Fits & Fugues

Education can be so much more.

Games and Greeks or Playing and Plato

So there I was reading John Milton’s Of Education (why is probably another post) from one of my college books and I read the following line that had a notation reference at the end.

“At the same time, some other hour of the day, might be taught them the rules of arithmetic, and soon after the elements of geometry, even playing, as the old manner was.”

When I looked up the reference at the back of the book it said

“Both Plato…and Quintilian recommend the use of games as pedagogical tools.”

Pedagogical tools from Plato and Quintilian? I just had to find out what in the ancient world they were talking about. And since it had been a very long time that I engaged with any of the classical authors, I consulted Google and via The Perseus Digital Libray at Tufts University, here’s what I found from Plato (emphasis added)…

What I assert is that every man who is going to be good at any pursuit must practice that special pursuit from infancy, by using all the implements of his pursuit both in his play and in his work. For example, the man who is to make a good builder must play at building toy houses, and to make a good farmer he must play at tilling land; and those who are rearing them must provide each child with toy tools modelled on real ones. Besides this, they ought to have elementary instruction in all the necessary subjects,-the carpenter, for instance, being taught in play the use of rule and measure, the soldier taught riding or some similar accomplishment. So, by means of their games, we should endeavor to turn the tastes and desires of the children in the direction of that object which forms their ultimate goal. First and foremost, education, we say, consists in that right nurture which most strongly draws the soul of the child when at play to a love for that pursuit of which, when he becomes a man, he must possess a perfect masteryPlato, Laws, Book 1, 643b-d.

And from the research of Lee Honneycutt, Associate Professor in the English Department at Iowa State University from Quintilian (emphasis added)…

There are some kinds of amusement, too, not unserviceable for sharpening the wits of boys, as when they contend with each other by proposing all sorts of questions in turn” Quintilian Institutio Oratoria Book 1, Chapter 3, line 11.

It seems that the Greeks were talking about games in education in the 340’s BC and the Romans in the 1st Century AD. We’re still talking about them today. Now they are framed within the context of video games or edugames. Both David Warlick and Gary Stager have offered their (mostly) differing opinions. The comments on David’s post have some interesting takes as well. Whether it’s Gary Stager’s ignorance arguments, or David Warlick’s thoughts about counter-pedagogies or the approaches that gaming might take in schools from the people over at The Games, Learning, and Society Group, we still have a long way to go in this gaming discussion. Just a couple of days ago, Scott McLeod wrote his latest entry about games and cited a stat about only 15% of “teachers have a more difficult time seeing how platforms generally associated with entertainment -i.e., video games, MP3 players, and cell phones -can be used as educational tools” (slide 15). Definitely a long way to go.

Just how much video games will influence (or not) our current systems of education remains to be seen. However, gaming is pushing its way in and it is having rippling effects, seen and unseen. Perhaps that’s what concerns some now just as it concerned Plato 2400-ish years ago “that those children who innovate in their games grow up into men different from their fathers; and being thus different themselves, they seek a different mode of life, and having sought this, they come to desire other institutions and lawsPlato, Laws, Book 7, 798c.

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May 17, 2008 - Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Nice post.
    A famouse qote of Plato is “you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation”.
    Take a look a this 2 posts about Greeks and games and ancient Rome gaming culture.
    Clever games fo clever people.
    Bye :)

    Comment by clevergames | November 3, 2009 | Reply


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