Thursday, February 17, 2005

Socrates' cave and certainty in education

So, plugging along through the Republic, I have finally come to the famous cave allegory. And after almost three millenia of philosophy the image, while as compelling as ever, mostly seems shockingly naive.

The whole idea of postmodernism, of course, is that there is no sun into which we can be led out. There isn't even a fire or people walking around behind us. There are only the flickering shadows on the wall.

But I'm afraid most of us, even those who believe there is a sun out there somewhere, that absolute truth exists, have a hard time asserting that we have found the way out into the sunlight. The best we can claim is that we've found a cave with a brighter fire, or maybe even, if we are very bold, a cave into which a few beams of sunlight come through slits in the rock. People who claim to be able to go right out into the sunshine always sound like crackpots. (Then again, Socrates said that's how they would seem to those of us still in the shadows. But they say different things, so they can't all be finding their way out. And we are tired of trying to figure out which ones are right.)

Perhaps one of the reasons our schools seem to have trouble getting kids to learn things is that none of us are very certain about what it is we are teaching. If there is no truth to reach, and nothing to learn but everybody's subjective perceptions, no wonder the kids aren't interested in listening. They could have stuck with their own subjective impressions and spent the time wasted in school on video games.

(Note: I was thinking about blogging on the tragic decline of Reader's Digest, but Marsha beat me to it.)

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