The Mentality of Education

While looking for an article for this week’s post I stumbled across a piece in The Atlantic that discusses how important one’s thought process is in education. The way Ta-Nehisi Coates discusses his experience of learning French immediately sparked a connection between his experience with French and the slave Plato discusses in Meno. 

The goal of Coates’ article is to demonstrate how important one’s mentality is when trying to learn something new. He indicates that while learning something new, many people feel that their “present level is who [they] are and who [they] will always be,” which is simply not true. Coates indicates that this “‘feeling’ of despair” is the reason so many people give up on their assorted studies instead of continuing to advance.

This discussion of pushing through the disparaging feeling of not advancing in a particular practice directly relates to Socrates attempting to teach the slave about  geometry. At several points during the teaching process, the slave did not think he knew the answer to Socrates’ questions, when in actuality he just needed time to access those answers. The slave did not stop trying to access the information, he just required some extra probing from Socrates to access the correct answer.

I believe this is the same concept Coates is discussing in his article. That although he can speak basic French, similar to the way the slave immediately recalled some aspects of the geometric puzzle presented to him, he still struggled to understand some of the minutia of French, just like the slave and the geometric puzzle. His article draws further connections to Plato’s work when he uses the analogy of someone canoeing from California to China. He indicates that when someone sets of from California headed to China and gets to Hawaii, that may seem like a monstrous accomplishment (comparable to the basic understandings of him and the slave), but there is still a long ways to go before that person gets to China. This analogy directly compares to Plato’s idea that one must continue to be adventurous if he or she hopes to truly understand different principles.

I find it intriguing that arguments from ancient philosophers such as Plato can still be seen in modern articles. Plato’s idea of not giving up on a principle just due to some despair about the lack of knowledge one has and the inability to start searching for is a direct comparison to modern studies on learning. I think that there is also a connection drawn between Coates’ lack of belief in fluency and Plato’s idea of always being able to search for and access more of the knowledge in one’s soul.


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