Monday, September 19, 2005

Jon Lange: Education of Plato vs. VCS

What is the perfect education? According to Plato the perfect education is based around totalitarianism. In numerous sections of the reading, one infers that Plato believes censorship and even propaganda were best for the state. While this is coherent with his belief that the good of the state overrides everything else, Plato does not see that censorship impedes upon education.
While discussing education, Socrates states that: “The beginning is the most important 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” ( 377b). Socrates believes that the early years of a student’s life are the most important in the art of forming him into a successful man. He also articulates that at the early stages of life, a child’s thoughts are shaped most easily, and shall be by anything he comes in contact with. Because of the child’s mind’s ability to be shaped and reshaped, Socrates asks rhetorically: “Shall we so easily let the children hear just any tales fashioned by just anyone and take into their souls opinions for the most part opposite to those we’ll suppose they must have when they are grown up?” (377 b). Socrates believes that censorship is best for the individual, which is in turn, for the betterment of the state.
By controlling which stories are told, Socrates is in essence controlling the propaganda. And by demanding that stories which are not in the best interest of the state be removed, Socrates is partaking in censorship. This censorship of certain works of literature is displayed in the beginning of book III. Socrates argues that the seven quotes of Homer and other poems should not be used to educate. He argues: “It’s not that they are not poetic and sweet for the many to hear, but the more poetic they are, the less they should be heard by boys and men who must be free and accustomed to fearing slavery more than death” (387 b). Socrates is fearful that the poems might inspire the student to be afraid of death, and not be brave in battle. He therefore does not want the guardians to be educated by using these poems. Socrates is impeding upon a student’s education by not giving him all the possible resources to help understand an issue such as death.
To bring us back to everyday society, there is almost an unlimited amount of freedom in the way of teaching education. In the public schools there comes a rubric of education, every student encounters the same challenges in the same way; and the techniques to teach them are all the same; all designed for the average student. As an average per capita, students are able to excel under these conditions, but for most students they slip by with minimal effort, care, and enthusiasm. For the average student, the potential for excellence is lost in this sort of a rubric, but this potential can be revealed through methods used in some private schools.
Then again if everyone were to attend private schools; wouldn’t those simply turn into present day public schools? Not necessarily, they could still utilize private school teaching techniques; or there could be an increase in schools, resulting in an increase in faculty. These are all ideal goals, or should be ideal for any real society.
Ideally, the teacher and student can obtain maximum performance through strong student-teacher relationships, fluctuation in teaching styles, and a low student to teacher ratio creating a more frequent one-on-one friendly atmosphere. Besides this, the school or class as a whole should further their bond with each other through non-educational activities and settings of the, “norm,” according to the student and teacher. In some cases, students are left out or are discriminated in a way because their learning styles and backgrounds do not comply with those of the public schools. Through this discrimination it can be noted that tension and frustration builds between the student-teacher relationships, so it becomes a more of an, “us vs. them,” based community; “us,” being the subjects, and, “them,” being the distributors of knowledge. In Chumbawamba’s song “Education;”
Education is a powerful tool
And it's in the hands
Of the people who rule (Chumbawamba, “Education”)
This is an excellent example of children feeling overpowered by the people(teachers) who have the ability to make choices about the content being taught: censoring. What the subjects/children want is to be able to think for themselves. These students are not receiving the individualized education they need to perform to their full potential in life. The student and teacher should feel a degree of comradeship to one another in order for them to trust each other and take risks in the classroom.
Through these bonds and friendship, both students and teachers alike will carry these values home with them and they will reflect through their everyday practices, thus improving the overall status of society. People all around should be taught to value the morals that people as individuals choose to value, in order to obtain a better, more educated society.
Ultimately this is the ideal education which one could offer a population, for a perfect education does not exist. There is no perfect education, for if there was one, it would have to be specifically designed to fit a specific individual. But this is not possible. Nearing this goal, it can be resolved by increasing the number of schools and their teaching styles. By doing this, the individual can pick a school which best fits him or her so that they can explore their individuality with more freedom because their path has somewhat narrowed in their favor. It’s the idea of putting those that are most homogeneous together so that ultimately you are getting closer and closer to fulfilling each individual’s specific needs.
The Vermont Commons School has done a wonderful job in creating an environment for education to flourish and work up to his/her own full potential. This prosperous atmosphere best fits the enthusiastic individual who enjoys learning and being active in and around the greater community. The Vermont Commons School achieves these goals through creating a community involved the pre-discussed strong student-teacher relationships. This can be obtained through everyday school life, after school activities, or through encounter weeks. Once the comforts of camaraderie are set, the individual is allowed to then proceed in finding and identifying themselves through experiences and interactions with the society around them. There is not a perfect education, for it is seen through the modeled society and through the reality of the world that there are different values and morals within a population. One can customize the ideal education for a specific society and make a conscious effort to turn that into a reality, but even in that, one has to further narrow the focus to a group of individuals with a common learning style. In Conclusion, Socrates was only thinking of education in terms of bettering society, what he did not take into account was the individual’s potential: thus leaving no room for adaptation and change, something that is essential in the real world and arguably required, as well, in the ideal world.

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