“…[T]he study of calculation and geometry and all the preparatory education required for dialectic must be put before them as children, and the instruction must not be given the aspect of a compulsion to learn…Because the free man ought not to learn any study slavishly. Forced labors performed by the body don’t make the body any worse, but no forced study abides in a soul…Therefore…don’t use force in training the children in the studies, but rather play. In that way you can also better discern what each is naturally directed toward.” (Emphasis mine)
- Plato, Republic, 536d -537a
Friedrich Fröbel, the 19th century German pedagogue and Romantic educational philosopher, likened the idea of children as the fruits of a garden. He would later go on to term the word ‘kindergarten’ which, when literally translated, meant ‘children’s garden’. Today, very few actual kindergartens follow Fröbel’s original philosophy of nurturing small and malleable young minds into creative and exploratory natures that sought truth intrinsically, and the heart of teaching remains ambiguously defined in the west, for the most part, borrowing the worst aspects of progressive ideology and the worst of traditional educational philosophy, without synthesizing the advantages of either. The unintended forces behind the construction of contemporary educational ideals is most safely akin to that of Dr. Frankenstein, who thought that by taking many different, non-connected parts of a body could create the true whole. Instead, as we may know, he created an all-too-timely monstrosity. There is wisdom in the words of Aristotle when he says that, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Indeed, education in the western world today might best be described as the near-perfect antithesis to what many educational thinkers like Fröbel, Plato, Rousseau, Montessori, A. S. Neill, Pestalozzi, or Boris Sidis had in mind.
Although the interpretations of Plato’s philosophy of education are quite varied, particularly within Republic, it would seem to me a safe bet that Plato saw the purpose of education as one that was very specific and oriented towards a specific goal. Additionally, in the modern sense of ‘democracy’ as it is thought of commonly in the western world, particularly within the United States, it may be safe to posit that, outside of Straussian interpretation, Plato’s ideas on education were aggressive towards the ones we find today populated within and produced by liberal democracies, which tend to hold a very open, relativistic, foundational, multifaceted, do-with-what-you-will view of education. Ironically, Allan Bloom, himself quite influenced by Strauss, probably offers the best reason as to why this is in his book, The Closing of the American Mind, for those curious as to why I say this.
Plato seems to evoke throughout Republic a not-so-dissimilar metaphor to that of Fröbel’s for young minds as plants that are in need of nurturing. Plato emphasizes the malleability of young minds while simultaneously denoting the importance of particular strategies of education and culturalization within them. In the spirit of Fröbel’s idea of children as the fruits of a garden, and to the heading quote by Plato, it would seem rather appropriate to me to discover what I might term for now a ‘Platorium’. This Platorium is where the earliest post-parental educational (dis)instruction would take place. This phase, between the rough areas of the ages two to five, is where the traditional and Romantic influences of progressive education would be most justified. This is where educationalists like A. S. Neill, Maria Montessori, and Fröbel, to me, appears to be most relevant, and where, also, the knowledge of psychological and psychoanalytic development on part of the pedagogue becomes of the greatest importance. To follow in line with A. S. Neill’s influence from the post-Freudian Wilhelm Reich, this stage is where children will solidify their earliest conceptions and worldview of not merely the external cosmos and reality but also of the internal mysteries of perspective and personality within their own souls. This age may quite reasonably be the most critical area of an individual’s fundamental education, from which past this point no amount of ‘fixation’ can solve an individual’s inherent intellectual and conceptual drawbacks beyond a merely superficial diagram. Perhaps, as Plato reasons, there may be justification to try with children below the age of ten, but that, beyond this point, the child is permanently and fundamentally spoiled, poisoned beyond remedy by the corrupting influences of his or her society. This also falls in line with anecdotal remarks by A. S. Neill on the taking in of children into his Summerhill School (which is quite likely the closest any mass educational institution has ever come to satisfying even the most remote desires of history’s greatest educational philosophers), who seemed convinced in his many years as headmaster of the school that as long as children were taken in before the age of ten or eleven, they would inevitably turn out happy, content, and full of creative drive, but that Neill could never guarantee such results with children taken into Summerhill beyond this age. Eventually Neill decided altogether to refuse taking in students beyond a certain age, except in extreme circumstances.
This limitation in mind, it might be said that the greatest practical solution to transforming the underlying culture of education would be to strike within the many grandchildren of Fröbel, where the earliest cultural instruction takes place, and to follow in line with Plato’s idea of early education. I remain, in theory but not in practice, as to my knowledge such an undertaking has never occurred en masse, that even with the corrupted educational institutions of the west that exist today, as long as this was done correctly, the many students of these Platoriums would learn to naturally direct their resentment from the adaptation of cultural defense mechanisms, those which manifest themselves as anti-intellectualization, superficial intellectualization, meme-hugging, and hedonism, to instead embrace the beauty of autodidacticism in the face of repressive educational culture. This would truly be the unity of the progressive and traditional educational philosophies, taking the freedom to process, deduce, induce, and conduct critical inquiry of the former, but also the harsh practicality, imminent culturalization, and collective ethical structures of the latter, and unite to produce a population of free and happy minds under one common moral instruction, one common and shared ethical maxim, that being the inherent and exclusive goodness within the search for truth and the subsequent erotization of knowledge. Of course, it is worthy to note the irony of this hypothetical situation, as, per Straussian interpretations of Republic, such an upwelling of early education in order to combat oppressive formal education would never come about with either’s simultaneous existence. Let this factor in itself become its own maxim of further inquiry.