Is Earth our Prison? The Allegory of the Cave, Plato

In Plato’s allegory of the cave, written in The Republic in the 6th century BC, without education humanity – and the individuals which make up humanity – are doomed to view an endless train of shadows, projected on a wall in front of our eyes, as we sit chained in place, unable to look around and see the origin of the shadows, nor any alternatives to the images they create.

The restrictions on educators and, as I think about it, anyone in a role with a job description, tempt us to think that those bullet points are the only measure of success. We watch the results of what we do dance on the wall from the very well-entrenched positions we have held, or are expected to hold, hoping that those who judge us do so because the shadows are what are expected – or perhaps exceed expectation but in a familiar way. The cave doesn’t change, the shadows still move, but it is familiar, everything in its rightful place.

The reason I raise this is that I fear that though we have immense opportunity to throw off our chains and, despite the blinding light, climb our way to a new and different way of seeing reality and interacting with it… those chains are comfortable. We might resent having them but we also repel ideas that might break them away.

Technology hasn’t just broken our chains in many respects, it has also completely demolished the cave. Soon, many of our comfortable caves will simply not exist: automated robots will repair your car and your heart (sorry mechanics and surgeons); networks of knowledge will replaces schools as centres of learning (so what can schools become that assist and support this reality? and what more should schools provide than just basic blocks of information?); cars will be driven for you. According to some experts (such as Daniel Petre who I heard speak at Social Ventures Australia’s #EdDialogue this week), 30% of jobs that currently exist will cease to by 2030. (In particular, in the non-creative/information/interpersonal industries.)

That means the current students in Kindergarten – and soon including my own niece and nephew – cannot count on a getting guaranteed job in Australia unless they excel in coding, creativity and communication or a combination of all three. This should absolutely chill us to our core, and be a source of constant innovation and drive to upgrade our economy. The 21st century is already leaving us behind.

What forces keep us chained in our caves? What can help us and our students stand up and see a new reality of learning? How many already are throwing off their chains despite our best efforts to keep them seated?

Let’s get thinking.