Dialogue & Education
by ________Posted on May 29th, 2012 at 2:06 pm
In the winter issue of New England Review (32.4), Jonathan Levy makes a compelling argument in “Education and the Human Voice” for bringing the Platonic dialogue back to the schoolhouse. Here’s the beginning:
When I was fourteen I fell in love with Plato. I thought at the time it was because I loved philosophy. In fact, as I eventually discovered, it was because I loved dialogue.
When I got to college, I read Plato in a freshman philosophy course and came to feel that the pleasure I used to take in Plato was cheating, or at the very least childish, like counting on your fingers rather than in your head. Ideas, I learned, were pure thought. The fact that they were articulated and transmitted by human beings in particular circumstances was unfortunate and was as much as possible to be ignored. Plato, it was explained to me, had said something of the sort himself.
I now think that belief was wrong, that it was childish, or more accurately adolescent, since adolescence is the age of simple clarities—Euclid’s geometry and Caesar’s prose, one eternal love, and one flawless politics.
For I later discovered (or rediscovered) that no human endeavor is ever very far removed from a particular human handprint and that most human ideas and all human opinions are inseparable from the people who express them and the occasions on which they are expressed. To understand what is really said and meant, we must hear, at least in our mind’s ear, the speaker’s voice, tone, and inflections; the pauses as well as the words, the rests as well as the notes; and, if possible, we’d want to look the speaker in the eye.
Read more commentary about Levy’s piece at the Literary Chicken blog (“I have no hesitation in believing this and in believing that dialogue, when it’s entertaining and memorable, probably is one of the fastest and most practical ways to get people to pay attention. Hence the popularity of Pulp Fiction”). Get the entire NER issue here.