Tag Archives: Plutarch

Education – past and present…how about the future of it? (The end of the article)

On this Sunday, we have come to the end of my rather long article on education. I hope, though, that you will help me to continue this discussion by sharing your own thoughts and contemplations on the subject, especially, when it comes to the matter of the future of education. Not only in a location where we reside and work but rather through a borderless thought processing. Does each of us, if any at all, have responsibilities as far as at least providing an input to the designated teaching and learning systems? If so, what do we aim to accomplish, if anything at all? Why does this all matter; education, that is? To what extent should it matter, if it is vital in our lives at large? What does it mean to light the fire for anything? For education. Or for life.

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  1. Self-Determination Theory

The “theory of motivation,” known in the field of education as SDT has specific areas of concentration that can be summarized as in the following compact overview:

It is concerned with supporting our natural or intrinsic tendencies to behave in effective and healthy ways. SDT has been researched and practiced by a network of researchers around the world. The theory was initially developed by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan, and has been elaborated and refined by scholars from many countries. Deci is currently a professor in the Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology at the University of Rochester, in Rochester NY, USA; Ryan, a clinical psychologist, and was recently appointed as Professor at the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney, Australia.  Together and separately Deci and Ryan have promoted SDT through theory, research and their ongoing training of scholars (www.selfdeterminationtheory.org).

Non-theorist teachers of our century are known to have experimented with SDT at different levels of schooling in order to “kindle the gift of life” in their students, as Dr. Timothy A. Pychyl, professor of psychology at Carleton University reflects in his blog entry, “Education Is Not the Filling of a Pail, But the Lighting of a Fire.” Bringing the field-specific terminology to our times, Dr. Pychyl discusses SDT as the “fire triangle of motivation” on the basis of the theory established by Richard Ryan and Edward Deci:

Their theory is based on three fundamental human needs: competence, autonomy and relatedness. Their science (and there has been lots of it) has demonstrated how each need or component contributes to motivation. The art is in addressing each component as part of the curriculum and regulating them in the students’ environment to maximize interest and approach behaviors (Pychyl).

Pychyl has his own SDT-adjusted approach, adopted from Wilbert J. McKeachie, retired professor of psychology, for which he assumes “autonomy and relatedness together […] as an overall ‘Will’ component,” while he takes “competence as a ‘Skill’ component.” He arrives at the conclusion that the educator needs both constituents “to light a fire for learning.”

Professionals in the field will find a refreshingly different angle in Timothy A. Pychyl’s commentary: his belief that the “Will&Skill” attainment is notsimply the students’ responsibility,” as largely expected by the teachers. When students “lack the will for learning,” he deliberates, they won’t “come into the classroom on fire for learning.” At the same token, when they “lack skills,” they won’t “think they can succeed at a task” and therefore, “won’t feel very motivated to try.”

While in his reflections Dr. Pychyl doesn’t delve at all (not a goal for him) into the Academic philosophy I have been stressing for its crucial role in the service to humanity at large, they fill a gap the majority of today’s designated debates rules out. In exact line with this paper’s argument, he announces with conviction “that ultimately the student must be the fuel for the fire,” but he also makes sure to assign the other critical responsibility to the individuals with whom it belongs: “but that doesn’t mean that educators don’t have a role in lighting this fire. At the very least, we have to spark the students’ interest (Pychyl).”

How this educator suggests to shift the highly imbalanced attention given today to “cognitive activity” to the factor of emotional involvement by students in their own learning process, is yet another all-inclusive teaching trait shedding the field a much-needed “searchlight” (Chesterton) – and yes, not only with learners in mind but also teachers. For clarity: Dr. Pychyl – drawing his argument from that of Carroll Ellis Izard, author of The Pyschology of Emotions, identifies “interest as one of our primary emotions […]” and as such being important “motivational properties.” The question he raises resonates the core purpose of our travel from Ancient Greece to our times and spaces: “Where’s the fire here without that emotion of interest to ignite it? (Pychyl).”

