The Boyhood of Raleigh

“Such, then, I said are the kinds of stories that I think future guardians should and should not hear…” Plato, Republic III

Few moments are as precious, for parents or for children. As my older children are leaving home, my mind goes back to those days…when all of them were ranged around the room. And we read out loud. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

What is it about a story experienced together? Children seem to have an insatiable appetite for stories, especially those told or read by their parents. It is a unique, even irreplaceable way of being-together, almost regardless of the content of the stories.

Perhaps this is because we all realize, even if vaguely, that our own life is a story. It has a plot; it is going somewhere. Where it goes is hanging in the balance; and certain choices can make all the difference.

But how do stories go? Do they have happy endings? If so, or if not, why or why not? Interestingly, we are usually not in a position to observe other people’s lives as a whole; or our own. So we need to hear stories–true are artfully made-up–to illustrate truths about who we are, and how human life works. We learn especially the intrinsic connection of moral integrity and human happiness. A story that suggests, for instance, that human happiness can be directly born from self-will is telling a lie. Plato muses on such stories: “They say that many unjust people are happy and many just ones wretched, that injustice is profitable if it escapes detection….”

Here is where hearing the right stories makes a difference. Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island; Frodo in Tolkien’s trilogy; Marton Nagy in Kate Seredy’s The Good Master; Pelle in Pelle’s New Suit and Peter in Peter’s Old House by Elsa Beskow; Edmund in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Uncle Cor in The Winged Watchman by Hilda von Stockum. And on, and on. These characters teach us who we are, what we want to be, or don’t want to be.

Such characters from the books we read form a world-view. And reading aloud as a family, we form it together.

This is the fourth and final post in a series on paideia, education in Plato. Next week…Aristotle.

Plato (427-347 B.C.), a student of Socrates, and teacher of Aristotle, is considered one of the greatest philosophers of all time. The Republic is one of the most widely read and influential of all books.

Image: John Millais (1829-1896), The Boyhood of Raleigh

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