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School and the Allegory of the Cave
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Ky Offline

Posts: 5,201
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School and the Allegory of the Cave

No doubt many of you have heard of Plato's Cave. If not, I can explain based on a simple explanation that I've carved together from prior knowledge (and my philosophy class).

Ancient Greek philosopher Plato was Socrates' student and Aristotle's teacher. Unlike Socrates, he wrote down his ponderings of life, the universe, and everything. One of his works was The Republic, the political theories in which are often regarded as some of the most intellectual of all time. It wasn't all war and governments, though; in the seventh book of his narrative (or what we'd call a chapter), he developed the Allegory of the Cave.

It is a hypothetical scenario in which people perceive illusions as reality. In this scenario, a few prisoners have been held, immobilized, in a cave since birth. They cannot stand up and walk around, nor can they turn their head; they can only see the wall in front of them, and their arms (if they raise them). Unbeknownst to them, there is a whole world behind and above them - behind these prisoners is an enormous fire, and between the fire and prisoners is a huge walkway leading to the surface that their captors often pass by, holding signs above their heads in a manner that the prisoners can see the shadows of the signs on the wall.

The prisoners, then, assume the shadows on the wall are real things, and due to the echoes from the wall, they assume the sounds created by the men behind them come from the shadows. They have no idea that their captors are behind them, or a fire, or signs, or the exit - indeed, they do not even realize there is a world beyond the cave or even their perception.

What passes for wisdom with them, then, is their capacity to tell which shadow would come next. Whomever could tell this would be deemed as incredibly clever, for the entire extent of their reality greatly depends on the shadows in front of them.

Does this sound at all familiar so far?

Anyway, what if one of the prisoners was aided in an escape? Suppose a man removed his bonds and told him to stand and look around. With great difficulty, the prisoner would observe his surroundings. Most in his position would inevitably turn their gaze back to the shadows, back to the reality they are familiar with, but let's say this prisoner has the mental capacity to move forward and learn of his newfound surroundings.

The man would then implore the former prisoner to observe the signs used to create the shadows. The former prisoner would not know what they are at first; the shadows look more real to him. After a while, he would understand the purpose of these signs, and the man would compel him to look upon the fire against which the signs created the shadows.

Upon seeing the glow of the fire, the former prisoner would shield his eyes as he is more accustomed to the dark. Again, most in his situation would reject the new reality and happily settle back into the old one, away from the unfamiliar pain. Instead, this prisoner grows accustomed to the illumination of the fire, and spots the cave's exit. The man leads him up, but upon reaching the top the former prisoner can move no farther. The light of the sun, much brighter than that of the fire, blinds him.

Yes, most in his position would complain that the sun is horrible and insist that the darkness is preferable - and note that they can no longer see any remnants of their former reality and can't make out much of their new reality due to their painful blindness. This former prisoner, not like those others, bites his lip and attempts to become acclimated to the outside world and to learn more of his new surroundings until he can finally see enough to gaze at the sun itself.

The sun, the last new object for him to look upon, would appear to him to be the master of all of the other objects, and the center point of reality. (In a vague manner of speaking, this is almost literally true.) Upon reaching a point of great familiarity with his new, greater reality, this former prisoner would come to pity the prisoners he left behind. Surely his ability to "see the light" is preferable to being "in the dark", and with that sureness he returns to the cave to rescue the other prisoners.

But these other prisoners are not like him. They would reject every opportunity to explore a new reality because they are so invested in their own. Why, the only way they would even be tempted to observe a greater world was if the state of affairs in their own lesser world were more painful than the process of viewing the greater one!

So the former prisoner enters the cave, and he cannot see very well because of the darkness. He's lucky he can see at all, but there is a fire down there and so he is able to safely navigate his way down to the other prisoners. He speaks of the new, bigger reality he found to them, and in fear of this new reality, the other prisoners deem him insane and ask him to describe the shadows in front of him. Because of the darkness, he cannot see them very well, and for that the other prisoners ridicule him. They would rationalize that even if the outside world existed, it certainly wouldn't be worth visiting - after all, the escaped prisoner is a result of the corrupting effects of what they perceive as a false reality. The former prisoner fails to appeal to the nonexistent reason of the other prisoners, and so leaves them to their blissful folly in the shadows, where their world is dictated by the men who move the signs around.

There, now wasn't that a good story?

Plato assumed that our material world was a false reality, and that a vast world of true knowledge awaited outside of our perception, based on this allegory. While I won't pretend to know if that's true, I do see some metaphors as they apply to compulsory education.

The cave represents the school system in all of its dreary, gloomy splendor. The prisoners are the child prisoners of this system, not merely literally but also mentally enslaved to the shadows of the mere representations (signs) of fact the teachers are paid to hold and "teach". The fire represents only partial truth, the kind of truth that has huge chunks of it harshly disproved when held up to the reality outside of school.

The escaped prisoner is me. Or you, depending on what compelled you to read this far and come as far as you have in life. I was, in a sense, rescued by various sources (including School Survival). The outside reality represents life outside of school and the physical and mental indoctrination of it, with the sun being the truth, not only of the school system but of everything. Due to my exposure of it, I was not able to see school the same way again and have been ridiculed by many for it.

The story of how I escaped the cave began in February of 2012. Overwhelmed by the constant struggle of schoolwork, annoyed with the ineffectiveness of the system I was in, and frustrated with my inability to fit in, with a burst of metaphorical strength I was free from the entanglement of the bonds that had once conditioned me to embrace the system. With help from various guides across the Internet, I was taken on a tour of the failures of the parts of the cave I couldn't see, and I saw a light (that of the fire): School is prison, and I have to get out somehow.

With effort I attempted to free many prisoners from their chains, but of all of the people I tried desperately to free only a few would follow me, due to their assurance that the pain of public schools was worth learning ways to escape. Defeated, I was led by people who already knew of the greater reality up into it.

I have seen the amazing results of the alternatives to public schooling. I have predicted the great effects of abolishing compulsory education. I have acquired knowledge greater than even the most complex shadow. But only recently, 18 months after I escaped, have I fully seen the light of the sun, and it is this: I can't save everyone. Even if voluntary education is introduced, there will always be those who have no viable options but public schools and the options they learned after attending them, and couldn't accept the thought of leaving their mind-controlled mentality behind. A world without stupid (or, impressionable might be a better world) people isn't a possibility at this point in time - there is no utopia, the only bright future is a somewhat bittersweet one, and the hope of human freedom is bound to face great challenges.

Even in light of this pessimistic truth, I won't back down or give up. There are still people out there I can convince to be free of their chains, for the pain of enduring our school system the way it is now is greater than the harshness of the realization that it doesn't work for many people. Civil rights marches on, and soon the world will be more aware that there is a root cause to much of the angst children and teens have, and that it can be eliminated with time.

Have you escaped from any other metaphorical caves? Leave a comment, and depending on where you're viewing this from, do the positive feedback stuff. Peace out.

Public Service Announcement: First world problems are still problems.
(This post was last modified: 10-06-2016 12:26 PM by Ky.)
08-24-2013 10:30 AM
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Messages In This Thread
School and the Allegory of the Cave - Ky - 08-24-2013 10:30 AM
School and the Allegory of the Cave - Ky - 08-25-2013, 03:14 AM
School and the Allegory of the Cave - Ky - 02-11-2014, 07:21 AM
School and the Allegory of the Cave - Ky - 12-26-2014, 02:58 AM

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