Copyright © 2002 José Cossa
In book VII Socrates discusses the allegory of the cave and parallels it to how he views the role of the philosopher as one who ‘illuminates’ the residents of the state by interpreting the shadows of reality that they saw in the cave. I see in Socrates’ allegory a very penetrating insight into the understanding of the goal of education. Like Socrates, it is my belief that education should play a role in illuminating those who live in ignorance; however, what this allegory brings to mind is the reality of such role in my own continent, Africa, and in light of its educational and political history. This is the approach that I will take to the text.
The allegory presents us with a conflict of values between two realities, i.e., realities within and outside the cave. This contrasting dichotomy can help interpret the dichotomy present in African education from the time of colonialism to this date. Without wanting to equate the cave with Africa, I do believe that such a perception is one that dominates education in Africa – that is, Africans need to be enlightened by subscribing to Western education. From the allegory of the cave, one can learn that such a dichotomy and a reductionistic perception of the process of education can be overcome by understanding that the interpreter’s sensitivity to the reality of those in the cave is crucial when attempting to interpret the reality found outside the cave. The dichotomy presented by Socrates is, in my opinion, a great contribution to education.
My agreement with Socrates’ allegory goes as far as applying it to the fact that there are those whose duty is to illuminate others for the benefit of the overall society or state; however, I argue further that ignorance is relative and that an understanding of both systems is indispensable for those who are called to the duty of teaching and imparting knowledge – philosophers, educators, scholars, policy makers, and leaders in general must seek to understand the worldview of those whom they are called to serve. In short, there is no system or group that can boast right knowledge; therefore, educators must seek understanding of all systems and groups with which they interact. This is also the argument that informs equal education opportunities, which Socrates astutely integrates within his discourse as it progresses.