I love teaching Plato’s Allegory of the Cave to young thinkers. Like all classics that have withstood the test of time, the Allegory is endlessly rich in meaning. Depending on the age I teach I ask students to read the Allegory themselves, we read it together, or I act it out – for particularly young thinkers. And then we start exploring. Who are the prisoners? Who locked them there? What would it be like to leave the cave? How would you feel? Would you go back to tell the other prisoners what you found outside…?
I pose a couple of questions and carefully step back as kids’ imaginations run wild and they start to envision themselves in the cave, start to ask questions, to seek understanding.
I am in awe when young kids begin to interpret the Allegory. One told me the Cave, for her, was stereotypes – false thoughts about others you have picked up in the shadows society casts, and which are difficult to shed. A different student compared the Cave to the sad thoughts that can haunt you, even when they are not true, trapping you in sadness. These are incredible sociological and psychological insights, presented by kids under 14.
The ability to critically assess an allegory and apply it to distant and current events, to empathize with others, and engage with ethical dilemmas – these is what a critical education seeks. How to achieve it? Give kids rich texts, share the texts with them in a safe space, and step back. Let children explore and let them tell you what they think. Do not under-estimate how deep and sophisticated children are.
(Image by: By JohnD'Alembert - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46630324)