Allegory of the School

A dialogue between S. Crates and G. Laucon about the school:

S. Crates: Here is a parable to illustrate the ways in which our teaching may be enlightened or unenlightened. Imagine the condition of teachers instructing in a school with no connection to the outside world. Here in this school, these teachers have taught side by side since the beginning of their careers. They would often share opinions on teaching and these opinions were always based on their common tradition and training. Their classrooms have no windows and nothing exists beyond their walls.

G. Laucon: I see.

S. Crates: Now imagine that the teachers in this school heard whispers of teaching taking place outside of these walls. Naturally, the teachers within this school would assume that if such teaching was in fact taking place, it would mirror their own in practice and procedure.

G. Laucon: Yes, I can see how they would think that way.

S. Crates: And if we understand this notion, then the teachers within the school would inevitably view their school as a reality of teaching as well as learning.

G. Laucon: Naturally, yes.

S. Crates: Now consider what would happen if one of these teachers was suddenly taken out of this school and placed in the outside world. He would have access to other teachers in various locations and with various backgrounds. This teacher would talk to teachers, parents, children and other educators to learn how teaching and learning looked in different schools that did in fact exist. Would not this teacher be perplexed and their sense of reality be challenged?

G. Laucon: Most certainly it would.

S. Crates: And if this now freed teacher was forced to visit other schools and connect with teachers around the world, would his perception of school reality even further change?

G. Laucon: Yes.

S. Crates: Now suppose that someone were to expose this teacher to all that is new and innovative in teaching. Would he not suffer pain and discomfort from the realization that his perception of teaching and learning was not real as well as the overwhelming nature of all that was new and different around him?

G. Laucon: Certainly he would be overwhelmed and not able to process all he was experiencing.

S. Crates: He would need time to grow accustom to all that he was seeing in the outside world. At first he would only hear of things in passing but eventually his skills would sharpen and his communication would be honed. After a period of time he would begin mastering the use of new tools and pedagogy the he previously was sure did not exist.
G. Laucon: Yes, surely he would.

S. Crates: Finally, he would be to able look at the outside world of teaching and connected schools and recognize the value and power of such exposure. He would begin to draw conclusions about the true nature of teaching and learning and how his own understanding of teaching had changed. One such conclusion would be the value of open communication and connection between schools and teachers.

G. Laucon: I can see how he would draw those conclusions.

S. Crates: At this time his mind would fall back upon his fellow teachers from his own school. He would surely be happy in the knowledge he had gained and feel sorry for those who did not leave as he did. Those teachers still in his school were in the habit of commending each other on sticking with their traditions and standard practice. Would our escaped teacher be likely to go back to the school and back to his old beliefs and teach in the old way? 

G. Laucon: I cannot see how he could do that.

S. Crates: Now imagine the teacher were to come back to his school and take up his former position. Coming suddenly in from the outside world, his mind would struggle to go back to his old ways of teaching. Now imagine once again these teachers start sharing their opinions of teaching. This now returned teacher would share new ideas and ways to teach that would be different from what the others knew. The other teachers would grow angry and mad at this teacher for trying to ruin their reality. This teacher would even try to open the doors and force the others out and expose them to the outside world and the same experiences that he himself had. However, they would not want to leave and instead would shun the teacher and ignore them.

G. Laucon: Yes, I understand why they would do that to him.

S. Crates: Every aspect of this parable illustrates the ascension of knowledge within a school. Knowledge cannot be achieved within the walls alone but rather through exposure and a multitude of experiences. However, many of the teachers in the school were not ready to be exposed and therefore resent and fear the change and those individuals that bring it. Without having seen another way, no one can act with the wisdom to change either their own reality or those around them.

This was my attempt to reinterpret the Allegory of the Cave which is a conversation between Socrates and Glaucon.


Chris Wejr said...

Hey Stump - we spent many hours discussing Plato's Allegory of the Cave while in my master's and it caused us to reflect in deep meaningful ways. Thanks for bringing this back to me... Lots on my mind again.

Josh Stumpenhorst said...


Thanks for the comment and taking the time to read. I was recently talking with my friend and philosophy teacher about the concept of the cave and I honestly had never read it. After reading it, it struck a cord with me about how some of us are exposed to so many things that other teachers are not. Some of us go to conferences, "talk" with other teachers online, read blogs and a whole host of other things to improve our craft and create more variety in what we do in our work with kids. The follow up to that is once we have this new knowledge is how he bring it back our schools in an authentic way that people will acknowledge and accept. I often feel as though I have left the "cave" and I try not to get killed when I come back...



dmfouts said...


Fantastic. As a philosophy teacher who uses the Allegory of the Cave as a key theme for teaching and learning, I think you may a 'slam dunk' point with respect to teacher/school learning.


dmfouts said...

... to keep going with this... When I teach the Allegory of the Cave in my philosophy class the point I like to bring up is that the person (in this case the 'teacher') who leaves the cave and then returns has PITY for the people who never left the cave-- since they grow, become educated, see the 'light' and so on... Conversely, the people in the cave have PITY for the person who left. So they both pity each other. This is the huge communication chasm that must be bridged which -- when applied to education-- is quite large.

The other connection that you allude to that is so important is the idea that learning involves pain and discomfort. As teachers, it's important to recognize this fact when we embark on changing our practices. Thanks again Josh..

dmfouts said...

... to keep going with this... When I teach the Allegory of the Cave in my philosophy class the point I like to bring up is that the person (in this case the 'teacher') who leaves the cave and then returns has PITY for the people who never left the cave-- since they grow, become educated, see the 'light' and so on... Conversely, the people in the cave have PITY for the person who left. So they both pity each other which is a prescription for stunted growth. This is the huge communication chasm that must be bridged...

Thanks again Josh...

Josh Stumpenhorst said...


Thanks for the comment and especially for the reflection on the idea of PITY in both the person who leaves and those who stay behind. I never thought about it in that way but there is a great deal of truth. I initially thought it was jealousy but not knowing what you are missing, you can't exactly be jealous...thanks for further stretching my thinking.

Anonymous said...

After attending a conference at another school in Kuwait this weekend, I've been thinking a lot about how important it is to get out and see other schools. It is incredibly easy to get negative and down on your school and your situation...but seeing how it is in other schools can help you to appreciate everything you have. It was a great experience for me!