History, U of S - 2001
Plato in The Republic uses the cave as a metaphor for a mind darkened by its own narrow perceptions, prejudices and ignorance. Plato's ideal forms are distorted by the cave's darkness. The light at the end of the tunnel is the individual's intellectual formation that turns away from darkness into a light of ideal forms. This is the enlightenment of both self-knowledge and a deeper wisdom - what educators call lifelong learning.
As a lecturer with the U.of S. Department of History and the Extension Division since 1976, I have taught students in rural and urban Saskatchewan as varied in age and experience from recent high school graduates, mature students, to seniors, inmates and new Canadians. Plato's Cave is my philosophical companion and guide in introducing my students to the discovery of history through its great books. The introductory history course introduces the student to both the vision of utopia and dystopia through the eyes Thomas More's Utopia, Voltaire's Candide, Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. The rise of the city and nation-state is the theme for Niccolo Machiavelli's treatise on democracy and dictatorship in The Prince. The visions of Newton's Principia, Jean-Jacques Rousseau's General Will, Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, and Thomas Malthus' Essay on Population encompass the seeds of the modern world - the rise of the nation-state, commerce and capital, the social impact of science and technology on labour, unemployment, urbanization, trade unionism, feminist social history in factory and field. Ideas in time and place serve as doors of perception in studying social history, political conflict and the revolutions that often result in war between societies, cultures and classes.
The continuing popular interest in Military History as a humanity examines more than the decisive battles of the west. It purports to study societies and their soldiers at war and how war transformed culture. Sun Tzu's ancient military classic, The Art of War (500 BC), introduces the political, military and naval principles of grand strategy. In an age of the global village, the military-commercial complex explains much of the growth of capitalism and geopolitical strategies from the Voyages of Discovery to the Cold War. Military history deals with tactics that apply equally to both generals and corporate executives. Honour, interests and fear are common both to the Peloponnesian war between Sparta and Athens, the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage and are as relevant to the Cold War between America and the Soviet Union as they are to hostile takeovers and strategic corporate mergers.
History constitutes part of a multi-disciplinary liberal arts education that shares with economics, sociology, psychology, and anthropology a methodology of inquiry and analysis. History is an integral part of the humanist ideal of an education that comprises the humanities, mathematics, the natural and social sciences, language and literature, philosophy, art and music.
Socratic and didactic questions are effective techniques that seek to draw the student into the lecture as a participant. Dramatic presentations can illustrate the mentalities of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, John Osborne's Luther and Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons. Bertolt Brecht's Galileo is a window not only for Galileo's trial by the Inquisition but also for Brecht's metaphor for life under Nazi tyranny.
Essay assignments, examinations require students to practice the historical techniques and methods of summaries, analysis, a critical sense of evidence, and independent reflection derived from research. Topic abstracts, outlines and bibliography are tools to assist in defining the elements of historical issues through primary sources, period literature and recent scholarship. The elements of reading and composition - knowledge, comprehension, comparison, application, analysis and evaluation - are the skills whereby the sun illuminates the darkness from Plato's cave of shadows.