In order to leave something for imagination, I choose not to elaborate on related questions at this point in time, though several come to mind. I suspect one cliffhanger to be awaiting us in the earlier presentations on the role and function of art in all of this. I will, however, bring this section to an end by providing us with a most meaningful quote from Dr. Pychyl’s text:

Tips, tricks and techniques are not at the heart of education – fire is. I mean finding light in the darkness, staying warm in the cold world, avoiding being burned if you can, and knowing what brings healing if you can cannot. That is the knowledge that our students really want, and that is the knowledge we owe them. Not merely the facts, not merely the theories, but a deep knowing of what it means to kindle the gift of life in ourselves, in others, and in the world (Palmer, p. x; Foreword to O’Reilley, 1998).

While theories for teaching attempt to meet the growing needs in our times for different conceptualizations of education than what we are being given, living anecdotes, such as those mentioned in the section above, manage to instill optimism in the observer, even in the active participant. Alternative thought processes, then, suggest a promise for the thorough fulfillment of the ultimately desired outcome, such as the teachings of an Indian guru: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

  1. Transcendental Consciousness

Born around 1918, died in 2008, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is claimed to have “achieved world renown as the Indian guru who inspired the Beatles and was said to have persuaded them to give up drugs (Malise Ruthven, “Obituary.Maharishi Mahesh Yogi”).” In his obituary text, Ruthven, an academic and writer, stresses “the highly successful empire” Mahesh created “out of selling the spiritual techniques practiced by yogis and Brahmins for millennia to companies as aids to stress management.” He continues to add, however that “he never abandoned his claim to be transforming humanity’s consciousness in the direction of universal harmony and peace (he was happy to claim credit for ending the cold war).”

What seems to be the conceptualization of education within the context of Mahesh’s “dynamic philosophy” was his “call to Transcendental Meditation” – a training intended to “inspire a disheartened man and strengthen a normal mind” in order to acquaint one’s self “with the inner divine consciousness (Ruthven).”

Maharishi Mahesh himself has been quoted as having asserted the following as the outcome of education as perceived by him:

Developing the full creative potential of consciousness makes the students masters of their life; they spontaneously command situations and circumstances. Their behavior is always nourishing to themselves and everyone around them. They have the natural ability to fulfill their own interests without jeopardizing the interests of others. Such ideal, enlightened individuals are the result of ideal education – Consciousness-Based Education (consciousnessbasededucation.org).

Two levels of consciousness are of focus in this context – both being representative of “the state of normal human consciousness”: Transcendental and Cosmic Consciousness. The first is defined as “a state of inner wakefulness with no object of thought or perception, just pure consciousness aware of its own unbounded nature. It is wholeness, aware of itself, devoid of differences, beyond the division of subject and object (consciousnessbasededucation.org).” The training for Cosmic Consciousness, then, is conducive to peacefulness:

The bliss of this state eliminates the possibility of any sorrow, great or small. Into the bright light of the sun no darkness can penetrate; no sorrow can enter bliss consciousness, nor can bliss consciousness know any gain greater than itself. This state of self- sufficiency leaves one steadfast in oneself, fulfilled in eternal contentment.

It is a field of all possibilities, where all creative potentialities exist together, infinitely correlated but as yet unexpressed. It is a state of perfect order, the matrix from which all the laws of nature emerge, the source of creative intelligence (Global Country of World Peace).

At this final stage of the paper, one is reminded of Plutarch’s design of the ideal statesman in the face of Maharishi’s idea of world peace through consciousness-raising meditational teaching – with the inherent difference being the time- and space-dictated need of Ancient Greece: noble leaders with love for the works of virtue. Once again, any form of rigid estimation of the future of humanity within the realms of the future of education would be in vain. Would it be feasible to apply serious research on the ideas mentioned here that are still pending under the auspices of theory? Interest will tell.

