Education in Three Dimensions

Photo: The School of Athens by Raphael
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It is a shame that education is often reduced to career preparation and college readiness. This pedagogy is one-dimensional, reducing the student to a product on a factory conveyor belt. The student’s end is to be useful. It reduces the student and the teacher to the physical realm, honoring only the body. Is it any surprise then that we see students in bondage to their feelings when schools neglect the mind and the soul? All-out brawls, lustful displays at school pep rallies, and property destruction—these are common in one-dimensional schools.

Ancient educators, such as Plato, knew intuitively that education was deeper than mere utility or provision. Making a living is a good end of education, yes, but it must not be the end. There must be more. 

Two-dimensional education honors both the intellect and the body. This form of education can be seen in the incredibly successful charter and private schools that are working to simply and honestly teach students the truths of mathematics, grammar, history, literature, and other fundamental topics such as these. These schools are engaging in rigorous intellectual studies, which elevate the students above mere success in the physical world. However, there is yet one more dimension that can be explored. 

In the Timaeus, Plato writes of an elaborate design to the universe. Timaeus says, “God invented and gave us sight to the end that we might behold the courses of intelligence in the heaven, and apply them to the courses of our own intelligence… that we, learning them and partaking of the natural truth of reason, might imitate the absolutely unerring courses of God and regulate our own vagaries.” In simpler language, Plato is saying that there is order and beauty to the created world, and we are to learn of it through observation. Both learning about the created world and crafting our souls form the twin goals of true education.

The third dimension of education pertains to the soul. As addressed by Timaeus, God has created all there is to learn about and has given us the faculties by which we can engage in learning. Therefore, a fully holistic experience of education must include the spiritual realm. Timaeus ends his monologue by saying, 

“And we should consider that God gave the sovereign part of the human soul to be the divinity of each one… When a man is always occupied with the cravings of desire and ambition, and is eagerly striving to satisfy them, all his thoughts must be mortal, and, as far as it is possible altogether to become such, he must be mortal every whit, because he has cherished his mortal part. But he who has been earnest in the love of knowledge and of true wisdom, and has exercised his intellect more than any other part of him, must have thoughts immortal and divine, if he attain truth, and in so far as human nature is capable of sharing in immortality, he must altogether be immortal; and since he is ever cherishing the divine power, and has the divinity within him in perfect order, he will be perfectly happy.” 

It is clear that Plato, through Timaeus, is arguing that the “courses of the head” must rest upon the Divine realities before us. Educating in three dimensions significantly diminishes the unnecessary friction that young people too often face in their search for Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. It soothes the culture of anxiety within schools and fills the hallways with leisure and meaningful learning. 

In practice, a three-dimensional education would cultivate the physical, intellectual, and spiritual spheres within each student. Addressing the physical, the school would have plenty of time for healthy and meaningful movement, preferably enveloped within the context of the mental and spiritual dimensions. A good example of this would be nature study, which allows students to physically encounter, explore, and observe the natural world around them. The intellectual dimension would include practices such as Socratic discussion, which press students to ask good questions, order their thoughts, and speak articulately. The third dimension would be found in religious worship, theological studies, and time for prayer and contemplation.

This ancient and holistic type of school would be akin to a mini monastery, filled with the soft hum of fulfilling work being done and an airy, graceful feeling that only comes with a spiritual atmosphere. These schools do exist and are bursting at the seams with thriving families and students, not to mention the ever-growing waitlists. But this is no surprise, for Plato says “Now there is only one way of taking care of things, and this is to give to each the food and motion which are natural to it.” Such a holistic education is natural to the human person and certainly worth investing in, perpetuating, and passing on to the young people in our care. 

Chelsea Niemiec
Mrs. Chelsea Niemiec is a fifth grade educator in San Antonio, Texas, as well as a graduate student at The University of Dallas, where she is pursuing her masters degree in classical education. Known as the church mouse, Chelsea stays busy scurrying around, spreading the truth, goodness, and beauty of classical education and the Catholic Church. She is currently with the Classical Learning Test organization.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chalkboard Review team.

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