Friday, December 07, 2007

Bullshit or Not: End of the Semester Plato Edition

There's an old sketch film called Amazon Women on the Moon and one of the bits is a parody of the old Leonard Nimoy show, "In Search Of..." called, "Bullshit or Not?" with the tagline "Bullshit or not? You decide." It's a line I like so much that I've stolen it for an irregular series of posts.

This week it's Plato on education. In The Republic, Plato argues that it is a fool's errand to try to educate those of age 18-20. They are at the age where the body is of their concern, not the mind, and therefore any training ought to focus on the body.

And, therefore, calculation and geometry and all the other elements of instruction, which are a preparation for dialectic, should be presented to the mind in childhood; not, however, under any notion of forcing our system of education...because a freeman ought not to be a slave in the acquisition of knowledge of any kind. Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.
Once, they've reached twenty, they can begin work in mathematics, but philosophy should not be taught to anyone under thirty:
Therefore, that your feelings may not be moved to pity about our citizens who are now thirty years of age, every care must be taken in introducing them to dialectic...There is a danger lest they should taste the dear delight too early; for youngsters, as you may have observed, when they first get the taste in their mouths, argue for amusement, and are always contradicting and refuting others in imitation of those who refute them; like puppy-dogs, they rejoice in pulling and tearing at all who come near them...But when a man begins to get older, he will no longer be guilty of such insanity; he will imitate the dialectician who is seeking for truth, and not the eristic, who is contradicting for the sake of amusement; and the greater moderation of his character will increase instead of diminishing the honour of the pursuit.
So, college aged students are doomed to be less than successful because their nature at that age is working against them. Acquisition of wisdom, and therefore fruitful education, should wait. Should we require some sort of bodily activity, be it military or other sorts of public service, during the years 18-20 because the body is in such a state that studies would not take?

Bullshit or not? As usual, feel free to leave a one word response or a dissertation.