The two components I have brought into daylight in this essay’s final section only constitute a mere angle into the possibilities humanity has as offerings to improve its present as well as its future through education of its children within a context that is capable of revolutionizing the stagnant teaching methodologies hiding among dead trees in a forest of brand new potentials. Whether theories, such as SDT, or the concept of schooling by Mahesh for the purpose of transcendental consciousness awaits the future of humanity in its improved state of being is impossible to estimate. For there are too many variables – outside ‘interest’ – that can’t thus far be incorporated into any known form of today’s educational systems as was possible for Plutarch to documentable degree. There is a constant, however, that has proven to surpass time and space – even in this essay’s illustration attempts alone. In the words of Plutarch, that component of humanity – or better yet, its aorta, has proven itself to be unchanging as much as we know history to have repeated itself:

Love, like ivy, is clever at attaching itself to any support (PL MOR 1 P241).

Let us not merely maintain love for personal support.

Let us ignite love’s fire to help us direct it to noble conduct and the works of virtue (Plutarch).

Let us turn education from its losing state of having turned against itself (Chesterton).

Let us instill in young individuals, in schools or not, their value as a harmonious personality, not as a specialist (Einstein).

Let us teach children, in schools or not, what they have inside of themselves: pearls waiting to be cultivated with ardor and persistence (Harris).

Let us show the youth that people must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite (Mandela).

Let us light the fire for education, for life, for love.

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Education – past and present…how about the future of it? (Contd. article)

Welcome (back)! My discussion on education will take us today to Mandela’s thoughts on the subject…

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  1. Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

As with Einstein, the life and works of this world leader of global peace and harmony are also surrounded by studies to such broad and comprehensive scope that I see no need to revisit those areas within the context of my essay. In fact, Mandela is known beyond any significant gaps of information that a collection of his statements on education will suffice to help us remember his intelligence and timeless vitality on global scale.


[Photo: Reuters]

With his assertion that twins with Plutarch’s, the following Mandela announcement needs no interpretation:

There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children (Valerie Strauss, “Nelson Mandela on the power of education” in: The Washington Post).

Centering his thought around the future of humanity – children yet once again, the human perfection declares his lesson. And it is impossible to disregard his uniting reference to children at large, not as members of any particular cultural group but rather all within one empowering embrace (“our children”):

The power of education extends beyond the development of skills we need for economic success. It can contribute to nation building and reconciliation. Our previous system emphasized the physical and other differences of South Africans with devastating effects. We are steadily but surely introducing education that enables our children to exploit their similarities and common goals, while appreciating the strength in their diversity (Strauss, “Nelson Mandela”).

As were he to be strolling down the Agora with philosophers of Ancient Greece – with the likes of Socrates or Plutarch, Mandela delivers his own lecture on poetry’s impact on character:

A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special (Strauss, “Nelson Mandela”).

Mandela leads us to realize that matters of humanity haven’t much changed since the period of Ancient Greece, since 19th or 20th century-Europe, or in the 21st century:

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite (Strauss, “Nelson Mandela”).

‘Love for noble labor and the works of virtue,’ are lines from Plutarch I repeated in this essay twice before. With Mandela’s thought of “love” we are only nearer to a better understanding of the ancient teaching aim. This human perfection declares it as a life value to be taught.

The concept of education as I have outlined in this essay, assigns educators the responsibility of helping students lead a richer and fuller life and developing their mental and spiritual qualities to the ultimate. But in the face of such conclusion, we must bear in mind all along what the referent itself, “education,” does not entail. Or, how fluid the boundaries are in the role distribution between an “educator” and a “student.” Isn’t the entire dynamics, rather, all about who first attains the higher level of consciousness in order to begin to enable the other to recognize humans’ interdependency to one another?

One is urged at this point to consider what the future of education may hold for the future of humanity. Two possibilities emerge as objects for potential deliberations, none as subjects of first-time introduction: an educational theory embedded in the shores of non-revolutionary lands and another one housing on the marginal isles of meditative trainings. The discussion in this final stage of the paper will be – as inherent in its purpose – more speculative than open for scientific affirmation, especially when immediacy were to be of demand.

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I remain with the hope of your return visit next Sunday for the final section of my deliberations on the state of education: past, present and future. May the rest of your Sunday and your new week be wonderful in every aspect. 

