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Call me old-fashioned but... Edu-MY-nation: Taking a Page from Plato's Philosophers Kings

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Opinion | February 8th, 2010

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.
I've met some of the most ignorant individuals in my life at my so-called “prestigious” university. Not just ignorant, but prejudice and unrealistic. To sum it up, they have no concept of the “real world,” and despite boasting BAs and MAs out their ying-yangs, they remain ill-equipped to deal with many of life's difficulties.

While said individuals are successfully exceeding the 4.0 GPA mark, when it comes to “street smarts,” and EQ (I'm referring to the much overlooked, but indispensible, domain of “emotional intelligence”), it's a whole other story. Undoubtedly, this phenomenon can partly be accounted for by the appeal of my school to “trust-fund” types. But our current academic canon should carry the brunt of this burden as well. While it'd be foolish (and blatantly inaccurate) of me to suggest that our Western-borne educational system has ever triumphed in the impartation of “life skills,” I do believe that aspects of our older curricula (which would aid in the development of not just well-rounded students, but better people, in general) are worth reviving. But before we embark on a little academic “time traveling,” perhaps an illustrative example of exactly what I mean when I say that my fellow post-secondary peers possess a whole host of unredeemable qualities is necessary.

Last year, as part of my degree requirements I had to acquire a full year credit in a hard science. Naturally, being a student of the social science, arts and humanities realm, I opted for what seemed to me to be the least of all evils (i.e.: geology!) Despite this area not appealing to my particular tastes, I was actually so successful in this endeavour that, at one point, I found myself sitting in my professor's office reviewing an exam on which I obtained a high 90. For one of my assignments in this course, I was required to grace the hallways of the biology and environmental sciences building in order to view various mineral samples, which were on exhibit in glass cases lining the walls. It was there that I met a seemingly intelligent student (he'd apparently been studying at our academy for over seven years, and was working on his thesis) who proceeded to not only introduce himself by showering me with insults, but even after a severe bitch-out, continued to poke and prod me (I guess he really wasn't lying when he said he'd been there for seven years, ie: his only form of interaction with anything in almost a decade was likely in the form of a dissection, so partaking in a normal conversation wasn't really something he was all that practiced in!)

Despite my casual appearance and clear interest in the exhibits, the first words he uttered in my general direction came in the form of a sardonic query, “Rocks for jocks?” I immediately shot back, “Do I look like a jock?” This wit-LESS banter continued for quite some time, until I just got so fed up that frankly I decided I'd complete the assignment later.

During the process of this entire ordeal, all I could think was, “Wow! For someone so smart, how could he be so stupid?” I even contemplated suggesting to him to look into completing a course in human relations psychology, but figured the attempt would fall on deaf ears. So how does this relate to former models of post-secondary excellence? Well, at one point, basic communication skills like reading, writing, and rhetoric, were heralded! Moreover, the foundation of all of Western thought and the entire Western schooling system lay in the precepts of ancient Greek philosophy.

Plato founded the first official university known as “The Academy” in 387 B.C. with its driving force dedicated to the “Socratic” search for truth (in a nutshell, this method consisted of continually drilling others on their opinions, until they could no longer justify why it was they believed what they did — hence it's a rather clever means at getting at underlying discriminatory viewpoints). In addition, it is believed that Plato regularly posed various social problems to his students, and made it a competitive exercise among them to see who could come up with the best and most humanitarian of solutions.

The greatest strength of philosophy as a course of study; however, is that ultimately there is no such thing as a right or wrong answer. Everything is entirely subjective and by being exposed to this discipline, it pretty much goes without saying that one's worldview and ideologies will be greatly expanded. The result? A human being who proudly embraces a liberal, inclusive, and sympathetic attitude towards others. In a world where racism still runs rampant, embracing an overall philosophical approach in the educational system is definitely something worth striving for.

Long after the Sophists, Stoics, and Epicureans, education largely became the province of clergyman; as a result, religion and academia became entangled with Latin because it was the “holy” language. They were seen as the most important of the subjects. The Middle Ages' view was that education was intended to “instill obedience, discipline and habits of cleanliness” into its students. Considering the fairly recent moral panics surrounding schoolyard violence and a general air of insolence among pupils, perhaps the former of these two areas could use a little extra “umph.” As for the latter, well as they say, “cleanliness is next to godliness.”

During this time, increased attention was also paid to the encouragement of artistic development; as an artist myself, I have no qualms about this venture. In fact, I'd argue artists have been assigned the societal role of modern day philosophers, and therefore, not only should artistic pursuits be accentuated in schools; but further, art overall in society is what promotes change, and should be accorded higher value by the general public. But that's an entirely separate discussion.

Our final destination on this educational journey is “The Age of Enlightenment” or in chronological terms, the 18th century. During this time, there was a forceful push away from religion, and a move towards critical thinking and reason, along with the expansion of literacy to the broader public - it wasn't just cool for the rich folks anymore.

Education in the 18th century was conceived of as a “necessary tool to overcome ignorance, fear and superstition” with the ultimate aim of realizing a more “open-minded and egalitarian society.” As this era was pre-dated only a century prior by the height of the Renaissance which looked to revive many “classical” practices, the influence of ancient Greek philosophy in this view is not coincidental.

While the flaws, like the lack of access to women and other minority groups or the segregation policies, of our previous educational academies largely outweigh their merits, I do think there is something to be said about reviving or at least ushering forth a new respect and regard for certain subjects of the past.

So, what do I feel should be brought “back to the future”? Home economics for starters! Far too many college-aged kids don't have a clue as to how to darn socks, do their own laundry, or prepare a meal not consisting of a questionable powdered substance labeled “cheese mix” and bleached flour noodles. But I also feel that more focus deserves to be paid to both the liberal arts and the social sciences.

It has been said we're currently training students for technological jobs that have yet to be created. But it doesn't matter how qualified, accomplished, and up-to-speed on the latest “gear” someone is; if you're lacking in basic interpersonal abilities, as well as a global perspective, you're not going to cut it in today's over-saturated and over-credentialized market.

Finally, though I don't believe any of the following have been offered as required electives in any high school or post-secondary program (at least not in North America), teaching students how to budget things like time and money, or how to deduce whether one's relationships are healthy, as well as how to child-rear are all skills that could go a long way. Though I'm sure plenty would argue said domains really ought to be in the charge of one's parents, let's face it, many of them don't have it figured out either!
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