The Spartans of antiquity knew how to forge men of valor. Warriors.
Spartan men were hardened through an uncompromising process that ferreted out those lacking the physical and mental fortitude to earn the honor of becoming Spartan warriors.
Men that failed to meet the Spartan warrior standards through this process were deemed a liability to the military and Spartan culture as a whole. Their ability to attain Spartan citizenship would be revoked as a consequence. All Spartan men were warriors; all Spartan warriors were men.
This relentless process of forging men into warriors began early. Shortly after birth, male infants would be examined for physical defect. If a defect was found the baby would be taken to the country to be left to die by the elements or in the jowls of predatory beasts.
Only those that were found to still be alive after spending several days alone in the wilderness were spared. Most were not. Such harsh realities were deemed necessary for Sparta to retain its independence through military and cultural strength.
A warrior with defect would compromise the ability of his unit to fight cohesively in the field of battle. Taking on this unnecessary risk could jeopardize a mission’s success, along with Sparta’s continued sovereignty. It was therefore intolerable.
Upon reaching the age of seven, boys were selected for placement into a rigorous process that would galvanize them into the warriors of renown that inspired the movie 300.
This process was called agoge (pronounced agōgē).
The agoge would last until Spartan males reached the age of thirty. It consisted of tests, training and education designed to prepare them to endure under the harshest of conditions in battle and otherwise. They would face the elements, live on little or no food for days at a time, learn to wield their spears as an extension of their bodies, and engage in brutal hand-to-hand combat.
After 13 years of intense training they would become active members of the military on their 20th birthday. They would remain in the military until age 30 when the agoge was complete and citizenship status was finally earned. Achieving citizen status granted men the right to marry, own land, vote, and hold public office.
The intensity of the agoge process was responsible for the deaths of many young Spartan men. But it was also responsible for churning out the greatest military warriors of their time – and perhaps of any time since. These men emerged fearless, confident, skilled, and eager to face whatever challenge the gods might present them with.
Simply put, Sparta’s agoge was a methodical approach for creating masculine men that held themselves to superior standards.
America’s Institutionalized Standards Breed Mediocrity
Standards give power to those that maintain them. Sparta was completely committed to holding its men to a standard of excellence. Those that failed to meet this standard were refused citizenship. Sparta would not accept milquetoast men.
As parents in America, we can’t depend upon public institutions to hold our kids to superior standards. This responsibility is ours alone. Besides, no one else is equipped for the task as we are. For no one has the intrinsic capacity to care about the wellbeing of a child more than his or her biological parents.
How shameful it is when parents pass off the responsibility of training their children to the public school system. Public schools are nothing more than America’s institutionalized means of instilling standards into our children. The problem is that the standards modern children are being inculcated with in public schools are anything but exceptional. They’re piss poor.
Is anything else to be expected within a system that’s designed to cater to the lowest common denominator?
High IQ kids have their immense potential wasted in a public school system that fails to challenge them and relegates them to thirteen years of perpetual boredom. Teachers are forced to cater curricula to those with IQs one or more standard deviations lower than the intellectually superior students in order to ensure there isn’t too much disparity in the education received among students within the same classroom.
After all, we can’t have the barely literate kid in 3rd grade that makes fart noises all day long falling too far behind his smarter peers, can we?
In terms of creating boys and girls of superior standards, public schooling is a joke. Upon graduation, most will leave somewhere along a spectrum of optimistic mediocrity. They feel eager to solve the world’s problems while being woefully ill equipped for the task. They naively believe they’re ready to tackle the challenges of the real world only to have them smash them in the face like the broad side of a snow shovel.
Only a select few are able to beat the odds and leave the public school system with any semblance of a standard of excellence intact. This shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s not what the system is designed to produce.
Fathers, our children need us. They’re depending upon us to teach them what it means to be exceptional; to have superior standards. More than anything, they need an authority figure that will hold them to a higher standard, support them, and never accept failure.
They’re unlikely to receive this critical guidance anywhere else.
Using the Agoge Concept to Raise Sons and Daughters of Superior Standards
It’s safe to say that most of us who are fathers desire exceptional lives for our sons and daughters.
Desire isn’t enough, though. As it’s been well said: The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Intentions without action are worthless.