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Education – past and present…how about the future of it? (Contd. article)

(Thank you for your visit, dear reader, and for your continued interest in my rather lengthy article on education and its past and present conceptualizations, or better yet: re-conceptualizations. Wishing you, as always, a wonderful Sunday and an equally pleasant new week.)

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Education to deliver service to humanity is not a theory limited to Ancient Greece. There are men renowned for their high intelligence but also those lesser known who with persistent passion stood behind their conclusions as to what education is not supposed to be. In the following, a discussion ensues on an intellectual of modern times whose educational philosophy has been largely overlooked in modern ages: Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936).

  1. Life and Work: Selected Facts

Gilbert Keith Chesterton – one of the most unnoticed thinkers of the 20th century, the English biographer, philosopher, writer, poet and literary and art critic has lived in the United Kingdom all his life. He is known never to have gone to college but to art school instead.

 Gilbert K Chesterton

 [Photo: Free Images Online]

Dale Ahlquist has the following relatively unknown life and work details to report on Chesterton in an article in The American Chesterton Society:

In 1900, he was asked to contribute a few magazine articles on art criticism, and went on to become one of the most prolific writers of all time. He wrote a hundred books, contributions to 200 more, hundreds of poems, including the epic Ballad of the White Horse, five plays, five novels, and some two hundred short stories, including a popular series featuring the priest-detective, Father Brown. In spite of his literary accomplishments, he considered himself primarily a journalist. He wrote over 4000 newspaper essays, including 30 years worth of weekly columns for the Illustrated London News, and 13 years of weekly columns for the Daily News. He also edited his own newspaper, G.K.’s Weekly.

Ahlquist also writes about the ease within which Chesterton expressed himself regarding literary and social criticism, history, politics, economics, philosophy, and theology and how this laid-back philosopher “debated many of the celebrated intellectuals of his time: George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, Clarence Darrow.” In an obvious tone of disappointment, Ahlquist adds to say how “the world has immortalized his opponents and forgotten Chesterton,” while, “i]ronically, all of his opponents regarded Chesterton with the greatest affection.” According to Ahlquist’s account, George Bernard Shaw said that “[t]he world is not thankful enough for Chesterton.”

It is long overdue for the world to become thankful for Chesterton’s conceptualization of education, as I argue.

  1. “The Superstition of School”

A significant Chesterton statement resonates the essence of Plutarch’s vision of Academic philosophy, and therefore he is in most appropriate company in this essay:

Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.

Let us not forget the variety of topics Chesterton has covered in his essays of encyclopedic extent, hence how this particular claim by him is not to understand in isolation but rather in close connection to his sociological as well as political contexts – as in the proposed system to the ‘training of a statesman’ by Plutarch.

In his essay, “The Superstition of School,” Chesterton claims with conviction that “without a gentle contempt for education, no gentleman’s education is complete (Classic Essays).” What he demonstrates, when he writes about “the snags of sociology,” is of critical value:

[O]ne of them is concerned with Education. If you ask me whether I think the populace, especially the poor, should be recognized as citizens who can rule the state, I answer in a voice of thunder, “Yes.” If you ask me whether I think they ought to have education, in the sense of a wide culture and familiarity with the classics of history, I again answer, “Yes.” But there is, in the achievement of this purpose, a sort of snag or recoil that can only be discovered by experience and does not appear in print at all. It is not allowed for on paper, even so much as is the recoil of a gun. Yet it is at this moment an exceedingly practical part of practical politics[.] […]

As if to describe our times, he further analyzes the problematic at hand:

The snag in it is this: that the self-educated think far too much of education. I might add that the half-educated always think everything of education. That is not a fact that appears on the surface of the social plan or ideal; it is the sort of thing that can only be discovered by experience. When I said that I wanted the popular feeling to find political expression, I meant the actual and autochthonous popular feeling as it can be found in third-class carriages and bean-feasts and bank-holiday crowds; and especially, of course (for the earnest social seeker after truth), in public-houses. I thought, and I still think, that these people are right on a vast number of things on which the fashionable leaders are wrong. The snag is that when one of these people begins to “improve himself” it is exactly at that moment that I begin to doubt whether it is an improvement.

