On fires (metaphorical)

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Novelist, playwright, philosopher, and MacArthur genius Rebecca Goldstein has just written one of the most insightful books on education you'll ever read — and almost no one in education is talking about it.

Probably that's because it's not "about" education — it's about Platonic philosophy.

Except that means it is about education.

Goldstein's Plato spends much of the book talking about the essence of learning, and teaching. His major metaphor: fire.

The fire for the subject and the fire for the teacher are intermingled in the receptive student. 

It’s only by proximity to the beloved teacher,
himself or herself on fire with love for the subject,
that the fire can leap over and be kindled in the student
in a self-generating blaze of understanding.

I love this. Goldstein hurls the twenty-four-hundred-year-old Plato into our modern educational wars, which idiotically insist we pick one: teacher-centered (Reformists) or student-centered (Constructivists) or subject-centered (Traditionalists).

Education, Goldstein's Plato tells us, is precisely the intermingling of all three: teacher and student and content.

And the thing that binds them together? Love.

Plato, in Goldstein's telling, puts love at the center of education.

The subject? Worthy of love. The teacher? In love with the subject — and with the students. The students? In love with the teacher — and hence with the subject.

The love is fire: it blazes, it leaps.

Can you imagine this — schools where more-or-less everyone is on fire for what they're studying? Can you imagine anything more likely to nurture the students who can mend the world? Can you imagine anything further from the schools we currently have?

I can't. But it's what I'm excited to devote the rest of my life toward cultivating.

Oh: the book is Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away, and it can be found at most Barnes and Noble's. Read it — especially the fourth chapter. Happy holiday shopping!

(For an earlier post on love, check out "Our Trinity #1: Love".)

Brandon Hendrickson

Seattle, WA