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Intentional Teachers


When I was in college, one of my favorite subjects was philosophy. Recently, I was reminded how philosophical constructs of the past still apply to current circumstances. Have you ever heard of the Allegory of The Cave by philosopher Plato? What is an allegory? It is a fictional story that has a purpose for teaching and not merely for entertainment. Plato's Allegory of The Cave represents how a changed perspective and learning the truth can be painful, but worth the journey.


Plato speaks about an underground cave where people have been confined since early childhood. They are chained and are only able to the see shadows on the wall before them. Behind them is a raised fire and a 1/2 wall. Puppet masters hide behind the wall and raise carved figures into the firelight that projects a shadow of the figure onto the wall before the prisoners. They hear noises and speaking from behind them, but the shadows are all they see. They are left to their imaginations and contemplations among themselves as to the meaning and truth of what is before them. The puppet masters determine the story and consequently the truth of the shadows.


Plato says that one of the prisoners finds himself released and brought to see the fire, the wall, and the puppet masters. His eyes hurt from the light, and his mind reals as he learns a new truth. His captors take him to the mouth of the cave where he is exposed to direct sunlight and the world above ground. This is a very painful experience both for his eyes and his mind. Everything he believed is now shattered as his perspective is shown to have been totally wrong. He is exposed to reality and this new understanding (enlightenment) cannot be undone.


He returns to the cave with a desire to share his experience with the others. When he steps out of the light and into the depth of the cave, his eyes have trouble adjusting and he stands momentarily blinded. He attempts to share what he has seen above, but the prisoners reject his perspective and question his sanity. They don't want to leave the safety of the cave and everything they know, and so remain in the dark.


Plato challenges his students to consider how difficult it is to gain knowledge of the truth, and sometimes we must be pulled from our comfort to learn what is real. He also shows that the enlightened prisoner has an obligation to return to the uneducated people and bring them into the light. We are living a real-life allegory between darkness and light, what is real and what is true, and many are watching the shadows placed before them by puppet masters. Others have chosen to break free of the chains and step into the light.


When I was researching Plato's original translation of the allegory, I was appalled that one site for teachers made the allegory about how teachers must "drag" their students to what they determine to be true. That sounds more like the puppet masters' approach to learning and not Pluto's. Yes, it can be painful when you learn what you thought to be true is a lie, and sometimes the teacher must be patient with the student's resistance to change, but when exposed to the truth and what is real, it can bring you to a place where you can see more clearly. Once you know the truth, you have an obligation to share that truth with others so they also may be set free.


"Each of you, when his turn comes, must go down to the general underground abode[the world of common, uneducated people] and get the habit of seeing in the dark. . . .When you have acquired the habit, you will see ten thousand times better than the inhabitants of the den, and you will know what the several images are and what they represent, because you have seen the beautiful and just and good in their truth."

Plato

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