How in sync do the Chesterton words flow on and on, when one recalls Plutarch’s concern over the ‘improvement of a character’:

He seems to me to collect with remarkable rapidity a number of superstitions, of which the most blind and benighted is what may be called the Superstition of School. He regards School, not as a normal social institution to be fitted in to other social institutions, like Home and Church and State; but as some sort of entirely supernormal and miraculous moral factory, in which perfect men and women are made by magic. To this idolatry of School he is ready to sacrifice Home and History and Humanity, with all its instincts and possibilities, at a moment’s notice. To this idol he will make any sacrifice, especially human sacrifice. And at the back of the mind, especially of the best men of this sort, there is almost always one of two variants of the same concentrated conception: either “If I had not been to School I should not be the great man I am now,” or else “If I had been to school I should be even greater than I am.” Let none say that I am scoffing at uneducated people; it is not their uneducation [sic] but their education that I scoff at. Let none mistake this for a sneer at the half-educated; what I dislike is the educated half. But I dislike it, not because I dislike education, but because, given the modern philosophy or absence of philosophy, education is turned against itself, destroying that very sense of variety and proportion which [sic] it is the object of education to give.

Chesterton delivers the solution to the problem of his diagnosis in no less succinct terms:

What is wrong is a neglect of principle; and the principle is that without a gentle contempt for education, no gentleman’s education is complete. […] the truth of which I speak has nothing to do with any special culture of any special class. […] The moment men begin to care more for education than for religion they begin to care more for ambition than for education. It is no longer a world in which the souls of all are equal before heaven, but a world in which the mind of each is bent on achieving unequal advantage over the other. There begins to be a mere vanity in being educated whether it be self-educated or merely state-educated. Education ought to be a searchlight given to a man to explore everything, but very specially the things most distant from himself. Education tends to be a spotlight; which is centered entirely on himself [sic]. Some improvement may be made by turning equally vivid and perhaps vulgar spotlights upon a large number of other people as well. But the only final cure is to turn off the limelight and let him realize the stars. (1923)

It is not at all difficult to recall at this point as to how the same thought found its home in Ancient Greece in the writings and teachings of Plutarch:

When the intelligence of the new student has comprehended the main parts, let us urge him to put the rest together by his own efforts, using his memory as a guide and thinking for himself. The mind does not require filling like a bottle (PL MOR 1 P257).

As with Chesterton, the sole genius of the 21st century, Albert Einstein was – though quite under-examined for this aspect of his intelligence – a devoted advocate for education as a “searchlight (Chesterton).”

(Next Sunday, “Education and the 21st Century – Albert Einstein and Sydney Justin Harris )

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Education – past and present…how about the future of it? (Contd. article)

(Continued article from last Sunday)

3. Treatise on Poetry, History and Education

For Plutarch, poetry and history constitute the integral elements of Academic philosophy. Poetry and education, then, in the view of this ‘humanist par excellence’ (Encyclopedia Britannica), complement one another:

The Spartan, when asked what he taught, replied: I make honourable [sic] things pleasant to children (PL MOR 6. P9).

This way is the one to help pupils take through their learning toward Plutarch’s ultimate aim and accordingly, carries heavy responsibility in their own improvement of their character:

The memory of children should be trained and exercised; it is the storehouse of learning and the mother of the Muses (PL MOR 1 P45).

Young pupils, Plutarch believes, must be given training in reading poetry, though beyond the metaphorical in order to realize this art will impact character formation and development in the matter people desperately need it later in their lives:

Let poetry be used as an introductory exercise to philosophy. Those who train themselves to seek the profitable in what gives pleasure and to be dissatisfied with what has nothing profitable in it learn discernment, the beginning of education (PL MOR 1 P81).

