divine madness

February 6, 2018

Possession and madness comes from the Muses. This takes hold upon a gentle and pure soul, arouses it and inspires it to songs and other poetry, and thus by adorning countless deeds of the ancients educates later generations. But he who without the divine madness comes to the doors of the Muses, confident that he will be a good poet by art, meets with no success, and the poetry of the sane man vanishes into nothingness before that of the inspired madmen.

Phaedrus (245a)

face away

Strange as these words may sound I often play with the idea that when all the social theories collapse and wars and revolutions leave humanity in utter gloom, the poet — whom Plato banned from his Republic — may rise up to save us all.

Isaac Bashevis Singer
Nobel lecture (1978)

Socratic theory suggests two different types of knowledge: firstly, everyday facts, the trivia that keeps us going, including that all important “job knowledge”, craft skill, etc; secondly, most importantly, how best we should live! While this would appear simple and straight forward, the master, Socrates’ (according to Plato), explains it isn’t – far from it. Most people live in ignorance regarding matters of ethics or morality.

He rejected out of hand the “pursuit of knowledge” for its own sake. He saw this as delusional. Instead he wanted to “educate” by challenging, and questioning each individuals level of ‘knowledge’ of how best to live! Thereby, he believed, improving each person morally, ethically and intellectually.

In the Republic Plato advanced the concept of elementary education (for boys and girls) up to age eighteen. The syllabus would consist of music, the arts and gymnastics. Military training would follow. At twenty years of age, higher education would be an option for those with an aptitude for science, the individuals selected going on to study mathematics, geometry, harmonics and astronomy. At age thirty, further selections would take place, and the successful candidates would go on to study philosophy, metaphysics and logic for five more years.

There is much that seems “modern” in Plato’s Socratic educational system outlined in the Republic. Which, in itself, I find a tad frightening…after all said and done, there’s not many systems within a modern society that reflect so closely Greek theory from 300BC, is there? We seem perhaps to have adopted (or adapted) the Socratic model over the years, but more recently discarded the most important elements of it – the fact that “pursuit of knowledge” of and for itself is useless! and the fact knowledge of how best to live in a society, knowledge of morality, ethics and the “common good” is central to the system.

Andy Clarke, Asda’s Chief Operating Officer, according to the Times has said: “”No-one can deny that Britain has spawned a generation of young people who struggle to read, write or do simple maths. That’s why we’re finding packs of nappies discarded in the booze aisle as the last few pounds are spent on alcohol rather than childcare.”

I can’t help but feel our young people ultimately are being abandoned to ignorance – by our government and our education system! I have sympathy with the view expressed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau that elementary education is simply coercion. The child is an empty bucket to be filled by the ‘teacher’. The teacher is bigger than the child. Rousseau felt that at age twelve the child should decide for him or herself if they wanted to continue in school.

Unfortunately, today, the view is if young people aren’t in school they’ll be on the street causing trouble – or increasing the unemployment statistics. Yet couldn’t children of twelve (if they don’t wish to attend school) start acquiring ‘life skills’? Are there no community projects that youngsters could become involved in? Projects that assist the vulnerable – old people, children, small businesses; gardening, painting, decorating. What about apprentice schemes for twelve plus?

My father left full time education at age thirteen (with millions of others) and went to work in a busy dockyard. He was welding boiler plates at age fourteen. Life was harder then, true. “Expectations” were different. I do not advocate a return to those “good old days”, but I do suggest we should change our approach to young people and their education. If children don’t attend school, and many don’t, what are the alternatives for them? More coercion? Penal servitude for the parents? Hanging?

And what do we really mean by education? Morality and ethical behavior should, surely, be central to it, for all our sakes – shouldn’t it? Get that correct and much else will follow.

And what of the youngsters in school when they hit sixteen? Higher education? Ultimately, university perhaps? Education for education’s sake? Is that really what we want and need?

The number of people with university degrees I’ve interviewed who, when asked what career had they in mind with their choice of degree course, simply shrug and say: “Well it was a subject I liked at the time”, or “Well, I had to do something…”

Rarely did the course and career match at all.

Education has become little more than a political football. Remember PM Blair’s mantra of “Education, education, education”? In reality it equated to ‘dumbing down education’ and debt, debt, debt for those going on to University. You don’t think so, see HERE.