The Spartan agoge involved training through action. And if our sons and daughters are to develop exceptional standards for their lives it must also be done by taking consistent action intended to prepare them for excellence through training.
Borrowing from the Spartan agoge gives us a powerful blueprint for raising superior sons and daughters by fostering an environment in which our children are required to go above and beyond the less than exceptional standards society sets for them.
The Spartans developed a methodical process for turning boys into elite warriors. We must also implement a methodical process that will inject increasingly difficult challenges into the lives of our kids, spurning them to heights otherwise impossible for them to reach.
Inspired by The Family Alpha’s writings on this topic, I recently laid down the first stage in the agoge process for my oldest daughter. At eight years old, she’s slightly past the age at which the Spartans would set the agoge in motion for their boys.
Her agoge will be fluid. It will be regularly evaluated and will change over time to increase in breadth and complexity. The goal is to cater the process to the specific skills I identify as needing strengthened and refined in her life at any given time.
It will differ from what I will implement for her younger brother and sister when they’re ready to begin this rite of passage.
To begin the agoge process, I identified 5 areas of focus. These are the domains where I will be working with her to raise her standards for the foreseeable future.
In order to plan her training and track her progress I created a calendar to log what activities are worked on each day. The goal is to work on each domain of development once per week.
Here’s a picture of the agoge calendar hanging on our fridge at home:
When I showed this calendar to my daughter – and explained what she would be doing – she was ecstatic. She couldn’t wait to get started. We had a busy night already planned, so I told her we would start the next day. She immediately proceeded to mark an “X” on all the days that had passed, and wrote “start” within the square for tomorrow.
We’re now a week in and she still gets excited when I tell her it’s time to work on her activity for the day. Kids thirst for the undivided attention and loving mentorship of their fathers. This modern day agoge has proven to be an effective outlet for me to quench this thirst in her life.
The Agoge Execution Strategy
There aren’t any hard and fast rules here. What’s important is that you identify the skills you desire to be enhanced for your child and plan out a strategy for enhancing them. To add some clarity, I’ll briefly expound upon the execution strategy I’ll be using with my daughter to raise her standards in each of the five domains in which she’ll be training.
Cooking and Homemaking
A woman finds her greatest joy in running a well kept home and giving herself to the emotional nurturing of her children. This aligns with the feminine strengths she’s been designed with and the ultimate intended purpose for which she has been designed with them: marriage and motherhood. Of course, there are “career women” who will deny this reality to no end out of confirmation bias, but I have yet to meet a woman that has left her career for her home and children that wishes to revert.
Cooking and homemaking skills are prerequisites for a woman to maintain a well managed home. Up to this point in her life my daughter has mostly been dependent upon her mother and I to prepare her meals, wash her clothes, clean the dishes, sew popped buttons back onto her favorite shirts, and be responsible for the completion of most other household chores.
That begins to end now. Once a week she will be taught how to perform these activities (and others). We’ll start small with something like sweeping the floors, and will build to more complex activities, such as cooking a complete dinner, setting the table for the entire family, and clearing the dishes when mealtime has ended.
My daughter will be performing essential life skills in the home at ten years old that her inept peers will still not be exposed to by the time they reach high school.
Health and Nutrition
Obesity is endemic in the West. Preventable disease runs rampant.
The medical industry is complicit, largely unconcerned with identifying or treating the root cause of its patients’ conditions. Writing prescriptions for medications that will mask the symptoms for the rest of their lives is far more lucrative.
It’s up to us as individuals to care for our own health. As parents, we must instill the importance of health and nutrition into our children. The health of children is a direct reflection of the values held by their parents.
One in five school-aged children are obese. I’m a proponent of personal responsibility, but these kids can’t be made to shoulder the blame for their physical condition. A second grader with obesity can only be that way as the result of irresponsible parenting. These kids aren’t buying themselves thousands of calories worth of fast food and sweets every day. They’re not the ones stuffing the pantry with toxic processed foods that are full of calories, sugars, artificial ingredients, refined fats and other ingredients that promote obesity and disease.
Obese kids are the products of derelict parents. I refuse to be negligent in educating my children in the matters of fitness, health and wellness.
My daughter will learn about calories, macronutrients and micronutrients. I will teach her how to structure her eating so that her body is being nourished with an appropriate number of calories and nutrients, while avoiding pumping it full of processed food poison. She will understand how to combine her nutrition with physical training to build a body that is as beautiful on the outside as she is on the inside.
