Socrates, Plato, and Noble Puppies

We are fortunate to have another guest post from our KSDE Social Studies Consultant, Mr. Don Gifford.  Enjoy!

(And don’t forget to comment on the Flags post to win your own classroom flag.)


When I was young, I really couldn’t read philosophy partly because they used really old language, really big words, and mostly because I knew so little about the world and of thinking about it. But recently I have returned to reading some of the classic works of political philosophy and ran across the description of Socrates’ ideas about education in Plato’s Republic.

In my role as an educational program consultant for the Kansas State Department of Education, I was intrigued with the education of what Socrates calls the “guardian class.”

As I read the description of this type of education and the purpose for it, I was a bit put off and convicted. Socrates referred to this type of education as the training of “noble puppies.” When trained, these “noble puppies” love learning, defend the familiar and traditional, and attack the unfamiliar or new.

This type of education is primarily moral in nature and emphasizes the blind acceptance of beliefs and behaviors rather than the ability to think and act critically and/or independently. “Noble puppies” become cultural watchdogs.  If properly educated, they will fight and die for the principles of the familiar and traditional.  This training concentrates on and exaggerates the good, champions the heroic, it simplifies the complex, and vilifies those who are in opposition.

Those who resolutely hold onto the convictions instilled in them by this education will be promoted and those who rebel against it will be rejected. In short, these “puppies” are trained to personify and love their country because it is good and its ideals are noble.

As I think back on my thirty plus years in the classroom I wonder how many “noble puppies” I trained. Did I teach my students to think, to analyze, to create, to decide and to act (this was the education of the philosopher kings)? Or did I teach them to take the simplified crafted message that I taught as the complete truth so that they would never question what I said or what they learned?

To steal from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade:

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismay’d ?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die,
Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.

Don Gifford
Educational Program Consultant
Kansas State Department of Education

About bradburenheide

I'm an Associate Professor at Kansas State University's College of Education. Currently I am the program coordinator for secondary social studies education. My research interests include instructional gaming, history education, and creative pedagogy.

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