A satire written in the vein of Anthony Esolen’s 10 Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child or perhaps C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters.
Recently, in clearing the books out of our school library, I came across a book by Plato called The Republic. I was about to throw the book away with the others, when I noticed a tab at the beginning of “book 7”. In it I discovered the analogy of a Cave. As any enlightened person would, I recognized that the cave was not a literal cave but an analogy for how we should structure our educational institutions. Here is a brief rubric to use in the interpreting of Plato’s cave analogy that I hope will serve public educators for years to come. I will assume that everyone has read the beginning of book seven of The Republic (or at least is familiar with the Cave analogy), and hopefully has not wasted time reading the rest of it.
On that assumption, here is how you should understand each of the elements about which you read.
The Cave. The Cave is the classroom.
The long corridor entrance. This creates the necessary distance that enables us to see our students objectively.
The Fire/Light. For years there were many diverse theories about the meaning of the light. In the past some would have given it a mystical or mythical quality. It’s no surprise that the old guard would so quickly resort to Deus ex machina rather than using critical thinking skills. It is well regarded now that the light is a naturally occurring result of subtle movements in the rock near the entrance of the cave. But that is not important. What we have found to be important is that the light shines on the whole wall of the cave or else students get distracted by the darkness around the edges and start asking questions that are not helpful.
From childhood. Education used to start when a child was 8 or 9 years old. We realized that we had already lost so much ground by that age (And we wondered why recycling wasn’t taking on!). Children must be started at the youngest age possible. The development of formula for babies to eat has made this process much easier. Wet nurses were so hard (and expensive) to staff.
Legs and necks in bonds so they are fixed, seeing only in front of them. The ancients chose the most unfortunate metaphors some times. The inhumanity of people back then is appalling. What most people don’t realize is that Plato is actually being ironic here. He’s offering a commentary on the social ills of his day. The point he is making about education is very simple. If students aren’t paying attention, then they can’t learn. That is why we have developed a number of tools that maintain student attention such as Ritalin. We have also discovered that using iPads in the classroom keeps their attention quite well. Most obviously we simply lowered the number of objects that a student needs to pay attention to. Let’s be honest, with sports, video games, social media, cell phones, tablets, counseling, dating, dynamic family situations, and daily oppression by people in power, students just don’t need one more thing to focus on while they are at school.
The road. Why is there a road? The reason is because these students are really going places. They are world-citizens.
Puppet handlers. We used to put the teachers in this role, but the results were haphazard. Some teachers scared the children. Some hardly used the puppets at all. And others seemed almost like they wanted the students to realize they were using puppets. As in a movie, the point is that students get so caught up in the shadows on the wall that they don’t even consider that they are puppets at all. This is true art. Many teachers just didn’t get it. So we had to take this out of the teachers’ hands and now all the puppets are controlled by administrators. The administrators were so good at this that the enterprise has taken control of the public school market in almost every state in the country! What a testimony to efficiency, dedication, and hard work!
The puppets. You would not believe how beautiful the puppets are. They are arrayed in dazzling colors and the detail on them is other-worldly. It is unfortunate that the students will never be able to see the puppets themselves, but that is the burden that we must carry upon ourselves as educators. Sometimes it takes a medicine that is hard to swallow to achieve the necessary healing. The risk is simply too great in allowing the students to see the puppets themselves. Imagine what kinds of questions they might ask. That’s exactly the kind of thing we are trying to avoid. Instead we have been able to cast images of Love on the wall by having two men puppets displaying intimate affection. We cast images of the earth being saved by a recycling truck. We take ape puppets and show how they look almost identical to people puppets, which has a masterful effect when displayed in the shadows.
The results of this education have been highly effective. School has finally become what it was always meant to be—school is now a safe place where students can discover the truths that we created for them. Many thought that democracy would be a failed experiment, and I can tell you that we have come awfully close to a complete meltdown on a number of occasions, but with this recent discovery of Plato’s Republic I am confident that we have secured many more bright years ahead for our democracy.