“You are further aware that most people affirm pleasure to be the good, but the finer sort of wits say it is knowledge?” Plato – The Republic
“Nor does it fail me that discoveries – obscure and dark –
Of Greeks are difficult to shed much light on with the spark
Of Latin poetry, chiefly since i must coin much new
Terminology, because of our tongue’s dearth and due
To the novelty of subject matter. And yet to this end
Your excellence and my sweet hope to win you as a friend
Persuade me to tackle any task and take up any toil,
And in the still, small hours, make me burn the midnight oil,
As I seek the right words and the right poetry to light
Brilliant lanterns for your mind, so that at last you might
Peer deep into the recesses of things once recondite.” Lucretius, The Nature of Things
It would seem, Adeimantus, that the direction in which education starts a man, will determine his future life. Does not like always attract like?” Plato
There are several definitions for the word education, one of which is that education is the result produced by instruction, training or study. This definition does not have the limitations of place of learning or qualification received. It is utilitarian. It is asking for results. Results in how we live our lives, how drive on the roads, how we relate to our neighbors, how we function in the work place, and our families. Synonyms for education include: bettering, improvement, development, training, coaching and preparation among others.
“We all know” that education is important, everyone says so, it has become a cliche. When listing priorities whether for a state or a family in a debate, one has to include education to avoid some scolding; so education is mentioned and we move on. When governments set agenda, education is included, and we move on. When international support is being requested or delivered, education is mentioned, and we move on.
With claims on focus on education, it is difficult to believe that in today’s world many actually think about it or understand it. It is quite telling that Socrates a man who lived in antiquity, could describe education with so much clarity, as we will see in the course of this series; and now in the 21st century, we mouth the importance of education, acquire degrees and move on without truly reflecting deeply. It’s time to take a pause and think about education. How can we all claim education is important and have the current situation? UNESCO states that sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of education exclusion in the world (I am sure this is no news), with one-fifth of children between ages 6 and 11 out of school, also 60% of youth between the ages 15 and 17 are out of school. Data also shows that in sub-Saharan Africa 9 million girls between the ages of about 6 and 11 will never go to school at all, compared to 6 million boys. One can go on and on with poor indices in the region, and in this write up, I have focused only on access; issues around quality will be taken up in due course. The question is, how can we be at this stage, 2,500 years after men like Socrates had prioritized education and still sleep well at night?
This is an emergency and must be treated as such, because as defined earlier, society is the result of education. Things seem to be getting from bad to worse in developing countries; with countries which show some flashes of progress, retrogressing shortly afterwards, because much of the progress is unsustainable and the result is vicious circle of poor education and poverty. There is never going to be a way out, until this emergency is treated as such!
I would like to think that there are two categories of people who do not think a good education is important. The first are those who do not think a good education is important, but do not know that they think so, because such thoughts are only somewhere in their subconscious minds. The second are those who think education is not important and actually say so. These kind of people were also present in the time of Socrates, let’s listen to one:
“Here Adeimantus interposed and said: To these statements, Socrates, no one can offer a reply; but when you talk in this way, a strange feeling passes over the minds of your hearers: They fancy that they are led astray a little at each step in the argument, owing to their own want of skill in asking and answering questions; these littles accumulate, and at the end of the discussion they are found to have sustained a mighty overthrow and all their former notions appear to be turned upside down. And as unskilful players of draughts are at last shut up by their more skilful adversaries and have no piece to move, so they too find themselves shut up at last; for they have nothing to say in this new game of which words are the counters; and yet all the time they are in the right. The observation is suggested to me by what is now occurring. For any one of us might say, that although in words he is not able to meet you at each step of the argument, he sees as a fact that the votaries of philosophy, when they carry on the study, not only in youth as a part of education, but as the pursuit of their maturer years, most of them become strange monsters, not to say utter rogues, and that those who may be considered the best of them are made useless to the world by the very study which you extol.” Excerpt From: Plato. “The Republic.” iBooks.
