The Allegory of the Cave and Education

The “Allegory of the Cave” is a philosophical writing that metaphorically and symbolically explains the relationship between knowledge and ignorance. In my perspective the “Allegory of the Cave” is an accurate metaphor for modern-day society regarding our educational system. The image that Plato illustrates in the cave consists of people chained to the wall, who see only the shadows of images cast onto the wall from the fire behind the prisoners’ backs. Similarly to the people chained down in the cave, the majority of our early educational lives are spent in the classroom ‘chained’ down to our chairs. The shadows cast upon the wall is merely the false reality we are taught in the classroom about how the real world actually works. Plato expresses that if a prisoner is to walk out of the cave, first the light will be blinding since the prisoner is unaccustomed to anything but the darkness. Gradually the prisoners’ eyes will adapt to the light as they soon will begin to understand reality. Symbolically, this can be understood as a student discovering the deeper meaning of the things that are taught within the classroom. The people who seek the truth begin to understand the power of knowledge outside of the educational system. The educational system has chained down our society by instilling the perception that the only way to be successful in the real world is by upmost achievements throughout our academic career.

The issue within the educational system is that we are focusing on the wrong things, whether it is passing a test or getting straight A’s. These are just a couple of the main objectives that we are led to believe will make us successful in the real world. Rather, the educational system has taught us to jam as much information into our brains and regurgitate it out once it is time to take a test or complete an assignment. Within the walls of schools’ students are trained by the bell, it rings again and again all day symbolizing the prison-like educational system we have thrown our youth into. This repetition correlates with how students learn the common core subjects, day-by-day students are revoked of their opportunity to learn about things that they’re passionate about. Erica Goldson speaks out against this issue in her article, “Here I Stand.” Erica states, “I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him.” Her statement expresses that students are setup as slaves of the educational system at an early age because we are not allowed to prove who we are, as we are revoked of our educational rights to pursue the things we’re passionate about. The “Allegory of the Cave” metaphorically represents the same thing, we’re thrown into a dark cave bound by chains which, from an early age, restrict the opportunities to become who we ought to be. With an educational system that trains us rather than motivates us to follow our passions it leads us, metaphorically, by the hand out of the cave without the understanding of reality. The students that choose not to be slaves of the educational system are seen as the individuals that are incompetent to society. In Adam Grants’ article, “What Straight-A Students Get Wrong,” the facts from a study conducted in 1962 highlights the incorrect assumptions that society has regarding such ‘incompetent’ individuals.

The study conducted in 1962 by a team of psychologists compared “America’s most creative architects to their technically skilled but less original peers” as Grant puts it. The leading factor of this study was that the creative architects had a history of unsteady grades. Grant states, ‘“In college our creative architects earned about a B average,” Donald MacKinnon wrote, “In work and courses which caught their interest they could turn in an A performance, but in courses that failed to strike their imagination, they were quite willing to do no work at all”’ Grant writes. This expresses that students are motivated to succeed in subjects that appeal to their curiosities and passions. The motivation to follow your passions is the same reasoning why a prisoner that is freed from their chains endures the pain of the light and keeps moving forward to discover ones’ spiritual reality. That is only the case though if we develop an educational system that promotes individuals to follow their passions instead of restricting them.

The materialistic society that we live in drives individuals to follow money instead of their passions. The materialistic idea has overshadowed the “pursuit of happiness,” one of the “unalienable rights” within our constitution. The educational system aids in overshadowing the pursuit of happiness by instilling the idea in the minds of the youth that the only route to success and prosperity is that of obtaining a perfect transcript. The importance of education is a valuable asset within our lives, that is undeniable, but when the line between education and personal enjoyment seizes to exist is when an individual has to consider if they’re still on their pursuit to happiness. *Not sure if I should break the paragraph here or not*

In the article, “In Praise of Mediocrity” by Tim Wu he states, “lost here is the gentle pursuit of a modest competence, the doing of something just because you enjoy it, not because you are good at it. Hobbies, let me remind you, are supposed to be something different from work. But alien values like ‘the pursuit of excellence’ have crept into and corrupted what was once the realm of leisure.” Tim expresses that ‘the pursuit of excellence’ is beginning to overtake our lives by the demands of society. This issue falls on us as individuals to reinstall a balance into our lives. In order to reinstall the balance between personal enjoyment and the demand of excellence into our lives we must begin by changing the perception of the youth that academic excellence is not the only valuable aspect of life. Studies have shown that these demanding levels of excellence have drastically impacted the mental health of the youth.

