The Philosopher King

Philosopher kings are the rulers of Plato’s Utopian Kallipolis. They are selected through a complex education system and trained in the art of statesmanship. Plato says that all children should be separated from their parents at the age of 10. This is to restrict the influence that their parents have on them. These children will stay in schools, receive training in sports and music till they are 20. At 20, they will go through ‘the Great Elimination’. The ones who fail will make up the economic class of the country. The ones who pass will receive 10 more years of education. Then at 30, there will be another assessment. The ones who fail will go on to make up the military muscle of the country. The ones who pass will study philosophy for 5 more years. Then, at the age of 35, they will go into the world. After battling it out for 15 more years, if they prove their might, they will be philosopher kings! Now what prevents one class from rebelling against the other, you might ask. Plato says religion is the answer. Tell people that the divisions to which they have fallen are God-decreed and irrevocable.

I read about this in The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant and I couldn’t help but think of the Gurukula system. Children sent to live with the Guru, away from parents, at the age of 10 and stay there till they are 25. The divisions that Plato talk about sound like the Varna system. Looks like we had a system that aimed at achieving Utopia, just that it got corrupted at some point. Maybe Plato developed his idea from our system!

Now what brings me to this topic is a debate that I had with a few friends. We were talking about a school in Dubai which insists on students using tablets from the 1st grade. They seemed appalled; saying these kids will not learn the art of writing. This got me thinking; do we write anymore? I still do; since I am used to writing things down and not typing them. But my job does not require me to write anything, and I’m sure almost everything is typed in these days.

Like writing, there might be other skills that we think are essential, but might be of no use to the next generation! And even if the educators decide to change things, the general public might not be convinced. They will insist on their children learning skills that they deem ‘essential’. Our world will be radically different in the coming decades, and yet we are stuck to old ways of thinking. And we pass on these thoughts and prejudices to our children.

So this got me thinking, is it time we tried the Utopian experiment again?  


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