Sunday, October 22, 2006

Plato's cave

When I was studying for my Masters in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign language) one of the things that drove me almost to distraction was that fact that most of the sources and experts were based in either the UK or the USA. No disrespect, but neither country is a hotbed of successful second language learning. On the other hand, there was little or nothing from educational systems that regularly produce legions of students who feel comfortable speaking two or even three languages.

Here's my dream for the future, I'm dying to find out how in countries such as Morocco, Kenya, South Africa etc people learn to be fluent in French English, Arabic, Berber, Swhahili, Gikuyu and so many other languages with a fraction of the resources available in the schools here. One of the unexpected benefits of the introduction of the $100 dollar laptop is that these teachers and student voices will finally be heard on a global stage. I, for one, can't wait to hear what they have to teach us.

Book VII of The Republic

The Allegory of the Cave

"Here's a little story from Plato's most famous book, The Republic. Socrates is talking to a young follower of his named Glaucon, and is telling him this fable to illustrate what it's like to be a philosopher -- a lover of wisdom: Most people, including ourselves, live in a world of relative ignorance. We are even comfortable with that ignorance, because it is all we know. When we first start facing truth, the process may be frightening, and many people run back to their old lives. But if you continue to seek truth, you will eventually be able to handle it better. In fact, you want more! It's true that many people around you now may think you are weird or even a danger to society, but you don't care. Once you've tasted the truth, you won't ever want to go back to being ignorant!

[Socrates is speaking with Glaucon]

[Socrates:] And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: --Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

[Glaucon:] I see.

And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent."

For the rest of the story click here


Anonymous said...

How right you are! But I'd go further. I'm not just amazed by how all the sources and experts are based in the UK/USA, but by how many of these language learning 'experts' have never mastered a second language themselves. The ELT world is full of people like this, ready to share their wisdom on (and as often as not prescribe) how students need to be taught and what they need to do to learn properly. Yet if you ever hear some of these people try to express themselves in a second language, it really does make them quite hard to take seriously.

teacher dude said...

It just strikes as aburd that these experts are often ignorant of any foreign language. Imagine a car designer who couldn't drive.