Teachers and Students in Plato's Essay

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It is noted that students be chosen at an early age and that only those students with a true love of learning and never ending quest for knowledge will become true philosophers.

The student of philosophy must possess the virtues of courage, magnificence, apprehension and memory as his natural gifts and that without proper education, these very qualities may result in men who are regarded as utterly useless or depraved.

The educators' responsibilities increase with the most gifted minds as when they are ill-educated, they have greatest capacity for the greatest crimes and true evil. Conversely, Socrates and his cronies appear to believe that only a very few individuals are capable of understanding philosophy and that lesser minds have no need to learn philosophy as they are not as capable of accomplishment of good or evil.

In my opinion, the statement which has withstood the test of time appears in Book IV wherein Socrates clearly states, "that the direction in which education starts a man, will determine his future life."

It further describes the virtue of education as not great, but sufficient to the purpose of creating a superior State that started well, gathers momentum by quality education imparting strong constitutions and that these good constitutions nurtured in a good education continually improve man just as animal husbandry consciously improves the bloodlines of other animals. The responsibility laid upon teachers is tremendous already, with the students' very future determined by the quality of their education.

However, the concept that students' education will actually improve the bloodlines of man is harder to prove and certainly more controversial.

This ideal State will have the responsibility of determining for which field a student is best suited at a very young age.

It is encouraged that through children's natural play their talents and proclivities will be discovered, but the future teachers' role in making these determinations is not fully explained. Book V describes the youth with a love of learning and knowledge that is never satisfied as a philosopher and one that dislikes learning as lacking the power of judging what is good and bad. A great deal of time is spent discussing the ideal that individuals should specialize in one area and never branch outside their area of expertise once they have achieved expertise in that one area. Although this self-limiting premise is adverse to the nature of the student of philosophy, since Socrates' and his fellows believe so few men are capable of understanding philosophy they reported no apparent conflict in their expectations that all students should strive for lifelong learning and intentionally limit the teachings of many.

In modern times, we have the advantage of looking to the former Soviet Republic to determine whether Plato's educational ideal was achievable.

There is a topic on which there are multiple contradictory writings: the age of learning and wisdom.

While the philosopher is described as the student with a never ending quest for learning, there are many instances when age is described as a detriment or an absolute barrier to learning new things.

However, in Book III it is noted that judges shall be of sufficient age to have experienced evil and have the ability to recognize evil, even while having resisted the infection of evil in their own souls.

It is acknowledged that the traditional roles of student and teacher may be turned on their heads when it is an aged person learning and willing to learn from someone younger than themselves.

The role of education in determining a student's future is further explored by the theory that lack of education is at the root of all poverty and crime.

This statement, while perhaps a bit broad, has been proven close to the mark over time and emphasizes the vital importance of the relationship between student and teacher.

The teacher's goals and motives must be most pure to accept the responsibility which comes with the job of teaching. Unfortunately, this is also a precedent for the modern practice of scape-goating the education system for parenting failures. However, in Plato's Republic, the children are systematically taken away from their parents as the State has already determined traditional parenting is inadequate and inferior to a group parenting system.


Plato. (360 BCE). The Republic. Jowett, B. (Trans.) Retrieved February 11, 2009 from Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Web site: http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.1.introduction.html[continue]

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