Socrates replies that apart from designated tutors, society and public opinion were the greatest tutors of the youth. Here is his response:
“Every one will admit that a nature having in perfection all the qualities which we required in a philosopher, is a rare plant which is seldom seen among men.
And what numberless and powerful causes tend to destroy these rare natures!
In the first place there are their own virtues, their courage, temperance, and the rest of them, every one of which praiseworthy qualities (and this is a most singular circumstance) destroys and distracts from philosophy the soul which is the possessor of them.
That is very singular, he replied.
Then there are all the ordinary goods of life—beauty, wealth, strength, rank, and great connections in the State—you understand the sort of things—these also have a corrupting and distracting effect.
I understand; but I should like to know more precisely what you mean about them.
Grasp the truth as a whole, I said, and in the right way; you will then have no difficulty in apprehending the preceding remarks, and they will no longer appear strange to you.
And how am I to do so? he asked.
“Why, I said, we know that all germs or seeds, whether vegetable or animal, when they fail to meet with proper nutriment or climate or soil, in proportion to their vigour, are all the more sensitive to the want of a suitable environment, for evil is a greater enemy to what is good than to what is not.
“There is reason in supposing that the finest natures, when under alien conditions, receive more injury than the inferior, because the contrast is greater.
And may we not say, Adeimantus, that the most gifted minds, when they are ill-educated, become pre-eminently bad? Do not great crimes and the spirit of pure evil spring out of a fulness of nature ruined by education rather than from any inferiority, whereas weak natures are scarcely capable of any very great good or very great evil?
There I think that you are right.
And our philosopher follows the same analogy—he is like a plant which, having proper nurture, must necessarily grow and mature into all virtue, but, if sown and planted in an alien soil, becomes the most noxious of all weeds, unless he be preserved by some divine power. Do you really think, as people so often say, that our youth are corrupted by Sophists, or that private teachers of the art corrupt them in any degree worth speaking of? Are not the public who say these things the greatest of all Sophists? And do they not educate to perfection young and old, men and women alike, and are not the public who say these things the greatest of all Sophists? And do they not educate to perfection young and old, men and women alike, and fashion them after their own hearts?
When is this accomplished? he said.
When they meet together, and the world sits down at an assembly, or in a court of law, or a theatre, or a camp, or in any other popular resort, and there is a great uproar, and they praise some things which are being said or done, and blame other things, equally exaggerating both, shouting and clapping their hands, and the echo of the rocks and the place in which they are assembled redoubles the sound of the praise or blame—at such a time will not a young man’s heart, as they say, leap within him? Will any private training enable him to stand firm against the overwhelming flood of popular opinion? or will he be carried away by the stream? Will he not have the notions of good and evil which the public in general have—he will do as they do, and as they are, such will he be?
Yes, Socrates; necessity will compel him.
And yet, I said, there is a still greater necessity, which has not been mentioned.
What is that?
The gentle force of attainder or confiscation or death, which, as you are aware, these new Sophists and educators, who are the public, apply when their words are powerless.” Excerpt From: Plato. “The Republic.” iBooks.
“And is there anything more akin to wisdom than truth?
How can there be?
Can the same nature be a lover of wisdom and a lover of falsehood?
The true lover of learning then must from his earliest youth, as far as in him lies, desire all truth?
But then again, as we know by experience, he whose desires are strong in one direction will have them weaker in others; they will be like a stream which has been drawn off into another channel.
He whose desires are drawn towards knowledge in every form will be absorbed in the pleasures of the soul, and will hardly feel bodily pleasure—I mean, if he be a true philosopher and not a sham one.” Excerpt From: Plato. “The Republic.” iBooks.
The big questions will include where do we start from? How do we get those in authority to treat it as an emergency, and not just to mention it for the sake of completeness and move on to other things? What is the role of each and everyone in ensuring that the desires of this continent are drawn towards knowledge in every form and lighting the lanterns that will ensure Africa, known as the dark continent begins to glow?
The Amateur Philosopher