Updated: Oct 1, 2021
Socrates, Local Communities, and a Commitment to the Humanities
“This alchemy of reason and soul is at the heart of what we believe here at Ace.”
In Plato’s Apology which detailed the trial of Socrates who was probably the most hated man in Athens, simply because of how annoying he was, Socrates begins his defense by outright telling the jurors that they -- the craftsmen, politicians, orators, and the poets -- were all helplessly stupid compared to himself.
Great way to start your defense.
Spoiler: they sentenced him to death.
So, what was so important about the education of young people of Athens that Socrates willingly died in pursuit of its cause? The charges brought against Socrates were the corruption of the youth of Athens as well as not believing in the gods, both of which went hand-in-hand. Socrates was all about the proper development of reason, and he had particular methods for doing so.
In ancient Greece there were those who attributed everything to the gods and those who attributed everything to cunning speech. Socrates challenged them both, often in public spaces, and was hated by all for it. (In fact, Plato’s Republic begins with Socrates being kidnapped by armed men and taken to the house of Cephalus to argue). But Socrates had a commitment to education that he believed was best for the future of Athens. His views about the gods were blasphemous, but not outright dismissive, and his abhorrence for the “learned” aristocracy who studied rhetoric to practice their sophistry to acquire their wants.
Ancient Athenian democracy then was not too far off from modern American democracy: there were those who rejected the use of reason in favor of religious explanations and condemnation of those who didn’t not concur, and those who use slick language, without meaningful recourse to a moral commitment to get what they desire and to craft the world as they see fit.
Socrates sat somewhere in the middle, understanding just how important proper speech was to the life of the republic, but also understanding that there were certain pedagogical commitments that were necessary to the proper habituation of the reasonable faculties of the person.
According to Socrates, the proper habituation of the rational faculty of the soul included instruction in music and art as well as in geometry and astronomy. Before one could learn to think properly, Socrates would argue, they need to learn to feel properly. The study of music engaged and habituated the learner in the ways of harmony and pattern, geometry and astronomy habituated the mind in wonder. The student must have learned to wonder and appreciate beauty because it is toward the pursuit of what is right and good, respectfully, that proper education should be committed.
We see remnants of the Socratic method in our education today. We still insist that our students engage with a wide array of subjects because we believe this would make us well-rounded citizens. And while this sentiment is true, we’ve seen this curriculum be chipped at so that what is left is the pure practical education in math, science, and technology so that our students can become members of a productive and reproductive society.
While a commitment to training for the labor force is necessary for the wellbeing of any society, even in a scientifically and technologically advanced society like ours, there is wisdom in reminding ourselves that the humanities and the arts need to continue to be funded, and this can be implemented on a small scale as well as a larger social-political scale. Here at Ace Academic Learning Centers, we are committed to this sort of appeal to humanity in the development of our seekers. We believe and do our best to integrate a love for art and beauty as well as a wonder for our human interconnectedness as foundational virtues in our commitment to a pragmatic-existentialist approach to education. Offering book clubs to engage our students with empathetic literacy skills as well as critical reading comprehension, community service opportunities so that they can understand the importance of working for justice for those less fortunate than themselves, and social and emotional development classes that teach them how to better navigate a world filled with a diverse set of people, Ace Academic hopes to provide a proof of concept for a reinvigorated educational model that bridges academic success with global citizenship. This alchemy of reason and soul is at the heart of what we believe here at Ace. We hope to have you along for the journey as we demonstrate as best as we can that this is what is best for our kids and our communities.
>>> Kevin Sue-A-Quan, Marketing and Strategy Manager & Tutoring Services Manager
Kevin Sue-A-Quan is currently a doctoral student in philosophy at The New School for Social Research where he studies the philosophy of knowledge and morality as they relate to decision making, social research, psychology, and education. He comes to Ace with a background in sales, marketing, community outreach, and data analytics as well as a commitment to the pursuit of what is right and good. In his spare time, Kevin enjoys cooking and singing, and during exam seasons can be found baking bread on Sundays.