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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Is Plato's Cave a Classroom?

I used to teach ancient world history & was therefore able to expose students to Plato's Allegory of the Cave.  Here are two interpretations if you have never read the Allegory from Plato's Republic





I'm not sure why this idea crossed my mind recently, I haven't taught the allegory for a few years.  I used to reenact the story with my students.  I had a few students sit down and face the front wall, with a projection of shadows created by images.  We would go through the entire process of having one person escape, see the images, leave the classroom (we would all leave), go outside, see the shadows created by the sun, see the real objects, see the sun, return to the cave and profess to the remaining prisoners that we have just seen reality...so how does this have any connection to teaching, education reform and teaching with embedded technology?

I like to consider myself the prisoner from Plato's allegory who has escaped the cave, seen reality and has returned to spread the word.  I read blog posts of educators I respect, read often about education reform and do my best to integrate technology into my classroom, not for the sake of using technology (as I did a few years ago), but to support learning goals and promote learning.  I do everything in my power to share my perspective by presenting at MassCue, NERC and by facilitating training sessions at my school and in various school districts.  I offer free drop in after school workshops at my school (twitter, google docs, live binders, blogging, wikis, podcasting, movie making...).

When Plato's prisoner returned to the cave, he is laughed at by the remaining prisoners because he has difficulty seeing in the dark cave and can't make out the shadows projected on the wall.  He can no longer perceive their reality.  Plato even suggested that if the escaped prisoner were to attempt bringing anyone else out of the cave, he would be killed by the prisoners.

In my perception, Plato's prisoners laughed at the escaped prisoner and mocked his inability to see the shadows because they were uncomfortable and threatened by the idea of change, that there could possibly be a reality beyond what they understand.

I often think that Plato's Cave is a classroom.  The teacher being the person holding the objects in front of the fire, the students being the prisoners who perceive the projected shadows as reality.  There are hundreds, if not thousands of educators who have escaped this cave, have seen the reality that is available in our classrooms through reform and technology integration.  However, for many educators and students, Plato's cave is still reality.  There is resistance to change, disbelief that change is possible and just as Plato's prisoners laughed at the prisoner that escaped, educators who advocate for change and technology integration often find themselves in the same position as the escaped prisoner...

1 comment:

  1. This is great on a few different levels. My 6th grade gifted students did an activity with the Allegory (wish I had those videos back then!). They totally loved it, and got into it. I also completely agree that some teachers are unwilling to change, and they tend to shun those of us who are trying to "enlighten" them. I've gotten to the point where I dread being asked by my department chair to share things, and that is sad.

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