What Plato and ‘Nice’ Biscuits Taught Me About the Purpose of Education

As I sit eating ‘Nice’ biscuits, catching sugar as it falls, it dawns upon me that I have just completed my third year of college.

The naivety of school has been washed away by ‘college life’. This is where semi-adult human beings straddle adulthood and childhood, among other things. This is where we become independent of our parents. This is our first step towards touching our dreams, the time in our lives to make unforgettable memories. “Apna time aayega” you say, oh no sir, apna time aa gaya hai.

Well, almost.

Instead, here I sit questioning my choices and decisions. Noticing the glaring possibility of me being inadequate. Watching as my curiosity for learning and knowledge gets crippled by the need to find a job. Questioning whether or not I am suited for the field I have been studying to get into.

Did I, at the tender age of 18, make the right decision for my 28-year-old future self? I wonder. And just as every millennial does – from questioning myself, I begin to question the system.

Therefore, here is the question I pose to you, dear reader: Is the purpose of education to find a job or to broaden our perspective? Is it there to give us a path to feed our belly (as these biscuits are doing) or to feed our curiosity?

In times of philosophical imbalance, refer to the original himself – Wikipedia. And also Plato.

Plato believed that education must equip citizens to be guardians of the city and should ensure the growth of the individual. He devised a system of holistic education wherein a person does compulsory elementary education until the age of 18. This consisted of music and gymnastics. He held that music (history, oration, drama and so on) would open up the soul and gymnastics would train the body.

Two years of military training would follow and those who were capable would go on to study the sciences and mathematics (logic, astronomy, numbers, etc). This would go on for another 10 years. Then a second term of higher education would follow for five years which would be more complex than the first. Then, with 15 years of military training, at approximately the age of 50, the person would have completed his theoretical and practical training.

As I chomp my biscuits, let’s look at what this implies.

The first and most important aspect is of holistic education. A system of education that doesn’t streamline but rather exposes. It opens up the mind as he says.

“The business of education is not, as I think, to make them perfect in any one of the sciences, but so to open and dispose their minds as may best make them capable of any, when they shall apply themselves to it,” said John Locke.

While higher education is the search for truth, the idea of a ‘job’ is neither mentioned nor questioned. The act of learning is akin to a job. The search for truth, in fact, is the job. We cannot ignore the idealism dripping from these statements, but the intent is what we need to focus on.

This soothes my throat and helps the Nice biscuits go down with ease.

However, he mentions the word ‘capacity’. I choke slightly. He hit a nerve. How, dear Plato, will I know whether or not I am capable? And more so, dear Plato, god forbid I am passionate about something else. Must I choose what I am inherently good at? Or should I ‘follow my heart’ and uncover ‘my’ truth?

Moreover, money.

While I don’t like the thought of dwelling on finances, my mother did buy these Nice biscuits with money. And without that money I would not be eating the biscuits. Without the money I would not know English enough to even read the word ‘Nice’ on the packet of my biscuits. Or ‘Plato’. And I would, most definitely, not be writing this piece.

I remain confused, catching the grains of sugar as they fall. As I try to swallow the now-very-dry Nice biscuits, I must ask: Dear Plato, what is the purpose of education? Can you help me map my future? Tell me if I am truly capable? Ease my confused conscience? Will my 28-year-old self regret my decisions?

Let me know if we can meet and discuss it over a plate of Nice biscuits and wash it down with some idealism and tea.

Eshna Benegal is a film student by training, a dancer by passion and an amateur polymath by genes. She just loves to write and so she does.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty