In his The Allegory of the Cave, Plato argues that the ultimate purpose of education is not to transfer knowledge from a teacher to a student but to direct students’ minds so that they discover for themselves what is good, real, true, and important. Education should lead us out of the cave of ignorance and turn our souls towards the Truth and the Good. From this standpoint, Socrates condemns â€œcertain professors of education who say that they can put knowledge into the soul which was not there before, like sight into blind eyesâ€. For Plato, â€œthe power and capacity of learning exist in the soul already,â€ that is why all one’s soul (mind) needs are correct guiding towards the Truth. I completely agree with such Plato’s goal of education since only discovery-guided learning can be the most effective and appealing to learners. Therefore, I am deeply convinced that modern education should be completely changed: the emphasis should be shifted from the traditional â€œswot-and-imitateâ€ system to Plato’s concept of learning as a discovery.
To understand the actuality of Plato’s arguments better, let us consider the reasons for which the traditional education system fails to fulfill its most important purpose â€“ upbringing of a creative, competitive, and independent personality who is able to adjust to constantly changing conditions of life. The traditional education system does not sufficiently aim at developing the abilities, which young people need to self-determine in the surrounding world, make independent and well-grounded decisions about their future, and become active and mobile objects of the work market. For this reason, education should aim to create a new type of personality â€“ a creative and competent personality. Only discovery-guided education can help learners reach this goal through the learning how to: 1) discover life; 2) work; 3) live together and cooperate; 4) live.
One of the most prominent psychologists of the XX century A. Maslow mentioned that education plays an immense role in life of humanity. He states that if education guides a person towards the realization of his/her higher needs and if it [education] favors human self-actualization, very soon we may witness the flourish of a new civilization. People will become strong and healthy; they will become masters of their lives. A human will be guided by higher values and become responsible for his/her fate; man of the new civilization will care more about the environment and take an active part in the reformation of society. Consequently, the movement to the psychological health of a single person presupposes an approach to society that is based on spiritual values, an approach to social harmony.
Taking into consideration all the facts mentioned above, one may understand why discovery-guided or constructivist learning is of vital importance in modern society. Constructivist learning focuses on human conceptual and logical growth (and this is one more reason why Plato finds discovery-oriented learning the best one; for him, one may correctly apprehend the world only intellectually). From my own experience, I may say that this learning style is highly appealing and motivating. Once, I had a teacher who applied it throughout the whole course and, as a result, I was more interested in this course than in any others. Let us consider the factors, which helped my teacher succeed in grasping the learners’ attention.Â Â
First of all, I felt that I, the learner, not the teacher, stood at the center of attention. It means that I, as well as my classmates, was given freedom to independently construct my concepts (on the basis of real experiences) and come up with my own specific solutions and answers. That is, our teacher gave us independence and autonomy â€“ the things we valued the most. Then, we did not mechanically repeat pieces of information lacking any meaningful connections, but compared new and already known information, which, undoubtedly, makes constructivism more effective than the traditional learning system. Therefore, it may be reasonably claimed that discovery-guided education implies the creation of unique mental constructions, which result from person’s discovering activity, while traditional education does not favor any development. That is why, under constructivist learning, we, as learners, had a wider scope of activity and learned more effectively how to identify, evaluate, and solve problems.
It follows from this that the idea that knowledge cannot be simply transmitted from teachers to students has a solid background. Our teacher did not expect us to process and apply information correctly later. As he explained, all sensory input is operated by the person who receives the stimuli, which means that the â€œpouringâ€ of information into a learner’s brain would not occur. To make it clearer for us, he asked everyone to prepare for a short lecture; thus, everybody had to prepare and deliver a piece of material, which he/she found useful. Having done this, we were asked to compare our understanding of the material: did we understand better when taught something at a lecture or when we prepared to deliver the material. It turned out that, in the second case, we understood the material better since we had constructed the knowledge for ourselves. In this way, I understood for myself that I would learn best by independently constructing my knowledge, creating meanings from various experiences (with the teacher’s help as a guide only).
What role did our teacher played during such discovery-oriented lessons? He was a wise mentor, facilitator who helped us on our uneasy way to desired knowledge. He perfectly realized that every person learns differently and that one style of teaching cannot maximize pupils’ learning potential. Thus, a variety of teaching styles was implemented, such as cooperative learning, project works, inquiry learning, etc., which made the studying process more subjective. Further, to stimulate our mental and discovery activity, the teacher had never asked us to reproduce information, which we have already received, or simply to retell it; rather, our facilitator would put such questions that helped us come up with the unique solutions and encouraged to explore new areas of research. Moreover, our teacher was in a constant dialogue with us; thus, he knew our interests very well, and every task he assigned was appealing and never boring (projects prevailed among such tasks).
Apart from this, our initiative was always encouraged and we preferred to use primary sources rather than already analyzed information. Our imagination and analytical skills were developed with the help of the teacher’s instructions â€œanalyze,â€ â€œcreate,â€ â€œpredict,â€ and â€œclassify.â€ What is more, we were also encouraged to make â€œon-the-spotâ€ decisions and answer thoughtful, deep questions. By the way, we were always given enough time to build a coherent, elaborated, and profound answer or to construct our own meaning when we learned something new. Last but not least, the teacher would put us in challenging situations that might make us doubt our previous assumptions and cause ardent discussions. Â Â
On balance, it may be reasonably claimed that Plato’s idea raised in The Allegory of the Cave is highly topical. According to Plato, the final purpose of education is to show human souls the way to the Good; and the same can be said about modern education system. What our students need are highly responsible and qualified mentors-facilitators, who will help them become independent and creative through guiding their discovery of the unknown but amazing world.