When pupils “pass from ostentation and artifice to discourse which deals with character and feeling[,]” proclaims Plutarch, “they begin to make progress (PL MOR 1 P421).” By becoming aware on the basis of poetry’s selected principles of their own capability to achieve a higher form of themselves, they will then be able to advance upon a state of being where they can materialize those principles, from which point to enter the path to virtue. Once they achieved that state of being they have attained by themselves, he asserts further, they can contribute to the improvement of others:

Menedemus remarked that: the multitudes who came to Athens to study were at the outset wise; later they became lovers of wisdom; later still orators, and as time went on, just ordinary persons and the more they laid hold on reason the more they laid aside their self opinion and conceit (PL MOR 1 P435).

In the statement above, we see once again the essence of Plutarch’s principle regarding the need for the concurrence of nature, habit and reason in order for the education of character to be achieved. Hence, the interrelated components of the concept behind philosophical education: poetry and history as the two irreplaceable cores of the same element that fine-tunes character. How befitting is the following Plutarch statement, when his ideal of training statesmen from their childhood on is taken into consideration:

We should choose a calling appropriate to ourselves, cultivate it diligently and let the rest alone (PL MOR 6. P215).

And how succinct is his definition of the correctly educated statesman:

Arouse a man to emulate his better self (PL MOR 1 P383).

4. Influence

As stressed at the onset of this article, Plutarch, a phenomenon of human history prompted the development and advancement of essay writing and essayist texts. Far beyond such influence, however, he also left his impact on the emergence of the genres of biography and historical writing (Encyclopedia Britannica). His academic and philosophical presence in Europe is said to have stayed at its peak from the 16th through the 19th century the least.

His literary impact on following generations of authors has been immense: Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare, John Dryden, John Milton, Robert Herrick, George Chapman, Jonathan Swift, Walter Savage Landor, William Wordsworth, Robert Browning, Mary Shelley, and H.G. Wells in England; Ralph Waldo Emerson and Herman Melville in the United States; J.W. von Goethe and Friedrich von Schiller in Germany; and French drama of the late 16th and the entire 17th century; Jacques Myot’s introduction of Plutarch to Sir Thomas North, and Shakespeare’s three plays sourced by Sir Thomas North’s English translation of Lives and from then on, the entire English-speaking regions of the world (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).


[Photo: Wikipedia]

When compared to other Ancient Greek philosophers, Plutarch is not viewed as a profound figure in the field of philosophy. While he may not have added a new component to the arena of philosophy at large, scholars assert that he was instrumental in enabling his students and the public to comprehend the established systems – and not only in Greece but wherever he traveled. I join many critics who see in him ‘a humanist par excellence’ – and therefore justify the extensive space I reserve in my essay on the discussion of his relevant accomplishments as an educator serving humanity.

 (Next Sunday, Gilbert Keith Chesterton and Plutarch’s Academic Philosophy)

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Education – past and present…how about the future of it?

My ailments that had their onset mid-July of this year and had continued through mid-August finally left me on the path to my healing process. Before things went out of control for my health, I had worked on an article for the Inner Child Magazine to be published in August, for which issue I was the Cover Feature. The issue has, of course, been published as scheduled. The article was/is about a topic dear to my heart (and of my lifelong dedication as well as commitment); namely, “education.” Today, I will start sharing with you my deliberations on this subject matter but will do so in several installments – as the text is quite long.  I very much hope you will take interest in how I approach this topic and make subtle suggestions for its re-conceptualization/s. I will follow the same principle with my posts as I had done a while ago with my short story: initially, in smaller sections but then once all text is complete, all at once – in case, you may still prefer to have read the entire article all at once. Please stay tuned. I would love to have you visit again. May your Sunday and your new week bring all that you would wish for yourselves.

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“The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be ignited.”

[Photo: Wikipedia]



Are we to conclude from the Plutarch statement above, the Greek academic, historian, biographer, and essayist merely referred to learning for the sake of his pupils regurgitating information he delivered to them? Note his emphasis on what the mind is not. With urgency, then, a question rises: How does one provide the flame?

Written history demonstrates time and again to what extent the humankind relies on the knowledge and wisdom of its ancestors. When the subject is as challenging of a matter to a century as education is to ours, we need the access to specific branches of those historical libraries. Hence, the reappearance in this article of a most prominent educational philosopher scholarship has explored: Plutarch of Chaeronea.

