UNDERSTANDING PLATO AND EDUCATION
In her “Plato’s philosophy of education: Its implication for current education,” author Myungjoon Lee of Marquette University argued that Plato regards education as a means to achieve justice, both individual justice and social justice.
According to Plato, individual justice can be obtained when each individual develops his or her ability to the fullest. In this sense, justice means excellence. For the Greeks and Plato, excellence is virtue. According to Socrates, virtue is knowledge. Thus, knowledge is required to be just. From this Plato concludes that virtue can be obtained through three stages of development of knowledge: knowledge of one’s own job, self-knowledge, and knowledge of the Idea of the Good.
According to Plato, social justice can be achieved when all social classes in a society, workers, warriors, and rulers are in a harmonious relationship. Plato believes that all people can easily exist in harmony when society gives them equal educational opportunity from an early age to compete fairly with each other.
Without equal educational opportunity, an unjust society appears since the political system is run by unqualified people; oligarchy, defective democracy, or tyranny will result.
Plato and Modern Education
Modern education in Japan and other East Asian countries has greatly contributed to developing their societies in economic terms. Nevertheless, education in those countries has its own problems. In particular the college entrance examination in Japan, Korea, and other East Asian countries caused serious social injustices and problems: unequal educational opportunity, lack of character education, financial burden on parents, and so on.
Thus, to achieve justice, modern society needs the Platonic theory education, for Plato’s philosophy of education will provide a comprehensive vision to solve those problems in education. There is also some controversy about the relationship between education and economics. It is a popular view common in East and West that businesses should indirectly control or even take over education to economically compete with other nations. However, Plato disagrees with this notion since business is concerned mainly with profit whereas a true education is concerned with the common good based upon the rational principle of individual and social justice.
Plato’s Metaphysics and Epistemology
Plato was born in Athens in 427 B.C in a wealthy and influential family. Plato began his philosophical career as a student of Socrates. When the master died, Plato travelled to Egypt and Italy, studied with students of Pythagoras, and spent several years advising the ruling family of Syracuse. Eventually, he returned to Athens and established his own school of philosophy at the Academy.
About 387 BC, Plato founded a school in Athens, in a grove sacred to the demigod Academus, called the Academy (which is where we get the word academics from today).
Plato argued that reality is known only through the mind. There is a higher world, independent of the world we may experience through our senses. Because the senses may deceive us, it is necessary that this higher world exist, a world of Ideas or Forms — of what is unchanging, absolute and universal. In other words, although there may be something from the phenomenal world which we consider beautiful or good or just, Plato postulates that there is a higher unchanging reality of the beautiful, goodness or justice. The task of education is to live in accordance with these universal standards — to grasp the Forms is to grasp ultimate truth.
In his epistemology, he distinguishes between the reality presented to us by our senses – sight, touch, taste, sound and smell – and the essence or Form of that reality. In other words, reality is always changing – knowledge of reality is individual, it is particular, it is knowledge only to the individual knower, it is not universal.
Plato says there are 3 sources of knowledge: Knowledge obtained from senses, i.e. knowledge of objects, colors, taste, touch etc. But Plato does not consider this as real knowledge.
There is an opinion regarding any object, but this knowledge cannot be relied upon as the views of every person differs regarding the same object.
Knowledge through mind or wisdom – it is the highest degree of knowledge which includes virtues like truth, goodness and beauty. This knowledge is idealistic and is based on original thinking. The characteristic of knowledge is that it is found in the form of universal truth.
Plato and Gender Equality in Education
Plato believed that women are equal to men and that, although some women are physically smaller or weaker and some women are physically equal to men. Therefore those women who are physically strong should be allowed to learn the same skills that men do. In his book Republic Plato describes how male and female receive the same education and be given the same duties in society as given to the male member. These people are the ones who will be in charge his republic which would be an ideal society, where philosophers are the kings. In other words, who know what is good for the people and for the mankind and take their decisions based on that knowledge.
Plato also emphasized on women education. Women should have the same physical and educational training; they should know the art of war. The main aim of education was that each member of the society should undertake his work and responsibilities
The Role of the Teacher in Plato’s Education
In Plato’s plan of education, the educator is considered to have greatest importance. He is like torch bearer who leads a man lying in the dark cave, out of the darkness into the bright light of the outside world. The teacher is thus the constant guide of the students. The teacher must be a person of high integrity and must possess high self-worth. He must have pleasing personality, in-depth knowledge and professional training. He should be deeply committed to his profession, have high sense of responsibility and a true role model. Teachers should lead a true moral life. They should practice what they preach.
