Plato On Education Essay, Research Paper
Plato, an Athenian philosopher, was the first man to present a theory of education. He was a student of Socrates who influenced much of his work. He is best known for his work entitled The Republic. The main question he entertained regarded justice. Within that discussion of justice, he examines his theory of education. His elitist theory is a systematic one, which concludes that education is for the ruling class. He believed that education and justice are connected. Therefore, with out education, there will be no justice.
It is important then to examine what Plato meant by justice. To Plato, justice is the highest social good, an ideal. Plato constructs a perfectly just city. This society , or in Greek, polis is an interconnected, essential community. It is a set of interdependent relationships and activities. Obviously, the basis or foundation of a polis is made up of human beings/human nature. We are by nature, social beings. Plato describes human nature using three statements. “We are not individually independent, but have many wants;” “No two persons are born exactly alike, but each differs from each in natural endowments,” and “Each man (person) works at a single occupation, in accordance with his natural gifts” (RPE, 40-1). These statements give us a vision of what human nature is. Plato is saying that we exist in a state of need and that we are not autonomous, nor self-sufficient; we are not complete in and of ourselves. At the same time he is saying that we are different in terms of our interests, aptitudes, abilities, etc. I may be great at soccer, but my best friend may be artistically endowed. Plato says that we are different by birth. When I was born, I entered into this world, according to Plato, with a predetermined set of abilities, which makes me who I am. Plato concludes by saying that we are each one person, thus we have one best ability, and it is this best ability which is who I am, my self per se. The best ability is identified through psyche profiling, education, experience, and fulfillment, not through trail and error because it is not efficient evidence. A just society is a place where everyone is engaged in his or
her best ability. Plato is arguing that we should be active (work) according to our best ability. If you do not activate this you will not be making a contribution to the polis, this will result in an unjust polis. There are no unworthy people for Plato. It is natural and essential to human nature to find and activate their natural ability. This emphasizes why education is so important, because if someone is unemployed or is not acting according to their best ability then society has failed to give them the proper opportunity, education, and training to discover their natural ability.
Education for Plato is significant. He believes that everyone has the right to education, however, it is not going to be the same type of education. Why should teachers waste time teaching people something that is not of their best ability. Plato projects that the soul is divided into parts. We all have a rational, wise part; a spirited, honor, loving part; and an appetite based part (desiring money, food, sex, etc.) We will call these reason (gold), spiritedness (silver), and desire (copper). Of these three parts one will dominate which will lead to natural endowments. The vast majority of the peaopl are dominated by desire. Due to the divisions of the soul, society will not be functioning at the same level. This means that there will be classes in the polis. Those who are dominated by reason will be the rulers; spiritedness, guardians; and desire, workers. One might argue today that the wealthy or child of a president has the right to be ruler. Plato says no. Classes are based on the nature of the soul. He explains,
you are all related to one another, although your children will generally resemble their parents, yet sometimes a golden parent will produce a silver child, and a silver parent a golden child, and so on, each producing any. if a child be born in their class with any alloy of copper or iron, they are to have no manner of pity upon it, but giving it the value that belongs to its nature, they are to thrust it away into the class or artisans or agriculturists ” (RPE, 61).
It is natural and must be this way, if it were contrary to this there would be no polis, therefore, no justice. Our society today says that classes are oppressive and not natural. Plato would agree with this only if they are based on gender, race, etc. However, his classes are based on the soul/nature thus it s natural. It
would follow then, that different characteristics lead to different classes which leads to different types of education.
What is important for Plato is education of the guardians and rulers. He initially encourages all citizens to receive general education; but says those who are least able or least inclined to profit from the instruction to leave. Those who could profit more from instruction would continue with military and academic training and would become the warriors and guardians of the state. The school he founded was the Academy. The most able, the intellectual elite would go on to further study and become the philosopher kings who would rule. This is why Plato s theory of education is restrictive. Those with reason and spiritedness attend academic education. This is broken into two levels, general guardian education and specific dialectic education. General guardian education is what today s society would think of as prep schools. The duration would last thirty years and the students would be prepared for public/civil services or philosophy studies. The Academy is only open to those with guardian or ruler souls. This is only 15% of the population! These students would be psychologically profiled and if they showed a natural endowment as a hard worker, steadfast, analytical, smart, lover of learning, etc, they would be approved for this form of education. As an essentialist, Plato says that everything is predetermined, thus, cognitively disabled students have no choice but to be in the working class. I was surprised, after learning how restrictive other categories of Plato s Academy were that men and women are regarded as equals. He clearly derives the only difference is a superficial notion of their physical bodies. Their souls are the same by nature. Plato is opposed to single sexed schools because he says that in terms of their minds they are essential and equal and should be in the same learning environment, “as far as the guardianship of a state is concerned, there is no difference between the natures of the man and of the woman” (RPE, 76). The school shall be a communal school and should be separated from the rest of the workers of the polis. This closed system places many limitations on the students. No private property is allowed because it creates competition and division. “No one should have a dwelling or
Storehouse.” Plato wants them to live in a communal form. No wages are to be received except the necessities. It is forbidden for them to work for money, or participate in manual labor. They cannot “handle or touch gold and silver, or enter under the same room with them, or to wear them on their dresses, or to drink out of the precious metals” (RPE62). Labor is the job of the workers and money corrupts therefore, Plato says if the men and women live by these accommodations they will be on the right tract to reach their potential. He wants to instill morality in the students. Plato’s value system is not centered on freedom, but instead, on moderation and discipline. He feels that, by imposing these limitations, he will create a state in which the populace will be happier than if they were allowed access these to things.
