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 Boarding School and Platonic Pedagogy


Public School and the Platonic Ideal


Alastair McIntosh



Published in Boarding Concern: The newsletter of the Association of Boarding School Survivors, p. 7, Winter 2004.


[US readers please note that in Britain, the term "public school" is applied in the opposite way to what makes sense and to how it is applied in the U.S. A British public school is an elite private school, and many have traditionally served as places to which the relatively rich send their children away for education ... and for, as the title of Nick Duffell's  book puts it, "the making of them". See my discussion of this vis-a-vis landlordism at http://www.alastairmcintosh.com/articles/1995_echoes.htm ]




Alastair McIntosh is a remarkable man born on the remote Scottish island of Lewis, a scholar-philosopher and eco-activist, author of a highly recommended book, Soil and Soul (Aurum Press 2001), and a former director of the Centre for Human Ecology in Edinburgh. Although not a BSS [Boarding School Survivor], he is a great supporter of our work who describes The Making of Them as "the most important book I have ever read on the inner anatomy of establishment power in Britain".  


He sees the in the BS system the refinement of the pro-rational, anti-life and elitist philosophy that is responsible for the alienation within our society and for the disrespect we bear for the planet. 


Below he shares a brief meditation on the philosophical underpinnings of the separation of children from their parents in the cause of elitism - Nick Duffell.




Plato’s Republic has been the most influential of all political works from classical antiquity. What, then, were the eugenic and pedagogical principles that his Socrates recommended for the "philosopher king" aristocracy of "guardians"?


A system of rigged lots would ensure that the "best" bred together and bred frequently. In addition, just deserts for a male war hero were to be that, "as long as the campaign lasts, no one whom he wishes to kiss may say him nay, in order that if any soldier be in love, whether with male or female, he may be more eager to carry off the prize of valour (468 Stephanus, trans. Lindsay).


Because "the race of the guardians is to be pure," officers appointed to manage eugenics would place "the children of good parents … into the rearing pen, handing them over to nurses who will live apart in a particular portion of the city; but the children of inferior parents and all defective children that are born to the others [shall be] put out of sight in secrecy and mystery, as is befitting" (460). These same officers would "also superintend the rearing of the children, bringing the mothers to the nursery when their breasts are full, and taking every precaution to prevent any woman knowing her own child, and providing wet-nurses if the mothers are not enough …  [ensuring that] the mothers do not give too much time to suckling the children" (460, cf. 541).


Male and female guardians alike were to be educated as "both warrior and philosopher" (525). As such, the curriculum was to comprise gymnastic, harmony, the crafts, and of particular importance, such sciences required for generalship as arithmetic, geometry and the navigational skills of astronomy. Guardian infants were to become battle-hardened and versed in equestrian skills from a tender age. "Do you remember," says the Platonic Socrates, "that we declared that even in battles the children must be taken on horseback to look on, and must be taken near the fighting line if safety allowed, and have their taste of blood like puppies?" (537, c.f. 467).


Plato’s pedagogy was strongly influenced by that of ancient Sparta. How much of this knocked on via The Republic to the British ruling classes? Well might we ponder.




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16 Dec 04