Secretary of Education Joseph Graves has never been a great friend of teachers. Once upon a time, he wanted to strip teachers of labor protections and subject their pay raises to arbitrary and counterproductive measures of merit. Now, facing chronic teacher shortages and a squandered opportunity to lift South Dakota’s teacher pay out of the national gutter, Graves tells teachers to read ancient philosophy and be stoic about their duties.
Graves published his first book “Renewing the Joys of Teaching: How the Principles of Stoicism can Return Fulfillment to the Classroom,” which became available in hard copy earlier this year. It’s the culmination of about three months of work.
A student of history himself, Graves reinforces his book’s hypothesis, borne out in the title, with the likes of philosophers Marcus Aurelius, Aristotle, and Epictetus. He uses their works to argue that worn out educators can rediscover their sense of purpose through the lens of stoicism [Austin Goss, “Education Secretary’s Book Offers Roadmap for Post-Pandemic Education,” The Dakota Scout (paywalled), 2023.11.19].
I can’t bring myself to give Dr. Graves any portion of the $28.50 Amazon wants for an electronic version of his philosophical pretense. But when Stoic Epictetus tells teachers from behind a two-millennia veil of dusty death to be “sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy , dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy,” I hear Dr. Graves dressing in pretentious Grecian robes an admonishment to teachers to quit their griping, be content with virtue and low pay, and bow to the will of the Governor and Hillsdale College to teach nothing but the whitewashed classics.
By the way, Graves’s Amazon bio says the Secretary has “four children and ten grandchildren, about whom he is anything but stoic.” Hmmm… so even Graves implies that stoicism is an inappropriate response to things about which he most deeply cares.