The curriculum is also highly specialized and restricted. “What then is education to be?” Plato answers, “gymnastic for the body, and music for the mind” (RPE, 48). Under the term music he includes poetry. It is important to note that in the classical Greek education system, poetry was placed as important for instruction. So when Plato proposed his educational system, people expected him to describe how he would handle poetry. He explains that there are two types of poetry, true and false poetry. The true poetry will be taught and the false will be rejected. This may seem quaint to our society today, but Plato felt that false poetry was misleading, a distraction, and corrupts the soul. In Plato s theory of education he state s that “apparently our first duty will be to exercise a superintendence over the authors of fables, selection their good productions, and rejecting the bad” (RPE, 48-9). This is due to the notion that false poetry can have violence in it for violence sake. It does not promote virtue nor does it resemble reality. Children do not see a difference in it and will accept it as normal. Plato also rejects false poetry on the thoughts of good and evil. They can become changeable and relative resulting in moral chaos. Plato claims the aim of education is to “rear and educate” (RPE, 48). He wants to produce good, virtuous moral characters. To do so we need the right education to produce a philosopher king. Until there is a philosopher king there will be no justice.
The dialectical education system is what we would think of as higher education. The selection process is specific as it accepts those who are the best and brightest in regards to intellect and discipline. Since it s the most selective, Plato is teaching those who are the most teachable. He thinks this is the most fair and effective way. The curriculum is different than the guardian education because it focuses on the dialectic /philosophical education. This includes but is certainly not limited to math, geometry, astronomy, the forms (eidos), etc. Plato says that knowledge is wisdom and to really know something is to know the essence of it. Plato discusses the differences of the senses and non-sensible things. He explains that the way we can come to know things are through our senses and our mind. The senses are changeable, and they only give us an appearance of things; whereas, the mind knows things on a different level, those things are changeless and absolute. They are what they are, meaning the essence of the forms. The mind gives us knowledge, and the senses give opinions; for Plato, to know is to know the universal, independent of senses. He explains the dialectic curriculum with the divided line. The students go through the educational process and before the line of reasoning the rulers and guardians are weeded out.
The allegory of the cave is Plato’s way of explaining the process of education. It is a difficult yet enlightening process. Change is not easy. I found it interesting that going out of the cave or entering back into the cave the person is blinded. I take this to mean that the struggle of understanding something may be that they have come from a good place, outside the cave, or from a bad place, inside the cave. From this allegory we learn that we enter a state of confusion from ignorance when we are introduced to new things. We must give up our prejudices and become enlightened. Plato proves here that the role of education is not to teach in the sense of feeding people information they don’t own, but rather to shed light on things they already know. Knowledge is innate. It is through the Socratic Method, a process of asking questions to draw out what s already there. Plato wants to evoke the
psyche through dialogue and questioning. In the dialogue Meno, Socrates leads a slave boy into recalling a geometric proof, rather than teaching it to him. This is the way Plato feels all learning works; a teacher’s job is to guide students into remembrance of things known, rather than filling them with knowledge. The teacher for Plato is a facilitator or assistant. Socrates said that the teacher s role is like that of a midwife; they are there to assist to give birth to knowledge. In other words, to help them do what they can do by themselves. The philosopher king is the result of Plato s Academy. The person to become a philosopher king has the virtue of wisdom and that virtue is the only legitimate reason to exercise political power.
Despite the rigorous, restrictive, and specialized view of education, Plato has created a just society. His goal of socialization is met when there is happiness and justice for the good of the state. He isn t concerned for any one class, and the individual development is a byproduct of this theory, Plato here has brought about an educational system such as this one in order to bring forth justice. The city is just because everyone is doing the job that best suits his/her nature.