Existentialist thinkers have often been referred to as the anti-classical philosophers. Tired of not being able to apply the lessons of the Greeks into present tangible life, they saw it more important to live a life putting existence before consciousness. Such beliefs, it is obvious, come in clear conflict with Platonic thoughts, especially those on education.
In Plato’s most famous dialogue, The Republic, he presents an interesting theory on education through the voice of his mentor Socrates. He states, “Because a free man ought not to learn anything under duress. Compulsory physical exercise does no harm to the body, but compulsory learning never sticks in the mind…’ ‘Then don’t use compulsion…but let your children’s lessons take the form of play.’” (The Republic, 537a). Here we see that Plato was clear on the shortcomings of a traditional compulsory education. He knew for a fact that forced learning breeds apathy and disinterest. But rather than attack the root of these problems (the compulsory part) his response addresses merely the symptom. If compulsory education doesn’t “stick” then all we need to do is make it appear that it wasn’t education. By making it game-like, children will be tricked into learning and the system will hopefully succeed.
While existentialists would too reject compulsory top-down education, their answer to this would be far from tricking students into learning. Robert Brumbaugh describes existentialist educational theory as being concerned with “individual authenticity”. Such an ‘authenticity’ is found through self-realization, free from conformity. It would appear that to the existentialist education would embrace imagination and a very hands-on experience. The idea wouldn’t be to trick students in learning what some “enlightened” person thinks they should know, but provide them with the opportunities to find out what they want to.
Considering the differences between existentialist and Platonic educational approaches, it is of no surprise that Platonic theory offers little support for existentialist theory. When attempting to classify different educational approaches by assigning them to different rungs on the Platonic dividing line, Robert Baumbaugh assigns existentialism to the lowest rung (imagination). Surely, from a Platonic perspective this classification is justified. For ‘imagination’ is a mere distraction form pure reason and a pursuit of the good.
From the existentialist perspective, imagination and experience is simply the only being man can know. It is silly to spend life pursuing intangibilities, especially when one must be tricked into taking such a path. No amount of thought or reflection will be able to get man close to the good or the truth. It is much more worthwhile to accept the life given, and explore that which is personally intriguing.
From my perspective, what is most distressing about Platonic philosophy is the circumvention of the true problem with compulsory education never sticking. Instead of taking a more existentialist path in solving the problem, Plato simply figures that misleading children to the good is more important. Is not the majesty of the pursuit of the good defamed when one must be mislead in order to have a chance of reaching it? Surely, from an existentialist perspective, if the good was really to have a bearing on one’s life that pursuit would be embarked upon without an education rooted in deception.
the only easy day was yesterday
- ▼ March (13)