Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A Platonic Approach to Education

The system of education that is laid forth in Book Three is based on personal experience and identification with the ideas and practices of the educational material. Socrates primarily speaks of education as it fits in with his city vision. Most notably, he discusses the roles of the individuals within the society (doctor, guardian, etc) and how although these courses are specialized in nature and end, there are some consistent principles that should guide the education of these people. The purpose of this Book is to outline these methods and means of learning.
First, Socrates states the significance of a man’s passion in his willing and capability to do his job well. In consideration of the selection of guardians, Socrates states: “A man would care most for that which he happened to love…and wouldn’t he surely love something most when he believed that the same things are advantageous to it and to himself…we must select from the… guardians the sort of men who…look as if they were entirely eager to do what they believe to be advantageous to the city” (412). Socrates here states that a) guardians must realize that their service to the city is also advantageous to themselves and b) they must be the most passionate spirited in their service possible.
This first theory by Socrates is reflected in the philosophy of the Vermont Commons School. Our School is sure to apply all knowledge to the real world and even make interdisciplinary examples when possible; it does not teach empty knowledge, but rather prepares students for the real world with engaging and often fun experiences such as the research and service projects or our encounter weeks. This builds spirit and excitement around the prospect of education and finding a role in society while simultaneously building an understanding of the world and how our influence over the conditions of this earth will prove to be advantageous or disadvantageous for ourselves. This direct relationship between our involvement (and how we choose to involve ourselves) in the current state of affairs and the output being a good or bad thing on a personal level is displayed through our ecologically and earth science-based curriculum.
The other important point that Socrates made in specifying the system of education for his ‘city’ concerned the personal identification and background of a person with a specific role. Socrates uses the role of a doctor in his ‘city’ to demonstrate this point: “Doctors…would prove cleverest if, beginning in childhood, in addition to learning the art, they should be familiar with very many and very bad bodies and should themselves suffer all diseases and not be quite healthy by nature. For I don’t suppose they care for a body with a body…but for a body with a soul” (408e).
This personal identification with a role in society based on a commitment to a field of study or aspect of our culture is an aspect of education that is often overlooked in conventional systems of education. However, at the Vermont Commons School, we remain true in our Platonic conformity once more as we are taught that every living creature has a personal investment in the our surroundings. Our investment is in our neighborhood, in our cities, in our environment, and in any community in which we exist. Our specialized programs such as research and service and our ecologically-based curricumlum help develop this identity and strengthen these bonds of the students. Our community-wide activities also boost this cohesion within the smallest but certainly not least important level of community as well: within our school.
By reading Book Three, I was able to make some important realizations and criticisms concerning the conventional educational system in our country. In addition, I saw the Socratic virtue of Vermont Commons; it undoubtedly stands in the spirit of Platonic theory concerning education and learning. Everything from the setup of the chairs facing pupil and teacher as equals to the style of classes where we are driven to our own conclusions through questions and real-world applications of learning contributes to this atmosphere. As outlined in this paper and the entire of The Republic, these virtues contribute to a positive and strong academic environment based on these ideals of the Republic.

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