The room is busy with very good energy on this Monday morning. Our discussion is about my VERY favorite subject, Plato’s Republic. We are beginning by setting a context, with a nod to previous knowledge and to organizing your notes.
Simone shares with me the course syllabus, which is in fine essential question form, setting out five guiding questions: “what’s out there, how do I know about it, what should I do, what actions are permissible, what can life be like?” This is a great way to organize a course, pursing good, open-ended questions, questions which are authentically interesting, interesting to anyone, open ended, and very amenable to argument. The course sheet also establishes clear methods of assessment– 20% is allotted to imagination and participation, which I love, and then the bulk for “long essays.”
Professor, as Simone refers to him, opens with the big question for the Republic: What is Justice?
After a helpful introductory lecture of 10 minutes, setting the scene, we plunge into the questioning, which I really enjoy. What is happening in Book 1 of the Republic? Do you know now, having read it, what justice is? What is justice? Students are venturing forth ideas, and defending them.
The professor draws a nice analogy of the Republic to a symphony, what I would call something of a valuable non-linguistic representation, which is something I am looking for, and explains that the whole book is like a symphony.
Having set out key overarching questions, we now go over an outline of themes to be developed in the Republic. One of the five is framed as a question, the others as tensions or dynamics, which is just shorthand for questions really: seeming vs. being is just another way of saying What is the tension of seeming vs. being in the Republic? We are not being told a summary of the content, we are being provided key questions to bring to it.
More questioning: what is Piraeus, what is impiety? An attention to vocabulary is here to, importantly.
Reading the text aloud, and then more good, open ended questions. Can you find any elements of these themes? A first answer is ventured, tentative, then a followup from the teacher: “go on, continue” (think deeper!). Patience, a great willingness to wait for the answers.