“The object of education is to turn the eye which the soul already possesses to the light. The whole function of education is not to put knowledge into the soul, but to bring out the best things that are latent in the soul, and to do so by directing it to the right objects. The problem of education, then, is to give it the right surrounding. ” (Plato) In the fifth century B. C. E Plato was born into an aristocratic Greek family. As a youngster his intention was to be engaged in politics.
However in his twenties his thoughts were change after coming into the circle of Socrates, who was to be the lasting influence on his thought. Hence, following the execution of Socrates on accusations of the corruption of youth Plato abandoned direct involvement in politics and turned to writing and education. Plato was well known for his works which were all written in the form of dialogues. In the Republic, written about 385 B. C. E and in the Laws, his last work, on which he was still at work at the end of his life Plato addresses childhood in the context of education.
Plato saw education as “the one great thing”, no scheme of human life was so important to him, since he rejected birth as a criterion for distributing the function of education. He believes that the aim of education was the harmonious development of human personality with the central purpose was to produce the right type of individualities in the state. Therefore, Plato saw the state primarily as an educational entity. His scheme of education was greatly influenced by Spartan system of education. In the Spartan system the family had no control over the education of its members.
The state was controlling all aspects of education. In the Republic, Plato devotes much attention to the education of the child as a future citizen. He believes that the child belongs to the state and its education is the responsibility of the state in addition education must be compulsory for all. Furthermore, Plato was not concerned with training children for a trade but rather with giving them an education in virtue, which is to produce “a keen desire to become a perfect citizen who knows how to rule and be ruled” in turn.
Education was seen as the correct channelling of pains and pleasures, aiming at establishing “a nature in which goodness of character has been well and truly established” so as to breed a familiarity with reason, since Plato saw reason as man’s true nature, therefore it has to be nurtured from childhood by irrational means. In Plato views education was to begin before birth therefore he recommends that the care of the soul and body of the child begin with prescribed walks for the pregnant woman before birth.
For the first two years of life children should be kept well wrapped up, even though they should be taken to the country or on visits. Also, they should be carried until they are old enough to stand on their own to prevent subjecting their limbs to too much pressure. This was necessary since the main importance of movement lies in its influence on the early development of a well-balanced soul and the cultivation of the body is mainly for the soul’s sake. Another aspect of education was the formation of character. Plato saw storytelling as the main tool in the development of character.
Since stories should provide models for children to imitate, seeing that as ideas taken in at an early age become indelibly fixed. Moreover storytelling must begin at an earlier age than physical training. “Physical training may take two or three years, during which nothing else can be done; since weariness and sleep are unfavourable to study. Physical training was vital as the exercises were an important test of character. Additionally a child’s character will also be formed while he or she plays Plato attached much importance to children’s games.
Even though the sexes are to be separated at the age of six, he believes that children are to be brought together for games. Teachers must provide children with miniature tools of the different trades, so that they can use the children’s games to channel their pleasures and desires toward the activities they will engage in when they are adults. However, children and adults should not imitate base characters when playing or acting, for fear of forming a habit that will become second nature.
In addition to storytelling and play, reading, writing, music and arithmetic were an integral part of Plato’s educational system. Beginning at the age of ten a child is required to spend three years on reading, writing, and the poets, and another three learning the lyre. Then they would study elementary mathematics up to the age of seventeen or eighteen. He thought that all of this was to be done with as little compulsion as possible in, order to for them to learn “enough to fight a war and run a house and administer a state” (Republic, bk.7, 535-541).
This period of education could not be extend or curtail neither by the child nor father either out of enthusiasm or distaste. Children were expected to work on their letters until they are able to read and write, but any whose natural abilities have not developed sufficiently by the end of the prescribed time to make them into quick or polished performers should not be pressed. Enforced exercise does no harm to the body, but enforced learning will not stay in the mind (Laws, bk. 7, 536). Plato also felt the necessity of moral education.
The members of a society should learn that they are the members of one society and that they should live in the spirit of harmony and co-operation. Plato realizes that the better way of imparting moral instructions, is the sanction of supernatural authority. Plato also believes with conviction that a nation cannot be strong unless it believes in God. Certainly, Plato’s views on education have significantly influenced educational thought to this day and have become the basis of many educational policies His system of education includes instructions for the training of body, mind and soul.
Plato also believed that an ideal state, embodying the highest and best capabilities of human social life, can really be achieved, if the right people are put in charge. Since the key to the success of the whole is the wisdom of the rulers who make decisions for the entire city, His view of philosophy as an educational activity and of education as the development of reason, the responsibility of which lies squarely with the state, is still a living educational challenge.