Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

LAST week the 'Platos' - annual prizes for the country's best teachers were awarded. Plato (429-347 BC) would have deeply disapproved. The point is that the 'Plato' judges showed virtually no interest in what was being taught. They were interested only in how it was being taught. As a result, personality, communication skills, enthusiasm, imagination and so on were overwhelmingly the criteria for the selection of winners. This approach to something as important as education was anathema to Plato. For him, the prime question was, `What is being taught, and why?' Only when one knew what the end in view was, and why it was the right end, could one have any confidence in a system of education.

Plato would have seen the 'Platos' coming under the same potentially disastrous category of 'skill' as rhetoric, the skill of public persuasion. It was all very well to say in rhetoric's support that it enabled one to express forcefully and persuasively one's own point of view and to win arguments, but the important question was: were the arguments worth winning? What would be the consequence of putting a policy based on that argument into practice?

Plato gives a striking example of what he means in his dialogue Phaedrus. …

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