Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Percy Jackson, The Lightning Thief, and a Rebirth of Classical Education

I had the short people on campus not long ago and the strangest thing happened. We passed a colleague of mine and they asked what she taught. When I said Greek, the less short of the short people said, "Coooool. I wish I could do that when I grow up." She and her friends, of course, are head over heels for the Percy Jackson series. (She thought the movie was good but nowhere near as good as the book. She's a little literary snob...I'm so proud.)

I reflected on the wonder of seeing Rick Riordan at the DC Book Festival a while back and how youth book culture has gotten to a point where authors are treated like rock stars. But the questions that academics don't like to ask -- yet should ask anyway -- is "how do we capitalize on this?" My short person is so smitten that she is studying every book she can find at the library on ancient Greek mythology and classical Greek culture. She's learning how to transliterate into the Greek alphabet so she can pass notes with her friends. Because of these books, she is asking about The Iliad and The Odyssey. There is legitimate interest here in classical studies, what has long been among the least sexy fields in the academy.

I'm not saying that we'll see a generation of new classicists come out of this, but surely a new soft spot is being prepared. When CSI hit big, there was a giant leap in courses in chemistry and forensic science. If we play it right, could we eventually see something similar in classics. How do we appeal to these youngsters who are already primed to be interested in the deep questions the Greeks asked? I've thought we need a new series like the Hardy Boys, where Aristotle and Eudoxus leave Plato's Academy and try to solve eternal mysteries. Alright, what would be a good idea?