The Junior Mad Scientist had a problem this morning. We all wound up discussing it for ten minutes. A pool of philosophy in the whirlwind of morning routine. Mornings at the Nut House are a bit chaotic, I will readily admit. One kid is being chivvied through dressing, packing lunch, and take a shower willya? One kid is sniffly and sneezing. One kid is trying to wrap her head around Plato’s cave for an English assignment. Keep in mind all those kids are taller than I am anymore.
So we talked about what the cave is, and what coming out of the cave means. I tied it into the allegory of the blind men inspecting the elephant, and gaslighting. The First Reader pointed out that if she was supposed to write about whether she was in the cave, or out of it, the fact that she was clueless about the assignment should give her a clue right there. She finally threw her hands in the air and declared that she was going to write about not knowing what to do, so she’s a cave dweller.
It’s not a very good assignment. I mean – I could and probably would do several pages on it, without breaking a sweat or cracking a book. That’s the problem. For an intro paragraph to English Comp 101 it’s far too broad a topic. I’d be fascinated to see what results this professor gets from her prompt. I know they read, then discussed, Plato’s Cave in class, so at least the kids have had some exposure to it. I hadn’t until it came up in my first year ethics class. Then again, I have a decidedly odd educational background. Perhaps it’s taught in public high schools. Anything is possible.
I mean, in my college level history class (History to 1500, basically the huge swath of prehistory through early world development, the class had less depth than most Wikipedia articles) the professor compared the myths surrounding the founding of Rome to the stories surrounding the founding of America. And he wasn’t talking about old Geo Wash can’t tell a lie and the Cherry Tree, he specifically referenced the Declaration of Independence. I’m sorry, but you can’t compare our founding documents to the stories of twins suckled by wolves going on to found Rome the center of the ancient world. It’s not the same thing.
But we attribute infallibility to the college professors, and send our impressionable young minds off to soak up their words like sponges. It’s necessary. But it’s not wise.
It is necessary. I can’t properly homeschool the Junior Mad Scientist right now. We tried for nearly two years, and even what we’re doing now is highly experimental and could fail. It’s not her fault, it’s not my fault, it’s not anyone’s fault. It’s simply the way things go. You try and fail all the time. That’s life, and learning, and then you realize the attributes you gave the shadows dancing on the walls aren’t at all the same as the objects that cast those shadows we thought real. If you don’t fail, ever, you don’t learn through groping blindly in the dark. We coddle kids these days – wait, let me rephrase that. Every generation has coddled their children and tried to make it easier on them than we remember it being on us. We paint pretty pictures of what life ought to be like, and we enable them to live lives of privilege and security. Is it any wonder college students graduate with the impression that their narrative trumps facts?
As parents, then, our job continues to be what it always was. To Gibbs’ smack our kids when they get too big for their britches, point out their job is not to sit comfy in the basement with snacks and video games, but to suck it up, Buttercup, there’s fuckery to be spread. Get out, kiddo, and live life boldly. We did, and we’re fine. Ok. For values of fine. Yes, there was pain. But it’s totally worth it, you just have to never quit and sit still.
While I was talking to the JMS about the blind men and the elephant, I was saying ‘one felt the leg, and declared it had to be a tree, another felt the tail and said it must be a fly whisk…”
She busted up laughing at this point, and I stopped. “I thought you were going to say that one felt the asshole!” She gasped.
Well, no. But then again, there’s a metaphor for living in Plato’s cave. Be careful what you put your hands in. If it’s warm, wet, and smelly it might be an elephant’s fundament. If you’d rather not have intimate knowledge of the inside of bowels, ask questions. Learn, and in learning shed light on your surroundings. Gain experience, and get out of the cave with it’s mystical ever changing shadows and into the harsh light of day that only life can grant you. Hiding in the cave only listening to what the shifting professor’s words tell you is a good way to wind up with your arm up to your elbows in crap. Education will only take you so far, then it’s time to get your hands dirty and really learn. Don’t worry. Hands wash.