Influence on Plato’s System of Education
Plato was greatly influenced by the Spartan system of education, though not completely. The education system in Athens was privately controlled unlike in Sparta where the education was state-controlled. The Spartan youth were induced to military spirit and the educational system was geared to this end.
However, the system lacked the literacy aspect. Intriguingly, many Spartans could neither read nor write. Therefore, it can be stated that the Spartan system did not produce any kind of intellectual potentials in man, which made Plato discard the Spartan education to an extent. The platonic system of education is, in fact, a blend of Athens and the organization of Sparta. This is because Plato believed in the integrated development of human personality.
Plato believed in a strong state-controlled education for both men and women. He was of the opinion that every citizen must be compulsorily trained to fit into any particular class, viz., ruling, fighting or the producing class.
Education, however, must be imparted to all in the early stages without any discrimination. Plato never stated out rightly that education system was geared to those who want to become rulers of the ideal state and this particular aspect attracted widespread criticism.
Plato’s Scheme of Education:
Plato was of the opinion that education must begin at an early age. In order to make sure that children study well, Plato insisted that children be brought up in a hale and healthy environment and that the atmosphere implant ideas of truth and goodness. Plato believed that early education must be related to literature, as it would bring out the best of the soul. The study must be mostly related to story-telling and then go on to poetry.
Secondly, music and thirdly arts were the subjects of early education. Plato believed in regulation of necessary step towards conditioning the individual. For further convenience, Plato’s system of education can be broadly divided into two parts: elementary education and higher education.
Plato was of the opinion that for the first 10 years, there should be predominantly physical education. In other words, every school must have a gymnasium and a playground in order to develop the physique and health of children and make them resistant to any disease.
Apart from this physical education, Plato also recommended music to bring about certain refinement in their character and lent grace and health to the soul and the body. Plato also prescribed subjects such as mathematics, history and science.
However, these subjects must be taught by smoothing them into verse and songs and must not be forced on children. This is because, according to Plato, knowledge acquired under compulsion has no hold on the mind. Therefore, he believed that education must not be forced, but should be made a sort of amusement as it would enable the teacher to understand the natural bent of mind of the child. Plato also emphasized on moral education.
According to Plato, a child must take an examination that would determine whether or not to pursue higher education at the age of 20. Those who failed in the examination were asked to take up activities in communities such as businessmen, clerks, workers, farmers and the like.
Plato’s Teaching Methods
Plato recommended play method at elementary level; student should learn by doing. And when he/she reaches the higher level of education, his reason would be trained in the processes of thinking and abstracting.
Plato wanted motivation and interest in learning. He was against the use of force in education. “Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.”
According to Plato “Do not then train youths by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”
Plato wanted a place where children love to go and stay there and they play with things which enhance their education by playing. Plato gave importance to nursery education, as nursery education plays a vital role in the education of man and it helps to build his moral character and state of mind “The most important part of education is proper training in the nursery.”
The Socratic method is a dialectic method of teaching, named after the Greek philosopher Socrates, in which the teacher uses questions to get the student to think about what he/she already knows and to realize what they do not know. This question and answer session stimulates the brain, engages the learner, and can bring new ideas to life.
Both the Didactic and Dialectic methods are necessary for teaching. There are many times when telling the student what he/she needs to know is the only way to impart information. However, the dialectic method is essential for engaging students in interactive learning, in giving them some ownership of discovery in the learning process. The dialectic method can provide an opportunity for debate of issues, exploration of ideas and use of higher thinking skills. Since the object of learning is to be able to discern and make decisions based on knowledge, the dialectic method is critical for growth of the knowledge
According to Plato it will be hard to discover a better method of education than that which the experience of so many ages has already discovered, and this may be summed up as consisting in gymnastics for the body, and music for the soul… For this reason musical education is so essential; since it causes Rhythm and Harmony to penetrate most intimately into the soul, taking the strongest hold upon it, filling it with beauty and making the man beautiful-minded
Lee, Myungjoon, “Plato’s philosophy of education: Its implication for current education”