Monday, September 19, 2005

Education Systems, Platos World and Ours

The great issue that Plato was struggling with in regards to an educational system was the idea that every tale or poem that a young person heard would imprint its own hidden meaning in the youngsters head. The great tales of Homer were all poorly constructed lies that mislead a young listener into believing things that were not true.

“Don’t you know that the beginning is the most part of every work and that this is especially so with anything young and tender? For at that stage it’s most plastic, and each thing assimilates itself to the model whose stamp anyone wishes to give to it,” proclaimed Adeimantus.

This leads Plato and Adiemantus finding an extreme solution to this difficult conundrum. By removing all art from their city they are allowing its citizens to have another privilege to think for themselves. This is not practical in today’s world where television, movies, and the radio are constantly making stabs into our unconscious. A more holistic solution to this issue is see these things for what they truly are.

In opposition to Plato’s beliefs, the Vermont Commons School has the philosophy that to overcome the hidden subliminal messages around us everyday, you must be taught to see these messages for what they truly are. Plato and VCS agree with the fact that n all written, spoken, and painted artwork it cannot be helped that there is a certain bias. At VCS, we believe that artwork is an undeniable part of our lives that make us humans. In Plato’s world, there would be no poems to give cheer to an audience or even to make them cry because it is impossible to escape a lie when composing them.

From the very beginning VCS is striving to give its students the tools to interpret the world around them. An intense language arts program leads students to a culmination in a study of the very thing that Plato hates; the underlying themes present in every novel. This is not just one semester of studying to have this ability. From the very first novel we read, we were taught not to see the text, but to see what was in between the lines. Our education continued in every aspect of our school environment, not just one academic field.

Like most students at VCS, it was not surprising to hear Cara speak of the fallacy of the truly nonbiased piece. As students, we had come upon this understanding after seeing the power of omission in books such as Howard Zinn’s The People’s History of the United States. Attempting to address the issues that are set forth in the Republic, Zinn addresses the issue up front and admits to his readers that he is very biased. He is biased because of where he grew up, who taught him in kindergarten, even the person rocking him to sleep as a baby is guilty of creating a bias.

Most importantly however, he asks the readers to recognize this bias and to accept it. This is the same belief that VCS attempts to instill upon its students everyday. In biology we are taught to not only look at what is causing an animal to go extinct but, rather the entire system that is in and to recognize each element for what it is. In much the same way, we are taught in language arts to take a text and analyze each piece to decipher the underlying messages in the book. This is the only way that we can mold our own minds to what we believe and not to the beliefs of the Fox Media Corporation or the beliefs of National Public Radio.

Plato’s city is neither practical nor entirely beneficial to its citizens. By destroying that which may subvert our youth, we are taking away one of the biggest things that make us human. Denying our creative talents is not the solution to any real world application. At VCS we are not taught what to think, or filled with facts and information. Instead we are taught how to think for ourselves with logic and understanding and embrace or challenge the issues in our world. This is what not only sets us apart from many learning institutions but also against Plato’s ideal city.

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