Melissa Funke – Letter to the Brandon Sun

During these troubled times, as our premier and his fellow PCs look to cut public services further and gut our vital post-secondary institutions, Mr. Pallister and the Conservatives need look no further than Manitoba’s legislative chamber for inspiration to guide them through this challenge.

On the right side of the speaker’s chair is a statue of the famous Athenian statesman, Solon. Solon is well known for sowing the seeds of democracy, but we might consider how he did this. At the beginning of the 6th century BCE, Athens’ economy was in serious trouble and the city-state was headed for political instability. Farmers had become so indebted to the rich that many had entered debt slavery.

Solon introduced reforms that discharged that debt, freed debt slaves, and allowed every Athenian citizen a share in governance, but one of his reforms stands out in this historical moment: he encouraged all Athenian citizens to learn a trade in order to diversify and strengthen the local economy. He was in fact successful in this, and many of what we understand to be the great achievements of Classical Athens came to be because of Solon’s reforms.

I’ve just finished marking 60 final exams from my Greek Society course at the University of Winnipeg that cover this very topic, written by bright students who deserve an equally bright future; I am concerned that the proposed cuts to our post-secondary institutions will lead us down the opposite route.

History tells us time and time again that education is key to a strong and diverse economy, and even more so during difficult times. Let us hope that Mr. Pallister and his party can see the answers right in front of them.

MELISSA FUNKE, assistant professor
Department of Classics
University of Winnipeg