The Ancient Greeks Way to Educate

The Ancient Greek’s believed there were four aspects to education. These were: Music, Gymnastics, Mathematics, and Dialectics.

Plato saw the human person as having three parts, appetitive, spirited and rational. I wonder how much we can equate this with the more modern notion of body, mind, and heart/soul. The appetitive being the body, the spirited being what we call the heart or soul, and the rational being what we call the mind.

Different subjects were used to develop these different parts of our humanness, so that a balance was maintained between the different aspects of our nature.

Music was believed to feed the spirit, music included good stories, and we can see how this all flows together when the great literature of the time was epic poetry.

Gymnastics developed and strengthened the appetitive body. My understanding of the word gymnastic as it was used during this time was that it refereed to all physical training, exercises and sport.
The music and gymnastic together were thought to create a balance between the soft part (heart) and the savage part (body) of a person.

Mathematics uses pure reason and was the subject used to train the rational intellect. Math was how one became wise. In modern times we do not tend to think of math as having anything to do with wisdom, but perhaps it is time to rekindle that connection.

These three first aspects of education were all considered to be the preparation needed to be able to learn dialectic, which is asking and answering questions to gain philosophical insight and truth. Socrates believed that truth was the ultimate value and that truth could be discovered through reason and logical discussion. Dialectic would be introduced and taught only after a child had spent years mastering their music, gymnastics, and mathematics.

What if adults in our culture knew how to discuss arguments, or opposing positions with rational logic, in order to seek truth? Some believe Socrates point with dialectic discussion was simply to bring every one back to point where they had to admit they did not know something. That the process was not so much about seeking truth, but about proving our own human ignorance to ourselves over and over again.

To admit that we don’t have all the answers and our education does not end in us knowing every truth about everything. I think the pursuit of truth and the pursuit of proving and accepting our own ignorance are both noble endeavors that our current culture would do well to remember and revive.

But we must start with the idea of balance in education. The old idea that education is not just for the mind, or rational intellect, but for all aspects of the child. To have a well-balanced adult we must educate all the aspects of the humanness of the child, mind, heart, and body.

In a future post I will explore how I think an intuitive need for this balance is perhaps one of the root causes of why modern culture finds its child’s days over-scheduled…because we seek to fill in the missing pieces.


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