Ancient and modern

For a true moral lesson, Rugby School, get your pupils drunk

Wine with meals is something they might have at home. Getting smashed, on the other hand, is part of a classical education

9 January 2016

9:00 AM

9 January 2016

9:00 AM

Rugby and Ampleforth schools have decided to give their charges experience of sensible drinking by introducing a little alcohol, under close staff supervision, at dinner. But, as Plato realised, what they actually need is experience of senseless drinking.

Plato’s last work, Laws (c. 350 bc), depicts a new utopia, quite unlike that of the Republic with its philosopher-kings. Called Magnesia, it lays down a detailed code of laws which its inhabitants must obey without question because the code will inculcate moral goodness. A key feature of that is self-control, which the speaker (‘the Athenian’) proposes to achieve by means of symposia, or drinking parties. For, as the Athenian avers, ‘Drunkenness is a science of some importance… and I am not speaking about taking or abstaining from wine: I do mean drunkenness.’

Plato spoke whereof he knew. Symposia had a nasty habit of turning into drunken riots, the symposiasts rampaging through the streets in public displays of their excitingly daredevil defiance of conventional behaviour. What Plato was suggesting was that pupils under the influence of drink gave their teachers invaluable insights into their characters, especially their capacity to exert self-control or not. By putting pupils into situations where this capacity was tested to the limit, teachers could train them, by encouragement, threats and indeed by their own example, to become aware of their limits, resist temptation and so learn moderation. Since education for Plato was essentially a matter of training people in moral behaviour, symposia could therefore be used as a means of developing that self-awareness without which true virtue could never be attained. Drinking, properly regulated, thus became a means of safeguarding oneself against depravity.

Rugby and Ampleforth, meanwhile, are merely offering pupils something they probably get at home already. What conceivable educational value is there in that?

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments
  • Nicholas Boake

    oh no not drunk, we should get them stoned on cocaine and morphine… and drunk…. then we’ll really be doing the right thing? Isn’t that so spectator? And if we could have them all pose in compromising photos that would be 1 step further ahead!
    Might as well wipe out Western Civilization while we still can right?
    If you cared about us, you might suggest we volunteer in some charitable or even anti crime capacity… see how people react in those situations. Perhaps we could learn from the way students behave socially with each other or their friends and girlfriends..
    Nah let’s just get em smashed.