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Teaching Plato Outside the Cave to Teens | Mary Biever | One Writing Mother

Teaching Plato Outside the Cave to Teens

How could I get teens excited about ancient Greek literature?  Specifically, how could I help my 14 year old son who loves robots lots more than reading get Plato? As I sat on a back deck today, the sun beamed among the trees. I suddenly saw how to help get Plato’s cave. 

I called the teens outside and told them to pull chairs into a line, facing the house’s outer wall.  Then I told them their legs and necks were bound; the only thing they could see was the blank wall.  Sunshine was behind them, but they could not see it. We could make shadows with the sun, onto the wall of the house, but shadows were different from the real thing. This was our version of Plato’s cave.

One girl was “set free.” She walked behind the row of chairs and could see the sunshine.  I told her to note all the things she never saw because all she had known was a wall. Like the prisoner in a darkened cell, the sunshine would take some adjusting.  After she had explained it, I told her to go back to her chair to sit with the others.

I asked her what it felt like to return to the chair to only see the wall.  Depressing. I challenged her to explain what she had seen to those who had only seen the wall.  She struggled to find words, and the teens played along as good skeptics.   She was now the philosopher who had seen things the others never realized.

As a conclusion to the exercise, I noted Plato’s observation that if those who had always been chained got the chance, they would most likely kill the philosopher.

After the real live exercise of Plato’s allegory of the cave, the kids got it.

We sat in the sunshine after that, and I thought about how this applies to us. We think we know the whole universe, and then we see a light and realize we’ve gone from Kansas to technicolor Oz. If we then return to our old wineskins, we struggle to explain to those who’ve never seen the light what we’ve encountered.

Our challenge is to explain what the light is such that people will listen instead of kill us. Those ancient philosophers are more than just a bunch of dead Greek guys. 

Are you in a cave? Have you turned around to see the light? If so, did you share what you saw with others?


2 Responses to “Teaching Plato Outside the Cave to Teens”

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  2. Jual Mebel Jepara Minimalis March 28, 2015 at 3:46 am #

    First off I would like to say fantastic blog! I had a quick question which I’d like
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    Thanks!

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