The article, “The case for the ‘Self-Driven Child,’ by Gareth Cook states the facts pertaining to the increase of mental health problems in children. William Stixrud says, “since the 1960s we’ve seen a marked rise in stress-related mental health problems in children and adolescents, including anxiety, depression, and self-harm. Just in the last six or seven years, there has been an unprecedented spike in the incidence of anxiety and depression in young people.” The increase of mental health issues is related to the high demands that our educational system has put on young adolescents, providing them with a lack of autonomy. Autonomy is a basic need for individuals, without a sense of self-independence “we experience decreased motivation, or motivation we do have becomes fear-based” says Ned Johnson. The lack of autonomy begins once children are ‘chained’ down to their seats at the beginning of there educational careers since it limits the self-independence as a human being. As a future educator the “Allegory of the Cave” has opened my eyes about the immediate changes we need to make in our educational system. It is a motivational aspect why I want to become an educator, to aid young adolescents to become successful. In the future I hope to encourage students to discover their best qualities to understand that the highest level of academic achievement is not the only valuable thing in life, and motivate my students to follow their passions.

The “Allegory of the Cave” contains a strong connection to my educational career as a young adolescent. For the sake of privacy, I will not be using the real names of the institutions and teachers that I will be using to express this connection. As a young student I was diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), in grade school. The grade school I attended didn’t understand how to aid children with ADHD, metaphorically I was chained down in a school that was unable to assist my unique learning style. For example, my fourth-grade teacher told my parents that I was not doing well in her classes, as my parents wanted better understanding they set up a meeting to discuss this issue. The teacher’s response to why I was not doing well was because, “Chase doesn’t tuck his shirt in at school.” A response that had nothing to do with why I was performing poorly academically but an ignorant response that symbolizes the chains that were holding me down. It was not until the fifth-grade when these chains began to loosen, the teacher I had understood how children with learning disabilities function.

The fifth-grade teacher allowed me to be active in the classroom as she understood I couldn’t fully comprehend the material if I was made to sit in the same position for long periods of time. As a nine-year-old I didn’t understand the positive impact she had on my learning within her classroom. The remainder of the years after fifth-grade I wasn’t given this right within the classroom metaphorically tightening the chains again that held me down. It was not until high school when I began to understand the learning disability I had. The two main teachers that had a profound impact on me instilled the inspiring qualities of a teacher I hope to become. These mathematics teachers aided the ability to discover the best qualities I contained within myself. The day I believe that broke the chains holding me down and began to lead me out of the dark cave was surprisingly when my senior mathematics teacher was absent. This may be shocking, if he had such a profound impact on me then why was it a good thing that he was absent? It was a good thing because he left a note for the substitute teacher which said, “if the students have any questions about the material that you don’t understand, ask Chase Nacker he has the strongest understanding of mathematics and I believe he will be able to help.” That day I was greeted at the door by the substitute teacher with said note in hand, this is the day that I was inspired to teach mathematics. That note symbolized the day I began to leave the cave to pursue my passion of mathematics, teaching, and spiritual understanding.

The route to becoming a mathematics teacher is by no means an easy one, the material I have learned and continue to learn is the blinding light after exiting the cave. As I am still in the process of achieving this goal, I haven’t lost the balance between the pursuit of happiness and the pursuit of excellence. It is not a materialistic goal but a passionate goal of mine in an attempt to encompass the same qualities that my senior mathematics teacher has. Since it is a passionate goal, I believe it’s worth enduring the rigorous blinding light of the mathematics material in hopes that one day I to will be able to inspire a young individual to follow their passion.

The “Allegory of the Cave,” metaphorically and symbolically depicts the way we ought to live our lives. By relating the meaning of this allegorical story to the material we have studied, Critical Education Theory and Work and Leisure, the correlation is clear between the meaning of education and Plato’s allegory. It heightens the things that need to be changed within our educational system to encourage the youth to follow their passions. In society individuals who stray from the stereotypical educational routes are seen as the ones’ who are wrong. The people who are praised in society are those with the most materialistic things, rather the people who should be praised are those that truly understand what it means to be happy. The importance that individuals should follow their passions and not society in my understanding is what Plato means to express in the “Allegory in the Cave.”