To begin with, for me to speak through Plutarch in the present format has everything to do with his documented influence on the evolution of the essay genre. His more than 60 essays of ethical, religious, physical, political and literary contents out of his total 227 works are claimed to have had a strongest impact on his contemporaries but especially on the ensuing generations.

There is a multitude of related areas we can explore, or we can delve into as many details as we could draw from available sources. The fact will remain that all data are incomplete. For, what is known about Plutarch’s life constitutes a reconstruction work. Therefore, we will focus on my point of concern: education as conceptualized outside the term’s modern-day boundaries.


  1. Early Life, Schooling and Family


Ancient Greece.Southern Regions


 Physical Map of Greece

[Photos: Free Images Online]


Plutarch’s birth year is given as AD 46. Regards the time when his death occurred, sources dwell on a date after 119. He is believed to have been born to a prominent family in Chaeronea in Boeotia, Greece (arrow-highlighted in the first picture above) and his immediate family (parents, two brothers and a grandfather) as well as extended relations are described as happy and close-knit people. He is recorded as having received a liberal education at the Academy of Athens, studying physics, rhetoric, mathematics, medicine, natural science, philosophy, Greek, and Latin literature. In his effort to bring his education to completion, Plutarch is said to have traveled extensively in Greece and Asia Minor, with visits to Alexandria, Egypt as well (bio.).

There is not much information about this educational philosopher’s wife, other than her name –Timoxena, and her father’s name. While the dates are a blur, one wonders, if it weren’t the deaths of many of his children that prompted Plutarch to his deliberations on theosophy: out of the four sons and one daughter only two sons survived him and his wife. His letter of consolation to Timoxena is most poignant in its mediation to scholars of this prominent world figure’s life-altering events (see cited work section for a link to the entire letter in translation):

AS [sic] for the messenger you dispatched to tell me of the death of my little daughter, it seems he missed his way as he was going to Athens. But when I came to Tanagra, I heard of it by my niece. I suppose by this time the funeral is over. I wish that whatever has been done may create you no dissatisfaction, as well now as hereafter. But if you have designedly left anything alone, depending upon my judgment, thinking better to determine the point if I were with you, I pray let it be without ceremony and timorous superstition, which I know are far from you.

Only dear wife, let you and me bear our affliction with patience. I know very well and do comprehend what loss we have had; but if I should find you grieve beyond measure, this would trouble me more than the thing itself. For I had my birth neither from a stock nor a stone; and you know it full well, I having been assistant to you in the education of so many children, which we brought up at home under our own care. This daughter was born after four sons, when you were longing to bear a daughter, which made me call her by your own name. Therefore I know she was particularly dear to you. […] (Plutarch Letter).

 Plutarch Bust.Priest

[Photo: Free Images Online]

  1. Work

Plutarch’s life was marked with his commitment to education. He is known to have taught in Chaeronea, also lecturing in Rome as well as in other parts of Italy on philosophy and ethics (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). His Moralia, a collection of his lectures, letters and dialogues offers the reader his treatments of an array of subjects, one of which has my concentrated attention in this essay: Academic philosophy.

It is no irony that a saying, “[c]haracter is destiny[,]” originates from Plutarch – foremost a moralist striving to illustrate the influence of character on destinies of individuals and state. His measurement of character entails conducts in war, in politics, and in love. This key concept of designing the human character stands in direct relation to the discussion at hand. In his ethical prescription for life, Plutarch pronounces the following lesson for his pupils:

There must be a concurrence of three things to produce perfectly right action: nature, reason and habit (PL MOR 1 P9. Ancient/Classical History).

The “habit” to which he refers, reveals the emphasis he places on education’s role in bettering a human being: “Character is habit long continued (PL MOR 1 P13).” His following claim sheds a brighter light on this thought:

So that we might acquire a habit of mind that is deeply trained and philosophic, rather than the sophistic that merely acquires information, let us believe that right listening is the beginning of right living (PL MOR 1 P259).

