Adam Williams | 10 February 2023

Education finds itself in a pickle. Find almost any news article on this topic and it is awash with challenges. Strikes, lack of investment, PSHEE challenges, mental health issues, teachers leaving the sector in droves, a paucity of free school meals, and the threat of Labour to the independent sector. And that was just Sunday’s papers…


Whilst I accept that this is not bedtime reading for many of you, the opening chapters of Plato’s Republic are quite brilliant, and I am sure he would be commanding airtime for much of today’s educational news were he around. For those who aren’t up on their Classics, Plato was the eminent thinker and philosopher of his time, some 2,500 years ago in Athens. He is also believed to be the father of Western philosophy. In short, what he thought, mattered. In fact, it still does.


Top 12 Contributions of Plato – Ancient History Lists


Fast forward a few millennia, and in 1934, Kurt Hahn left a sabre-rattling Nazi Germany to found a new school and make good his vision for education, something he felt unable to do in his home country. In one particular moment, he undertook a radio talk in which he clearly articulated the views of his educational philosophy with a brilliant synopsis of Plato’s three views of education.


The Ionian view

In the 5th century BC, the Ionians had a reputation for softness and indulgence. They believed that the individual ought to be nurtured and humoured regardless of the interests of the community.


The Spartan view

This sought to neglect the individual for the benefit of the state.


The Platonic view

Believed that any nation was a slovenly guardian of its own interests if it did not do all it could to make the individual discover his / her own powers and serve the community.


In other words,

  • the Ionian view pandered to the individual and not the community.
  • the Spartan view worshipped the scholar and athlete in exams and games but undervalued others.
  • the Platonic view aimed to produce the all-rounder with a balance of body, mind and character.

We all have individuals who inspire us, and Kurt Hahn is one of those for me. A German educator, a Jew, a man who opposed and fled the Nazis, a man who mentored the former Duke of Edinburgh (though not his comments to the press…), and one whose philosophy and vision on life was around education by experience


His vision enabled the founding of institutions immersed in character education, like our own.

  • Outward Bound Trust
  • Duke of Edinburgh Award
  • The United World Colleges
  • Round Square Schools
  • The Salem (means ‘place of peace’) Schools
  • Gordonstoun School

Hahn set out 7 laws for his schools:

  1. Give the children opportunities for self-discovery
  2. Make the children meet with triumph and defeat
  3. Give the children the opportunity for humility
  4. Provide periods of silence
  5. Train the imagination
  6. Makes games important, but not predominant
  7. Free the children from the enervating sense of privilege

His motto: “Plus est en vous,” which translates as “There is more in you than you think”


Hahn’s legacy has flourished in today’s world, and rising above the tittle-tattle, the disaster and newspaper headlines must be our goal. At LWC, we are aiming to stay focused on our North Star of education, for a strong and steady gaze helps us to avoid tripping up on the brambles of confusion and uncertainty that lie across the sector presently.


To articulate this still further, I will use the words of one of the governors of Hahn’s schools on a leaving day for Upper Sixth pupils as they headed out into the world.

  • Face the days that lie ahead with a spirit of adventure, compassion, honesty and confidence.
  • Brave the stormy seas that are bound to confront you, determined to sail your ship on the quiet waters that lie ahead
  • Help those whom you may find in trouble, and steer clear of the whirlpools of destruction which you will meet on your voyage through life
  • Be not afraid of who you are, what you are, or where you are, but cling implicitly to the Truth, as taught in the religion of your following
  • If you do all these things, you will be ‘of service’
  • If you are ‘of service’ you will make others happy and you will be content

Kurt Hahn helped lay down an inspirational modern vision for education, a vision that is nearly 100 years old. But our thanks must go to the philosopher and thinker, Plato, speaking from Athens many moons before. Pretty remarkable that his views on education and society are as relevant today as they were when they first put forward in a distant era. I wonder, where would you categorise LWC’s approach? The Ionians, the Spartans or those of our dear friend, Plato? And I also wonder as all schools try to wrestle with the social media airwaves and starting points of difference and success in their own institutions, where would they rest their hat?


Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose… as they might say in certain parts of NW Europe.