Welcome to the official blog of the Highstrung String Quartet!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Plato and Compulsory Education

I really shouldn't be thinking about these kinds of concepts the week before finals' week, but I read this earlier this semester and I've been thinking about it ever since.

From The Republic by Plato (536d,e):

"...though we mustn't exercise any form of compulsion in our teaching."

"Why?" I asked.

"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."

I don't necessarily agree with Plato, but I think he comes down on one side of an issue that, if you take a step back, raises the fundamental question to all education. Namely, the role of enforcement in teaching. I'm really intrigued by this concept.

But back to study.


lady greenleaf said...

You made me think. Ergo, a longer-than-usual comment!

I am taking Alg. 2 due to compulsory education (id est: my folks said I must). I would skip it if I could, and I'll be surprised if I remember half of it. Yet there is something to be gained from it - mental discipline, a grasp of logic, the Pythagorean theorem, and a reinforced knowledge of the fact that we don't always get to do exactly what we want.
These are all good things to have. So, speaking from a student's point of view: I don't always enjoy compulsory education, but I do think it is generally a good thing. (I will allow for exceptions, however. :)

David (viola) said...

But what do you make of Plato's claim that, "...compulsory learning never sticks in the mind." It sounds like you disagree with him.

lady greenleaf said...

Yes, in part. I will remember a few of the more useful, practical things, despite it being compulsory. The rest, though? The tangents, sines, cosines, and those funky fractions whose name I already can't remember. I'm pretty sure I'll forget those.

Typing from the San Diego airport. :) Flight leaves in a half-hour.

David (viola) said...

The real question is, would you remember more content if you weren't forced to learn it?

I'm glad you're having fun in Texas.

lady greenleaf said...

Probably. If the student is learning because he wants to, that means he wants to remember whatever it is he's learning. So he'll make more of an effort to remember than he would if he didn't want to learn it in the first place.

Was that a run-on sentence? I don't know. I feel a little fried. A good fried, but fried nonetheless.

David (viola) said...

Isn't the job of a teacher to have such an infectious love of their subject that those around them can't help but want to learn?

Isn't demanding a student be interested in a subject both counter-intuitive and counter-productive?

26 days and counting...

lady greenleaf said...

Yes, I think an enthusiastic teacher should be able to teach his subject and make it appealing...or, at the least, mildly interesting. But look at what our teacher is doing. If he's enthusiastic about his subject, that enthusiasm tends to rub off on the student. It is, as you said, infectious. But he's not demanding: "Look. This subject is interesting. Like it, or else..."
He's persuading: "Hey, look how great this is, isn't it cool? And see! This detail over here! It's fascinating!"

Persuasion. Falling back on my memory of the Character Clues cards, persuasion is "guiding vital truths around someone else's mental roadblocks."

If the teacher demanded attention, demanded I like this subject, I think I would buck, even if it was merely to be ornery. "Just because you like this subject, doesn't mean I have to like it."
(That's not necessarily my attitude to learning or teachers, I'm just giving you an example. ;)

Some of it depends on the learning style of the student, but I think persuasion would be more effective than demanding.

I'm off to cowboy church. :)
What happens in 26 days?