Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

THE Laura Spence affair has raised questions about Oxford's entrance procedures. But this is the wrong issue, as the Greek philosopher Plato (429-347 ac), who invented the university selection procedure, shows. Plato devised his technique when in 361 sc he was reluctantly persuaded to attempt (for a second time) to turn Dionysius II, tyrant of Syracuse, into a philosopher-king.

Plato's test has nothing to do with grades and everything to do with the student. In fact, it puts the student in the driving seat. The interview consists simply 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'. If the student agrees to the demands, he is let in. But only if he keeps up with the pace is he allowed to stay.

Plato had no time for a system of learning that was little more than a matter of picking up, in his phrase, `a superficial veneer, like men developing a sun-tan'. …

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