Like a chocolate-enthusiast studying the genius of a Reese’s Peanut butter cup, or a junkie studying the sinister allure of the speedball, scholars have examined the relationship between education and politics throughout the centuries. Largely an issue of how to educate a citizenry that is respectful and conducive to society, those with political might and power deliberate on the desirable means of education. Such wasn’t always the case. Education (and its burden) was once concentrated within the family: parents shared the responsibility of educating their offspring. As civilizations developed, politics came into fruition, and individual liberties were greatly reduced in favor of a larger, cooperative society. It became evident that the traditional, family-oriented education system was not ideal for the development of society; more structured systems of education were necessary.
So what is to be done? How is the state supposed to foster and sustain education? Plato, the first to fully formalize an entire educational system driven by the sate, is arguably the most influential figure when discussing the politics of education. This essay discusses how Plato uses Socrates and The Republic to propose a systematic form of education controlled by an autocratic state. Regulated from pre-birth to death, the rigid model heavily relies on absolute planning, execution, and oversight from the state in order to effectively lead citizens towards virtuous and enlightened lives (that being the ultimate goal of education for Plato). A strict curriculum, exhaustive censorship, and the perpetuation of propaganda are integral features to Plato’s model and necessary for the sustainability of the ideal state.
To effectively grasp the context and reasoning surrounding Plato’s model for education, it is necessary to have a basic understanding of Plato’s emphasis on the importance of virtues. Plato outlines four virtues—wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice—whose influence dictates his educational model. The ultimate goal of education for Plato is to fashion citizens who encompass these four virtues seamlessly, in turn leading to a virtuous society and ideal state. But how does Plato arrive at this conclusion? Why? Socrates initiates the discussion by asking “What is justice?”. If justice is attainable—at the individual level and more importantly, the societal level—then it becomes necessary to ask what it is that would support such a just republic. What virtues support a just republic and how do we teach them? These questions provide the foundation for Plato’s educational system, giving it legitimacy and purpose.
The four virtues are first—formally and comprehensively—discussed in Book Four of The Republic. Wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice are concluded to be the most crucial for securing a just republic; those who embody Plato’s four virtues lead to the ideal state. Wisdom—the ability to see clarity in all things and discern right from wrong—provides an intellectually sound relationship for citizens, in which rationale and understanding lead to a more fulfilled cooperation. Courage—the ability to put your life on the line fighting and defending your state and its ideals—fashions citizens who are loyal and determined to the longevity of the state. Moderation—having an understanding of your determined place and adhering to such an understanding—ensures a citizenry that is disciplined and works together. Finally, justice—of which only the nature is understood—imposes a defined system of regulation within society, allowing for stability and civility. It is important to note that all four virtues largely revolve around the relationship between people and their society, i.e. they are political in nature. By ascribing attainment and fulfillment of these virtues to the ultimate goal of education, Plato renders education political: education only serves for political ends, ensuring cooperation within society. Understanding the virtues as the end-goals of education allows for a greater understanding and depth of the prominent features in Plato’s education model.
The state is the sole planner for the education model to be implemented in society. By wielding absolute power, the state formulates a strict curriculum revolved around both physical and musical education. Such a curriculum ensures an ideal balance between the physical and mental state, in which students embody the four important virtues. It isn’t until Book Three of The Republic that a clear idea of Plato’s intended curriculum begins to take hold. Here, Socrates makes the claim that the only necessary types of education are “physical” and “musical”… striking the right balance between the two types is both ideal and necessary for producing virtuous citizens. Simply put, physical education nourishes the body, while musical education nourishes the mind. Through physical education, citizens are taught discipline and essential militaristic skill, ensuring the safety and protection of the state. This is where courage (along with moderation) as a virtue is most trained. From a young age, children engage in sports, gymnastics, and other forms of physical activity, harnessing their acrobatic skill and might. Physical education precedes musical education, largely a consequence of little development in the rational mind in young children. Once children reach an age that allows them to productively employ their faculties towards rational ends, musical education is introduced, ultimately allowing for training in the virtues of wisdom and justice. Through musical education, citizens are taught the nature of life. A combination of [manipulated] tales, mathematics, and philosophy guide the curriculum allowing for the concepts of justice, reason, and understanding to be tacit. Strict guidelines for in-depth musical education exist: at the age of 20, students who thus far have exhibited a strong physical and mental presence, are chosen as part of an ‘elite’ group to study mathematics. 10 years later, at the age of 30, the best mathematics students are chosen to study philosophy. From ages 35-50, the advanced group is required to perform public service, effectively employing their lifelong education towards productive ends. This requirement is exemplary of various throughout the curriculum, where students are required to prove their worth in order to advance in their (at this point, musical) education. Remember, Plato’s education model is geared towards a virtuous citizenry; tests are necessary and efficient at ensuring the ultimate goal’s realization. This fits nicely with his theory of specialization, emphasizing that people are to do according to their ability and requirement, in turn, reinforcing moderation as a virtue. Through and through, emphasis on physical and musical education, as well as strict adherence to the curriculum, produces virtuous citizens for a virtuous society.