Each lesson on health and nutrition will begin with the following message to remind her of the implications of what she is learning:
Those who think they have no time or money for healthy eating today will lose much more time and money tomorrow to illness, needless suffering and premature death.
Philosophy and Spirituality
My daughter’s only eight, so I have to avoid overly complex philosophical musings. But there’s still plenty of opportunity for her to rationalize the implications of various ideas and belief systems. For instance, just yesterday we discussed the logical consequences of an individual believing they have no hope.
She astutely proffered that hopeless individuals are likely to:
- spread their feelings of hopelessness to others
- feel like they’re being punished for the mistakes of others (victimhood mentality)
- excuse away taking actions to improve themselves because they don’t believe it would do them any good anyway
Again, she’s eight. I don’t expect the profundity of Jordan Peterson here.
The purpose is to encourage her to use logic and sound reasoning to draw rational conclusions – and have her explain how she arrived at them.
Reading and Writing
The intent of this activity is to expose her to new ideas while teaching her to effectively articulate what she’s learned. I hope to learn vicariously as she works in this domain. One of my greatest frustrations as a writer is when I struggle to find the words that will allow me to articulate an idea as it exists in my mind without compromise.
At times we’ll focus on descriptive writing. I will ask her to describe a common item in intricate detail, such as a tree. Her mission will be to show me what she is seeing through her writing, not just tell me. Over time this will enhance her ability to employ vivid adjectives and timely similes and metaphors within her writing.
At other times I’ll have her read a book (or watch a video) on a topic that interests her and then write a summary to teach me what she learned. The emphasis will usually be placed on reporting the facts. However, if the topic is controversial, I might decide to ask her to write persuasively to communicate her opinion in a way that would convince me to agree with her position. Or I might have her play devil’s advocate to the conclusions she draws.
I don’t want to overwhelm her, so I plan to keep this activity as short and focused as possible. The main idea is to have her spend five minutes gathering information and then another ten or fifteen minutes writing about it in purposeful fashion. Bounding this activity to a certain time limit will also teach her how to manage the scope and completion of assignments according to deadlines.
Each writing session will wrap up with a quick time of review in which I’ll praise her for what she has done well and offer constructive criticism on how she can improve next time.
Gratitude and Thankfulness
We’re surrounded by an abundance of luxury. And, yet, cynicism abounds.
Life is more comfortable for the average person alive today than it has been at any time in human history. It could be well argued that there has been no better time to be alive than right now.
And, yet, most take it for granted. We fail to recognize how blessed we are. Instead of focusing on all that we have to be thankful for we affix our minds on what we perceive would further enhance our level of comfort and security in this world.
The only way to combat this toxic propensity we share as humans is to count our blessings – and do it often.
At least once every week my daughter will sit down and write a journal or blog entry about all that she’s thankful for. It could be a person in her life, an experience she had that day, or anything else she wishes to express appreciation for.
The only rule I have for this activity is that she spends 10-15 minutes writing out what she’s thankful for and why. To conclude the activity she will spend a short time in prayer to give thanks to the Lord as the ultimate source of all that she’s grateful for in life.
The intended result of this process is to mold her mind and spirit so that she’ll default toward gratitude and away from bitterness. Bitterness leads to envy, strife, and discontentment. It’s the power source of a victimhood mindset. An ungrateful spirit provides nothing of value. It can never create anything good; it can only be used to destroy.
I refuse to complacently allow the depraved culture of never ending consumerism to infuse its cynicism into my children. I will purge it from their minds. And this is just one means to that end.
Sparta understood that boys don’t become warriors and productive members of society by leaving them to their own devices.
To become great, men must be challenged and trained in an environment of competition. Otherwise, they become willing slaves of a consumerist culture in entropy that preys on complacent minds and idle hands.
The culture is waging war against our children. We must devise a battle plan to fight back by fostering an environment in which they can become exceptional Americans. It’s imperative that we train and challenge our children if we’re to raise them into self-actualized adults that maintain exemplary standards. There’s no other way.
In a regressive culture that’s institutionalized mediocrity, how else are they to learn to be excellent if we fail to teach it and model it for them as parents?
– Craig James
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