The Common Core of Being, Part Two

Tod Desmond and Boyce Brown I Education I Theory I March 24th, 2015

Part two in a series of inquiries on "the philosophical foundations of 'Common Core' in Education. Read Part One.

In the Republic, Plato describes the sequential degeneration of the ostensibly ideal regime of the philosopher guardians headed by the philosopher king (which he calls aristocracy) through four subsequent regimes: timocracy (rule by the warriors), oligarchy (rule by the wealthy), democracy (rule by the people), and tyranny (the mirror opposite of aristocracy). We argue that these five regimes roughly correspond to the four images of the futures Dator delineates (2006). The overall goal of narrowing the wide-ranging conversation about the futures of Common Core through the filtering lenses of Dator's theories and Plato's Republic is to provide a focused starting point for future (nonpartisan) dialogues that tie contemporary academic theories with the original template of academia itself, when the philosophers strolled through the groves of Athens and along the peripatos beneath the Acropolis.

The ultimate goal of the education system for the ideal state in the Republic is to open the eye of the students' souls to the idea of the good and the spiritual light of the eternal forms, or ideas. Later in this series, we will demonstrate how Plato's theory of the idea of the good and the other eternal forms are similar to current cosmological concepts of the gravitational singularity, the Big Bang, and black holes. Citing experts, we will also demonstrate parallels between the cosmology in Plato's Republic (especially the cave allegory and the near-death experience recounted in the myth of Er) and holographic string theory, which may be able to reconcile the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics.

In the Republic, Plato depicts Socrates in conversation with Plato's older brothers, Glaucon and Adeimantus. To defend the concept of justice against the sophist Thrasymachus' cynical accusation that it is simply a euphemism for "the advantage of the stronger" (1991, p. 338c), Socrates tries to identify justice in the individual soul (which is difficult to see) by imagining it metaphorically as an ideal city-state (which, being bigger, is easier to perceive). From there, the Republic progresses on the assumption that the social structure of a city serves as a magnified model of the psychological structure of the individuals who live within it.

The first utopian city Socrates suggests consists of skilled artisans, farmers, and merchants who work only as much as necessary, and regularly congregate with their families at communal, vegetarian feasts. Crowned with wreathes of ivy, they drink wine and sing of the gods. Glaucon, noting the lack of luxuries in this utopia, dismisses it as a city fit for pigs. An avuncular Socrates then agrees to establish a more luxurious city to satisfy Glaucon's demands, although he calls this second city "feverish," (Plato, 1991, p. 372e) in very stark contrast to the healthy city he originally described. To appease Glaucon's tastes, Socrates begins by introducing meat to the diet of the ideal city. Now, the once self-sufficient city will need to appropriate pasturing grounds from neighboring cities. The richer diet will also tend to have unhealthy side effects among the inhabitants and require more physicians.

War and sickness are the initial symptoms of the fevered utopia, a polity that will seem familiar to any analyst of the dawn and twilight of the American empire and the military imperialism necessary to command and control the territory and resources needed to support a consumer society. In order to counteract the negative consequences of the luxuries called for in his hypothetical city, Socrates cordons off a ruling elite from the rest of society. It is a caste of warrior-philosophers (Spartan-Pythagorean) who live a communistic life-style. No one handles money. Wives, husbands, and children are held in common.

The constitutional structure of the second utopia in the Republic resembles a fever dream. In fact, the citizens of this city will all be told a "noble lie" (Plato, 1991, p. 414c) that the childhoods they thought they had were actually dreams, during which they were being formed under the ground of their common mother, the city, by a subterranean god who sewed threads of gold, silver, iron, or bronze into each of their souls.

'All of you in the city are certainly brothers,' we shall say to them in telling the tale, 'but the god, in fashioning those of you who are competent to rule, mixed gold in at their birth; this is why they are most honored; in auxiliaries, silver; and iron and bronze in the farmers and the other craftsmen (Plato, 1991, p. 415a).

Socrates goes on to describe a system of education aimed at discerning the natural tendencies of each child. A select few guardians will selectively arrange the breeding of the citizens so that those most fit for each caste will be mated with others from that caste. ""Hence the god commands the rulers first and foremost to be of nothing such good guardians and to keep over nothing so careful a watch as the children, seeing which of these metals is mixed in their souls" (Plato, 1991, p. 415b). Some Plato scholars note "we should respect Plato's vision, but not forget its dangers" (Plato, 1987, p. 48). Others suggest that we ask ourselves "Whether the method of selection he proposes, based largely on proficiency in abstract subjects - examinations in mathematics, science, and philosophy up to the age of thirty-five - is a sensible one" (Plato, 1987, p. 49).

Socrates compares the process of breeding the guardian and auxiliary classes to the manner in which Glaucon breeds his hunting dogs. He notes that female dogs, despite having puppies, still go on the hunt with the males. So too must the men and women of the ruling elite fight side by side on the battlefield. They also exercise naked together in the gymnasium. The feverish city comically embodies elements reminiscent of the tragic and comic plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes, although Socrates would ban these poets from the official state curricula. In Books II and III of the Republic Socrates argues that tragic and comic poetry intoxicates the soul with false stories about gods being vicious liars who wear disguises and wreak mayhem among themselves and mankind. Therefore, only socially appropriate stories of the gods and heroes are to be told, those that provide role models for brave and sober-minded guardians. This seems similar to the way in which Common Core devalues the classics of fiction in favor of informational texts, as explained on the official Common Core State Standards Initiative website: "In grades 6-12, there is much greater attention on the specific category of literary nonfiction, which is a shift from traditional standards" (Common Core, 2014, para. 12).


Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2014). Key shifts in English language arts. Retrieved from .

Dator, J. (2006). Campus futures. Planning for Higher Education 34: 45-48.

Plato. (1987). The republic. London: Penguin Books.

Plato. (1991). The republic of Plato. New York: Basic Books.