It happened some years ago now, but I think it could still happen today. I started a conversation without defining my terms. Some teens and I were talking about classical music. At some point it was clear they were thinking of the Beatles and I had Bach in mind. Once they understood how I was using the term, two more things became all too clear. First, they knew very little of orchestral or “classical” music and secondly, they did not wish to do the work necessary to get to know it. When I played just a little of Bach’s most accessible stuff (his Air on the G string, BWV 1068) they recoiled with distaste. Just not our thing, Mr. E. The Beatles were old, but still kinda cool; Bach was dust.
I thought of that moment again recently when talking with teens about Plato’s cave analogy. I was captivated with the collateral response. Plato makes it clear that if the guide returned to the cave to free another “slave” he would be killed if they could get their hands on him. Killed. For leading men into the light of truth! Ask Socrates about that kind of thanks.
Our modern word “educate” has as its roots the meaning, “to lead out.” That is the educational enterprise, according to the word’s root meaning. I can’t contemplate that well without Plato’s cave coming to the forefront my mind. My job as teacher is to educate, to lead those enjoying shadows in the cave out into the brilliant light of the truth. While I can take their hand and lead them, they must follow. There seem to be many who wish to stay in their chains. “We are okay with the Beatles, but kindly keep Bach to yourself.”
I came away from my music discussion thinking about this issue of taste. Lots of questions come to mind. What is good taste? Is there something that defines Bach as better than the Beatles? Who am I to assert that my taste is better than a teen’s? How do you lead someone toward higher tastes? What relationship is there between knowledge and taste? Is it a fair reading of the Cave Analogy to state it involves the improvement or heightening of taste?
Good leading out “converts” the one led. This much is clear in Plato. They don’t want back in the cave once they are used to life in the real world. Their affections have become more rightly ordered. So there is something that occurs in the heart of the one who leaves the cave. None in the cave want to leave, but those who do, do not wish to return. Their tastes have changed. The teacher is a convert themselves, so if they remember the cave, they should have mercy on those still chained. I find myself hanging around the door of the cave and thinking about these things. So few of my students have found their way out into the light. To some extent this is me. But I can’t get past the notion that our society has trained the youth to enjoy the video lit dimness of the modern cave. Come out.