Where does reason, the third element of Plutarch’s character-building system, then, come into play? He answers as in the following:

When the intelligence of the new student has comprehended the main parts, let us urge him to put the rest together by his own efforts, using his memory as a guide and thinking for himself. The mind does not require filling like a bottle (PL MOR 1 P257).

Any statement he makes in Moralia accentuates his central idea behind the role of education for humanity:

While we take pains that children should eat with the right hand, we take no pains that they should hear the right instruction (PL MOR 1 P23).

The “right instruction” for Plutarch entails character building in his students – candidates for future statesmen. Hence, he fine combs through the conditions of their treatment throughout their learning process:

Children ought to be led to honourable [sic] practices by means of encouragement and reasoning and certainly not by blows or ill treatment (PL MOR 1 P41).

That precise preparation of the circumstances will result in, as he asserts with conviction, the desired makings of history:

Dull minds are content to learn the outcome, or general drift of history. The student fired with love of noble conduct and the works of virtue sees much chance in outcomes and is more delighted with the particulars of history where actions and their causes detail the struggles between virtue and vice (PL MOR 7. P373).

In another section of his Moralia, once again, Plutarch lays dramatic emphasis on what education should not be about – simultaneously, underlining a serious dilemma of our times:

Children must be given some breathing space from continuous tasks; the whole of life is divided between relaxation and application. Rest gives relish to labour [sic] (PL MOR 1 P43).

‘Love for noble labor and the works of virtue’: two vital ingredients today’s educational systems lack at large.

 ~ ~ ~

Next week, Plutarch’s “Treatise on Poetry, History and Education” and on his “Influence.” I hope you will stay tuned for those sections and more to come…


Filed under Reflections

For Education: Acts of Cowardice and an Act of Courage

Against the backlash of sickening shouts of joy by numerous Taleban followers during the execution-style shooting of a man amid a forced crowd – point-blank in the head – onto the ground where a headless corps lies and a girl screams while being flocked face down in dirt, all for a so-called lesson by a group of armed men, Malala Yousafzai’s voice rises in confidence: “They cannot stop me.  I will get my education. If it is in home, school or any place.”  All, in the video below.  The man’s head’s image revokes that of the imagined one of Malala in her school bus several months ago.

A statement from Seneca sums up the now widespread news on the cowardice behind the Talebani shooting of Malala in the head and chest: “All cruelty springs from weakness (Seneca’s Morals).”

No, oh no! It is not at all my intent to re-visit that low moment in Malala’s life beyond these words of reminder of her trauma.  For it is, rather, sharing of the most recent, joyous news that is most deserving of her strength: Being discharged from the hospital after her life-threatening wounds, having risen above the impact of the cowardly act by a shooter from the realms of ultra-conservative Islam as well as that of all its representatives.  Malala leaves hospital and addresses the world as the symbol of courage.

Various media speculations guide the reader and/or viewer to the potentiality of a plot behind the shooting of Malala, to which – among many others – “The assassination of Malala’s character,” an arab news article, responds.  Not being a political scientist of profession, of greater importance, though, not ever having cared for the value of any political structure at the level, let alone, above that of the human being, I, with my reflections today, am in obvious act of detest when the cowardice of the ultra-conservative Muslims is concerned – may they hide behind the name “Taleban” or under any other title.

The fact remains the one and the same: Malala wanted to have education be open to her and knew too well that the Koran did not ban her from pursuing it.  Talebani shooters had to face growing fear on account of her “act” of a learned individual: A passion to live under her terms; that is, to lead a life within her rights as a human being.  But also for being educated enough to know that the Holy Book of Islam she believed in was in support of her pursuit when it came to equal rights for education for Muslim boys as well as girls anywhere in the world.

Plutarch is claimed to have said the following regards education: “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”  How relevant of a statement of wisdom when our days are taken into consideration in view of the mind (intended singularity) of the Taleban followers as opposed to that of Malala…

You, dear reader, may – in the words of Gandhi always possess passion and courage for education and thus, “[l]ive as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

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Filed under Reflections