This article was originally published in The Globe Post and can be viewed here.
In 399 BC, the Greek philosopher Socrates was brought to trial accused of “failing to acknowledge the gods” and for “morally corrupting the Athenian youth.”
Socrates, at the age of 70, defended himself at the trial proclaiming that he considered it his duty to question supposed “wise” men and to expose their false wisdom as ignorance. By a narrow margin, he was found guilty by the jury and sentenced to death for these crimes.
We know all of this because Socrates’ student and friend Plato sat in the gallery during his trial. Plato, inspired by his friend’s teachings, went on to promote the virtues of the human condition and the importance of education in pursuing justice. He believed that justice could be obtained when each individual develops his or her ability to the fullest.
The teachings of these philosophers have been referenced for millennia, but in this digital age, their message of encouraging the youth to question supposed wisdom resonates more than ever.
Social Media and the Era of Fake News
While social media undoubtedly has its positives attributes, the increasing dangers of these sites are widely reported. The growing trend of cyberbullying reduced privacy and the addictive nature of social validation from sites have already made for an increasingly challenging world for young people to navigate through.
A further challenge is with the advent of the fake news era, where misinformation can now easily be spread through these mainstream channels. The result of an MIT study this year found that a false story reaches 1,500 people on average six times quicker than a true story does. Therefore, while it seems we won’t be able to avoid fallacies coming into our consciousness, we can impact our ability to discern what is real and what is not.
Fake news is thought of as being a piece of journalism or propaganda, but one could also extend its meaning to any other equally harmful online falsehoods such as judgments that instruct a way in which someone should look or act. While these can be damaging to anyone’s self-esteem, they can have a most profound effect on the self-esteem of a child.
Learning Music Builds Critical Awareness
Both Socrates and Plato promoted the value that learning music could have on a person’s sense of self in their teachings to the young people of Greece. Plato urged children to study music so that they would “become more balanced and more capable in whatever they say or do.” It was their belief that while gymnastics feeds the body, music feeds the soul.
Their message was not that people who play music are good and those who don’t are bad. Instead, it means that those who grow-up engaged with music have, among other things, a preparedness for intellectual learning and moral virtue. The combination of these ideals helps a person to develop the self-awareness needed to spot what is true and what is not.
When a pianist, for instance, sits down to play the piano, they’re taking into account everything from melody to rhythm and from dynamics to their body posture. Along with the physical practice or whatever music they are playing, they are also unconsciously practicing their ability to analyze critically.
Arguably an even better experience is when we play music with others. This engages us in a real social network that’s raw – full of brilliance and mistakes in equal measure. By contrast, the online world young people are exposed to is often the antithesis of this; a fabricated community full of filters and bravado.
In conclusion, the human condition has always been subjected to the “false wisdom” Socrates spoke about in his trial. All that has changed since then is the medium through which that information is disseminated. While of course, we need to look to reduce the spread of these falsehoods, we also need to look at solutions which equip children to deal with them. As educators, we have always known it’s investing in activities like music which develop the confidence and self-awareness needed to counter the fake news fallacies facing us today.