesn’t just let you view web pages, it also handles all sorts of personal information too and from the devices that you use”. But Spartan’s final destination—solely Windows, or elsewhere, isn’t publicly known.

I reshared his post on Google+, adding some commentary: “I agree that long term Microsoft should go cross-platform. But, if the browser is so good should there be a shorter-term tactical approach of using Spartan to differentiate Windows 10? It’s all about adoption and developer support. Can you get both by starting out only on Windows 10?”

I am a longstanding proponent of Microsoft sidelining Internet Explorer for something else. In a September 2009 BetaNews commentary I proposed:

Internet Explorer is in a state of crisis so severe that Microsoft may yet lose most of the browser market territory claimed during the browser wars. Microsoft has no choice but to make a leap of development faith, by abandoning the IE rendering engine and releasing new WebKit-based desktop and mobile browsers. IE is a dead platform. It’s long past time for Microsoft to end its Weekend at Ernie’s behavior.

Nearly a half-decade later, even Google has stepped back from WebKit in favor of its own rendering engine. WebKit also no longer makes sense for Microsoft but releasing a new, modern rendering engine is right—four years late but not necessarily too late. My point was always this: Get open and cross-platform. Spartan promises much.

In my smarty-pants manner, my Google+ post suggests:

Here’s something else to think about. What’s in a name? Spartan is a declaration. The Greek city-state of Sparta valued strength. Spartans played an important role defending Greece from Persian invaders. Microsoft had won the browser wars only to later lose territory to the advancing Firefox and Chrome hordes. Spartan is the last line of defense and how the company plans to regain some of what was lost.

I figured to write a nice, tidy, smug-thinking-about-myself post here building off that excerpt. Ah, but Russell Holly—bless his ever-intelligent geek mind—corrects my allusion as delusion in a comment. He’s very polite about it, too. There are many reasons to like Russell, and that’s one of them. He writes:

You did an amazing job tying the historical culture to enhance the point being made here, but Microsoft’s codename in is a continuation of references from the Halo video game universe (Cortana, Threshold, Spartan). As far as the Halo universe is concerned, Spartans were created under inhuman conditions to be the tip of the spear. Unlike the Spartans of old, their focus was not superior offense through immaculate defense. I totally agree with the overall point though. 🙂

Cough, cough, choke, choke. I am more likely to read Euripides than play Halo. Russell politely agrees “with the overall point”, but that doesn’t make my analogy right. “So much for the worthwhile of a classical education”, I reply. “Hehe, so people using Chrome and Firefox live in inhuman conditions? May Spartan rescue them!”

Photo Credit: Chris JL