In addition to being the sole planner for Plato’s educational model, the state is the sole executor. Through comprehensive censorship—one of the largest necessary factors for effective execution of the model—the state ensures manifestation of the educational model, allowing for proper execution of the planned curriculum. For Plato, anything that is taught outside of the explicit curriculum put forth by the state (aka his own) is detrimental to his vision of a virtuous society. Book Ten offers readers the clearest view of this notion, with Plato using Socrates to deride poetry, tales, and epics—particularly that in the Homeric tradition. Socrates outlines how these tales are misleading to young children with little-to-no rationale: “A young thing can’t judge what is hidden sense and what is not; but what he takes into his opinions at that age has a tendency to become hard to eradicate and unchangeable”. According to Socrates, education based on traditional poetry, is flawed for three reasons: poets are imposters who pretend to know all sorts of things when they know nothing (the images and stories they paint are so far removed from reality that they can’t possibly be taken seriously); second, poets only emphasize the negative qualities of humans, which while could be argued to act as a cautionary tale, only serves to provide justification for the wrongdoings of people in that they point to examples of revered characters exhibiting the same negative qualities/wrongdoings; finally, poetry corrupts the reader’s soul, making even the most educated sympathetic for people that are generally not virtuous… examples of which are given throughout Book Ten. What ultimately results is a showdown between education that is founded on philosophy versus that of poetry. Poetry evidently fails to produce virtuous citizens, and so education derived through philosophy and a curriculum imposed by the state and only the state is necessary. Censorship is vital.
The heavy censorship implemented during the necessary step between planning and execution of Plato’s educational model only allows for the state to introduce and impose its model; it is not sufficient enough to ensure the model’s sustainability over time. The state, therefore, turns to proliferating its set of ideals, effectively creating propaganda. The continued perpetuation of propaganda throughout society is essential to the state’s oversight of the educational model. It should already be evident that the state has absolute control over every aspect of education. They leave nothing to chance, in that every possible thing that could inspire alternative thought is eliminated. Largely, this is in the form of censoring poetry. However, Plato isn’t ignorant to the importance of imagination, nor the power of poetry, tales, and epics in and of themselves. He recognizes its merits and understands that a diversity of opinion only strengthens the [rational] mind. To compensate for the state’s mass censorship, Plato suggests the creation of new poems, tales, and epics… ones that would manipulate student’s minds and imaginations in the state’s interests. Plato ultimately invents propaganda. The goal is to create tales that are direct in nature; they don’t make it hard for children to discern right from wrong, and the importance of Plato’s four virtues are vigorously emphasized. In Book Three, Socrates outlines an example of how this can be achieved. Say, the state wants to ensure that people understand that solely the philosopher-kings are forever to remain the rulers of society. It would then be in the interest of the state to create a tale, a myth, that would manipulate citizens into thinking so. Socrates offers a potential myth, often coined as “The Myth of the Metals”. In it, the original peoples were born from the natural earth, in turn ensuring dedication and servitude to that place on Earth, just as they would to parents. Additionally, different citizens have different metals within them according to their ability: rulers have gold, auxiliaries have silver, and producers have bronze. An oracle states that only those with gold within them may rule, or else their society will be devastated. While unlikely, it is possible for people to produce offspring with different metals than theirs, therefore justifying the state’s monitoring of the children throughout their development. The state would hate to miss on a potential philosopher-king simply because their parents weren’t fit. Ultimately, the myth proves how the state will never fail to ensure that only those fit to rule will remain rulers. Seeing the powerful effect that such a myth would have on society and Plato’s ultimate end-goal for education is crucial to understanding the importance of propaganda and its sustaining of the state’s ideals.
The amount of time and space invested on Plato’s educational model in The Republic may be surprising to most. The parameters of this essay unfortunately restrict the freedom to truly dive deeply into the text to uncover all things related to his model, however it is highly encouraged to read The Republic itself, along with other sources. Outside of a deeper understanding of the features discussed above, reading the text will provide for a greater appreciation of the influence that Plato and his model exert over the relationship between politics and education. Recurring themes from The Republic have been and remain evident in different respects throughout the world. Plato heavily influenced contemporary philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau in his own influential educational treatise, titled Emile. In the literary world, George Orwell—in his tour-de-force novel, 1984—essentially created a world where Plato’s educational model is heavily borrowed from, if not mimicked. And even today, the effects are all around us…at the very least prominent in constitutional democracies/forms of government. These governments have adapted to the notions of free, compulsory, state regulated systems of education, also known as the “public school”. These are but a few examples of the weighted importance of The Republic and its deliberations on education.
 A combination of cocaine and heroin injected directly into the bloodstream.
 Plato notes earlier in The Republic, that an ideal society has its citizens divided into 3 classes: the producers (farmers, artisans, etc), the auxiliaries (warriors, defenders), and the guardians (rulers, those in charge)
 “Music” being used loosely to encompass all forms of education that are essential to the mind.
 These tales are to be taught at a young age. They are manipulated in that they are censored and fashioned as propaganda for the state (to be discussed later in the essay). The goal of these tales is to highlight the four virtues, teaching the students the positives of human characteristics.
 Outlined earlier in The Republic and exemplified in the 3 ideal class systems
 Comprehensive censorship provides the education model with a homogenous, untainted foundation for knowledge, in which anything that is even remotely outside of that foundation is completely eliminated. This allows the state to start with a clean slate, adding anything that they deem necessary to the curriculum. This paragraph will focus on the censorship of arts and poetry.
 Which, keep in mind, was the education for the Greeks at the time.