Just an Education, According to Socrates

Many of you have probably heard of Socrates, and Plato by extension. You may have even read the Republic in some class. Today’s book report is an over simplified examination on one of the themes from The Republic

If you have never read this book, you are going to have your mind blown. 🤯

The major theme of the book is a discussion on Justice. What it is and what it is not, and if being Just is all it is cracked up to be. Along the way there are ideas presented that serve as foundational undertones to what served, in my opinion, our Founding Fathers as they formed their new republic. I mean, those guys were educated men and so they most likely had read Plato’s Republic.

For this report, I want to explore one thing that I found particularly noteworthy while reading The Republic. And truthfully, this was my first time reading The Republic. This text has had an exceptionally profound effect on any me after I read it and I can’t help my self coming back to the things I read.

But I digress from what I want to report on here.

I would like to cover Socrates’s ideas on what a just education would look like. I think this is an exceptionally relevant theme to this blog as I have covered the topic of learning before.

A Just Education

Lets dial this back a little bit.

The conversation found in the Republic makes it quite explicit that the education that Socrates promotes is one to be shared by all. We all know that men and women are different, and children are too. But, as it is explored, there must be an education for all the people of this ‘City of Justice’ that fosters a world view of justice. And at different stages of life, you would take on different subjects.

So everyone gets the same education. And this education looks like the following (I wonder if it looks kind of how we structure education today):

Gymnastics

Now before you get it in your head that we are talking about doing back flips or parallel bars, gymnastics is meant to cover a broad spectrum of topics. Yes, weight lifting and cardio training are included in that. But I want you to think about what is meant to be a physical being, to have a physical body. You are born into an organism that has very little strength or dexterity, and as you develop strength in your limbs, flexibility in your joints, dexterity in your appendages, and become a capable body, are you not better able to do just acts in this world?

You cannot be just if you cannot do your bodily business on account of a weak and incapable body. And so from a young age we help children become strong by making the play ground a game of gymnastics. Ever wonder why they thought to call it a jungle gym?

Music

For those of you who don’t play music, calm down. Although music of today is not the same as it was over two thousand years ago, I want you to think about what music encompasses. Music is not only the sounds of instruments and the art of playing them, but music is also singing and song writing, rhythm and rhyming, knowing lyrics and telling stories through song. If I could more closely define what Socrates meant by Music, I would call it the field of liberal arts. You could call this the right brain training, or creativity.

Why would we focus on teaching, or becoming educated for that matter, in Music (as Socrates puts it)? Would you be a very just person if all the music you listen to implied a benefit to being unjust? Or how about this. Would you do justice unto others if every story you have ever been told was that helping others led to pain and suffering? And one more. Would you compel others to do justice if you were inundated with images (pictures and paintings) that advocated for violence and bloodshed?

The simple answer is, no. Your probably wouldn’t. And if you don’t believe me, look at what children are taught in schools and ask your self if they are teaching them to be just. Or how about what you are reading, are you learning about how you too can be a just person?

Math

If you say that you aren’t good a math, than you need to take a second and rethink your education. If you can’t do 1+1, then there is a serious problem. But maybe you are asking, what does math have to do with justice? Well, I will tell you.

Of all the different subjects that I didn’t anticipate coming from the mouth of the trickster, Socrates, Maths was the last. His arguement is that in pursuit of the absolute, as we play with the forms of numbers, shapes, bodies and movements of them, we begin to gaze upon the eternal ideas that form our reality. Let’s try an example.

Algebra: Is it just to tell someone that you handed them two bananas when you only handed them one?

But how about geometry? Is it just to tell someone that the square footage of a home is more, when in all reality it is less?

How about trigonometry? Is it just to tell someone that they are getting a gallon when you are giving them a cup?

And how about calculus? Is it just to tell the officer that your car was going 5 mph when it was really going 50 mph?

If you answered yes to any of these, you need to seriously reconsider any statement like, ‘I am not very good at math.’ We are all very good at math, it is only a matter of computation that tends to stump us.

Dialectic

The last, and most dangerous, part of a person’s education in this hypothetical ‘Just City’, is the art of dialectic.

Dialectic is essentially the art of argument.

The subject of arguing one’s point of view, the art of asking well placed and reasoned questions, would be the one part of every person’s education that would most likely lead to their downfall as a city. Don’t believe me?

Why do you think it is that there is some information that we withhold from children? Why do you think there is some questions that you never ask a child? Why is it that we go to seminars and classes to learn how to ask better questions of our selves and those around us?

The reasoning for this is because those who are skilled in argument, skilled in asking defensible questions, can erode the very foundations of another simply by knowing all the right things to say. These corrosive arguments can be exceptionally helpful in destroying self-limiting believes, but wrongly applied some of the arguements that we interact with, if repeated or parroted to others in the wrong context could lead to corrosion in others for unnecessary purposes. What’s more is that once a person has learned questions that alter their reality, they go in turn and perpetuate these corrosive arguments ad infinitum.

However, as dangerous as it is, Dialectic is according to Socrates what leads us further and further up towards those absolute and eternal ideas: like justice. As we go about defending our selves from the arguments of others, we strengthen our understanding, we preserver. And when we ask the right kinds of questions of others, we open them to possibilities that were never thought possible.

Conclusion

I want to end this post today with a question.

A simple question, and I think you will like it.

Is being uneducated in these five categories just?

That’s all.

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