Volume 17, Issue 4, December 1994
Rudolph H. Weingartner
Is Reading Plato Educational? Thoughts on Education, Prompted by a Reading of Plato's Meno
The author assesses the complicated issues surrounding the value of Plato's dialogues in college education, offering an historical and textual account of why Plato is readily adopted into the American undergraduate curriculum. Despite this acceptance, students in the classroom often read Platonic dialogues as a body of metaphors instead of a site of significant and practical knowledge. Instructors also frequently emphasize the life of Plato over the philosophical and educational dimensions of the dialogues. The author addresses the educational benefits of reading Plato specifically in terms of how Plato is read in class and the effects of this reading on students’ learning processes. The author offers the example of the Meno, which can instill in students an understanding of education based on knowledge of habit, of the acquisition of skills, and of the process of overcoming intellectual blindness. However, these important pedagogical benefits can be lost if the dialogue is read as a piece of literature or as merely offering insightful metaphors. Thus, the educational value of Plato depends entirely on how Plato is taught, the pedagogical goals of an instructor, and the engagement of students with the material.