A Child Should Play Amongst Lovely Things

Plato? Aubert J. Clark? Apocryphal?

plato07Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement is attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher and sage Plato:

The most effective kind of education is that a child should play among lovely things.

Although this quotation is popular with many educators I have never seen a proper citation. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match for this expression located by QI appeared in an article by Aubert J. Clark about Montessori teaching methods that was published in 1963 in “The Catholic Educational Review”. According to the author the Montessori approach specified that the teaching environment should be aesthetically pleasing and orderly. A footnote presented an opinion attributed to Plato. A precise textual location in “The Republic” was given, but the words were not enclosed in quotation marks. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

One is reminded of Plato’s dictum that the most effective kind of learning is that the child should play among lovely things. See The Republic, 558B. Montessorians might be agreeably surprised if they read a bit of Plato.

Location 558B in Plato’s “The Republic” did present a pertinent remark on the topic of education. But the statement used a negation and did not closely match the modern version of the saying. Nevertheless, QI believes that the quotation under investigation was derived from Plato’s words. Benjamin Jowett created the following translation which was published in 1892: 2

…we said that, except in the case of some rarely gifted nature, there never will be a good man who has not from his childhood been used to play amid things of beauty and make of them a joy and a study…

Another translation of the passage from “The Republic” was crafted by Paul Shorey and is available online at the Perseus Digital Library Project: 3

…except in the case of transcendent natural gifts no one could ever become a good man unless from childhood his play and all his pursuits were concerned with things fair and good…

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1986 an instance of the modern saying appeared in the reference work “The Fitzhenry & Whiteside Book of Quotations”. The words were ascribed to Plato but no citation was provided. In 1987 the same entry was published in the successor reference titled “Barnes & Noble Book of Quotations: Revised and Enlarged”: 4 5

The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things. Plato

In 1997 “The Charlotte Observer” of North Carolina printed an instance of the statement in a short item titled “Quotable”: 6

Author: PLATO, Ancient Greek philosopher
“The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.”

In 2012 “The Independent” of London, England printed the expression and credited Plato: 7

Who said that?
“The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things” – Plato.

In conclusion, QI believes that the modern quotation has been derived from a passage in Plato’s “The Republic”; however, the match is not very exacting. For example, the word “effective” was not present in translations of the original text. QI believes that the modern expression should not be enclosed in quotation marks.

Image Notes: Plato; detail from The School of Athens by Raphael. Gatchina Palace Egg 1901 from the House of Fabergé. Images from Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

(Great thanks to Andrew Old whose query led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Also, thanks to Mary Myatt, Tom Bennett, and Teach Afterhours for their responses.)

Notes:

  1. 1963 January, The Catholic Educational Review, Evaluation of Montessori Postulates in the Light of Empirical Research by Rev. Aubert J. Clark, Start Page 7, Footnote 8, Quote Page 10, Published by The Catholic Education Press: Under the direction of the Department of Education of The Catholic University of America, Washington D.C. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1892, The Dialogues of Plato: Republic, Timaeus, Critias, Volume 3 of 5, Translated by Benjamin Jowett, (Third Edition), Republic: Book VIII, Quote Page 265, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, Henry Frowde, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. Perseus Digital Library Project, Title: The Republic, Author: Plato, Section: 558b, Translator: Paul Shorey, Host work title: Plato in twelve volumes: with an English translation; Republic; Vols 5-6, Publisher: Harvard university press; W. Heinemann, ltd., Place of publication: Cambridge, Mass; London Date publication: 1935-1937 (Reprint 1969-1970), About the website: Gregory R. Crane of Tufts University is Editor-In-Chief; flagship collection covers the history, literature and culture of the Greco-Roman world. (Accessed June 26, 2014) link
  4. 1986, The Fitzhenry & Whiteside Book of Quotations, Revised and Enlarged, Edited by Robert I. Fitzhenry, Section: Education, Quote Page 113, Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, Toronto. (Verified on paper)
  5. 1987, Barnes & Noble Book of Quotations: Revised and Enlarged, Edited by Robert I. Fitzhenry, Section: Education, Page 113, Barnes & Noble Books, Division of Harper & Row, New York. (Verified on paper)
  6. 1997 September 4, The Charlotte Observer, Section: EDITORIAL Quotable, Quote Page 8A, Charlotte, North Carolina. (NewsBank Access World News)
  7. 2012 March 14, The Independent, Title: Where children are guests, not pests – Features Once upon a time, the most stylish accommodation was always the least child-friendly. No longer, Author: Aoife O’Riordain, Quote Page 32 and 33, London, England. (NewsBank Access World News)