Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

COLLEGES and quadrangles, disturbed during the summer only by the shriek of garden machinery carefully designed to make thinking and writing impossible, now thud to the cretinous beat of rock music. The students have returned, in even greater numbers than before.

Plato devised a method for determining whether anyone was serious about education when in 361 Bc he was reluctantly persuaded to attempt (for a second time) to turn Dionysius II, tyrant of Syracuse, into a philosopher-king of the sort he was convinced could alone cure the troubles of mankind. In his famous Seventh Letter, Plato described the test he invented which was calculated not to compromise the dignity of the learner, ,especially one as full of second-hand ideas as Dionysius'.

Briefly, it consisted of revealing to the pupil `the nature of the subject as a whole, and all the stages that must be gone through, and how much labour is required'. Those with the `divine spark' for learning in them would find the way of life described `so wonderful that they will pursue it with all their might if life is to be worth living'. …

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