A New Agoge: Part 1

Spartan boys, when they reached a certain age, were pried from their mothers and put into a special state-run school called “the agoge” where they were taught to be warriors.  It almost had to be state-run because few parents would subject their children to such brutality.

Photo by Rolands Lakis
Photo by Rolands Lakis

By the time they were finished, they were Spartan warriors, and ready to defend their city from any attacker.

Today, most of us put our children in state-run schools as well…and the results aren’t anything like the agoge.  In fact, they may well be the opposite of the agoge in many ways.  While the Spartan school sought to turn boys into men, in many ways public education seeks to turn boys into girls.

That was the headline of one article that ran some time back.  It argued that boys needed to be treated more like girls to “prevent them from falling behind.”  The problem is, they already do.  Competition in school is considered bad, and there is no tolerance for more masculine–and, admittedly, rougher–games on many campuses.  Hell, one boy got in trouble because of a gun-shaped Pop Tart for crying out loud.

Ideally, private schools would pop up that would raise boys as boys and educate them accordingly.  Unfortunately, I think we all know how long it would take before some feminist mom tried to get her daughter enrolled at this school and what would happen after she’s told no.

Realistically, that means it’s up to us as parents to make sure our sons learn the things they need to learn.

For all the problems of modern schools, they can still learn what they need to learn.  I advise you to keep careful watch over their history/social studies (depending on their age), as well as what they’re reading, but they’ll still get the reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Once they get home, however, it’s time to become the Professor and prepare your sons for their roles as men in the future.   They need to learn how to be warriors.  To some extent, at least.

Now, in the interest of being open, I didn’t do this with my son.  Many of my ideas didn’t germinate when he was young.  So now that he’s 15, I’m having to play catch-up, which is easier said than done.

First, you should prepare their bodies.

Contrary to what many people have said, there’s little issue with young boys engaging in resistance activity.  While you may not want them powerlifting at four-years-old, you can get them started on body weight exercises like pushups, situps or crunches, bodyweight squats, etc.

“But my kid doesn’t want to do these exercises,” some might say.  I get it.  My kid would lay about in the bed all day if he had the choice too, so don’t give him a choice.

Put it in his schedule that when he gets home from school, he gives you x number of pushups and x number of sit-ups, or whatever.  Do them with him so he understands it’s part of being a man and that you’re not slacking off.

Next, your boy needs to learn how to fight.  No, schools don’t like fighting, but you know what?  They suck at preventing kids from being bullied.  Despite all the anti-bullying rhetoric, there’s remarkably little they can do about it.

When my son was in elementary school, he was being picked on.  I went to speak with the principal about it but got the vice principal instead.  At first, he was sympathetic but acknowledged there was little he could do if he couldn’t see it.

I said, “Well, either you guys are going to do something, or I’ll tell my son to do something about it.”

The vice principal all but adopted my son, keeping an eye on him the rest of the school year.

Yes, the bullying stopped, but let’s be realistic here.  Did it stop?  Or did it just pause?

Still later, my son found bullying happening again, and he went with the school-approved steps in dealing with it.  How did that work?  The bullying escalated because he told the teacher…like he was supposed to.

It wasn’t until he beat the crap out of a would-be bully that it ended.  Now, my son is being educated in peace.  Fighting matters in a boy’s life, and it’s for the same reason it matters in a grown man’s life: self-defense.  You need to know how to defend yourself, and that’s where you as a father comes in.

Part of that can come from you, but under ideal circumstances, it should come from a professional.  Many martial arts schools will take kids as young as four.

Most fighting styles can be grouped into two types: Striking and grappling.

Striking includes things like karate, tae kwon do, boxing, Muay Thai, etc.  They deal with throwing punches and kicks and can be rather useful but are limited in many ways.

Grappling includes judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and wrestling.  These often do not include any information on striking, which limits them as well.

While both groups have limits, you’re not giving them everything at once.  You’re getting them started, so work with what you have access to and what you can afford.  If the BJJ school is $100 a month and the tae kwon do school is $20 per month, but both are good schools, there’s no harm in tae kwon do.  He’ll learn how to throw a punch and a kick, after all.

Being able to throw down, however, isn’t enough.  Sometimes, bad people need a bit more.

When your child is old enough, and only you as a parent can truly judge when that is, you need to take your child shooting.  Assuming, of course, that you have learned.  If you haven’t, learn first and then teach them what you can.

During my own childhood, my father took me shooting numerous times.  While there, he didn’t just teach me how to shoot an empty Coke bottle.  He taught me how to shoot a man if I had to.

You see, my father was a police officer.  He knew how things operated, that if you dial 911 and ask for help, it would still be several minutes under the best of circumstances before the police arrived.  He understood that, as a man, I’d need to be able to protect my hearth and home from an attacker.

It’s up to you to do the same.

Beneath all of this, however, is something else.  It becomes very tempting to teach your child all of this and neglect the other parts of childhood.  It’s simple to forget that yes, their karate classes matter, but so does their desire to play football or basketball.

Basically, you have to let them stay a kid as well.  While the Spartans may not have done this, we don’t live in their world either.  We don’t raise children their way, and that’s not a bad thing.

Let them play video games, or take painting classes, or scouts.  Let them be kids too.  Yes, your job is to teach them, but you’re also not the only one who they’re exposed to and they will learn about the rest and resent you for “stealing their childhood.”

As a result, they’ll refuse to teach their own children, and we’ll be right back where we are today.

Tomorrow, I’ll delve into just how a new agoge can be brought about in this modern world.

Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.