Teachers today, for understandable reasons, look for ways of building off the experiences and interests that students bring to class. In the cave allegory, Plato seems to take a negative view about the ‘common sense’ experiences of students: those experiences are not real and trustworthy. Instead, they are like shadows on the cave wall, far removed from what is truly real. Plato presents it as a serious challenge for teachers that students are comfortable in this world of familiar experiences: the teacher who is ‘out of touch’ with their world of shadows becomes an object of ridicule rather than a beacon of truth (p. 749; or 517a). The teacher, in his view, has a duty to ‘return to the cave,’ but he would probably see it as risky for a teacher to go very far in validating the shadowy experience of students (for example, by keeping up with the cultural references or trying to fashionable or ‘with it’). Is he right? Why or why not?
With most of my teaching experience at the secondary level, I think it is very important to bring experiences into the classroom that the teacher and the students can relate to. Doing so, shows students that the material that they are studying is important. As an English teacher, we always get the questions: “How is Shakespeare’s (insert play name here) relevant?” or “what does Shakespeare have to do with us?”. With no connection to experiences or events that are relatable to the students, the willingness to make that connection or to even participate in classroom discussion is lost. However, it is our job as teachers, to help students to explain their perceptions of what they believe is true and create newer and deeper meanings.
I agree and disagree with Plato as he explains that the ‘common sense’ experiences of students are not real and trustworthy hence the connection to shadows on the cave wall. I believe that it is important to share different experiences and perspectives on events and classroom material in order to have deep and thought-provoking discussions that enhances learning. However, I do agree with Plato that we do have a duty to ‘return to the cave’ which can be explained as having structured lesson that focus on curriculum expectations set out by the Ministry of Education. We need a balance of both.