Education and the Classroom as a Site of Transformation

The “Allegory of the Cave” is a beautiful piece of work.  It encompasses the mental landscape.  We constantly move in a circular motion towards the sun and the cave – between belief and knowledge; between illusions of goodness (the fire) and true goodness (the sun).  Education plays an integral role in this chaotic stream of movement between light and dark.  Not just formal education, but education attained through techniques designed to bring about self-knowledge.   Plato’s most compelling point is that the images of knowledge and belief are interconnected in a time stream/line that correlates to our past experiences and our future projections.   Our grasp of knowledge and goodness is possible because of our ignorance/beliefs.  In other words, we cannot see the light unless we have seen the darkness.  We cannot share our knowledge of the light to those in darkness unless we emerged out of the same cave.  The important factor of the parable – to return to the land of shadows – is the duty of the educator or sunlight mediator.  One who grasps the path to goodness cannot remain in the state of bliss, but must return to guide those to that same state.  This in turn creates a better community, society, and world.  The drawback of living in a hyper-technicized world is the media’s steering effects that inhabit and enshroud goodness and knowledge with beliefs.  A hologram of the sun has replaced Plato’s shadows.  The majority believes they are good and know what is right.  By my estimation, global society has never been more imbalanced or driven to fabricated knowledge and goodness.  For this reason, education and the willingness to serve the community is essential for our collective survival.  As a society, we don’t have to assume we will be stuck with materialism, individualism, consumption, and exploitation – these characteristics are not fixed expressions of human nature.  Instead we can transform our public ethos into a more affiliative society where we work together to solve the problems that threaten us all.  This transformation has to be taught and shared.

In Houston Smith’s book “Why Religion Matters” he talks about the retreat of the humanities in higher education.    He believes this is the result of the advent of professional schools and teaching and the humanists’ renouncement of “their post as moral mentors.”   Moreover, Smith posits that humanities instructors no longer “wrestle with the purpose of human existence and the correct ordering of the soul.”  I am not old enough to know what I missed, but the importance of an education that mirrors the process proscribed by Plato and the dialectic method of teaching cannot be sidelined.  Smith quotes Emerson who said,  “the whole secret of the teacher’s force lies in the conviction that men are convertible, and they are. They want awakening, [and for that purpose they need teachers] to get the soul out of bed, out of her deep habitual sleep.”   We had a visiting professor from UC Riverside speak to our class yesterday, and he said he doesn’t think the university is a site of revolutionary transformation, but I disagree.  Perhaps he was speaking to the confining nature of what’s acceptable to teach at his university (he has taught nowhere else).  However, we all have the responsibility, as the knowledge holders to convert, to transform, and to revolutionize individual’s hearts.  If this transformation is impossible in the classroom, then other similarly situated sites of knowledge are even more threatened.  The world needs a pedagogical renaissance.  A return to the issues of “human existence and the correct ordering of the soul.”