Education as Energy Drink: Passion’s Shortcoming in the Classroom

Sometimes, the sparks our students produce in class are nothing more than reflections of our own burning educational flames. Our inspiration animates students and gets them thinking and doing in our presence, but can they keep those Promethean embers alive away from the classroom? Are they simply reflecting what they think we want to see from them?

Recently on Twitter I came across a tweet that emphasized passion in education. Teachers, it read, should primarily use passionate to engage in the classroom. There’s another series of tweets from an organization that is entitled “passion works”.

Passion is usually defined as having or harboring a deep and committed emotion or feeling towards something.

Emotions and feeling ARE needed to compel us to attach ourselves to a thought or cause and to take action on that thought or cause. Emotions are the glue that bind right thinking to right action.

But that’s the point, isn’t it?

How is one to determine right action if emotion is in the lead. Emotions tends to be short sighted. They want satisfaction immediately. Further, passion implies a sort of inspiration or possession by an outside force. Usually, as far as our present discussion is concerned, that outside force is the teacher. We give them the “energy drink” of the soul, passion, without truly feeding their reason. Students get the short high of emotion, but that emotion fades fairly quickly. The long term bonding of reason with knowledge gets undermined by the short term fix of passion.Logos? Thumos? Epithumae?

Plato divides the soul in three parts: appetite, spirit, and reason.

The epithumia (appetite) represents the body as well as the needs of the body. The thumos (emotion) represents the source of our emotional attachments. The logos (reason) represents the calculating aspect of our being.

In many ways the thumos (spirit/emotional) is the crucial component of the soul. Without spiritedness, the logos would think about thinking forever all the while ignoring the needs of the body. If the body were in charge, it would be an all consuming being using emotion and reason to quench its own whims. The purely appetitive person usually becomes a tyrant only limited by their access to power or money. The purely logical person becomes a straight thinking hermit not caring about the outside world.

Tripartite Soul

Aristotle and Plato agree that anyone who lives outside of the city (society) is either a god or a beast ( relies on their logos or epithimia too much). In other words, it is not normal for a human to be so out of balance that they either think too much or consume too much.

A properly ordered soul has the middle part of the soul (spirit) gluing together the lower with the upper. Emotion compels the logos to care about the material world (link Plato’s allegory of the cave). Emotion also compels the material aspects of our soul to listen to the logos. Our logos should converse with the lower portion via emotion without becoming encumbered by that conversation.


Like in a previous post of mine on Plato’s Meno, a weak logos leads to reason becoming enslaved by the emotions. Plato’s Meno shows this via the dialog between the slave boy and Socrates as they demonstrate basic geometry to Meno (who is the dialog’s thumos).

That’s not what we want right? Do we seek to turn out a mass of emotional beings who, while in our classroom, are passionate about our discipline but when they leave us (as they always will) can only react to the world around them in emotional terms? Can only react when their “passion” has been stirred? Emotion based education seems to teach self indulgent reactions instead of thinking.

Emotion centered education, from this view, isn’t education. It is propaganda.

Emotion Centered Education is a Short Term Solution

About Thrasymachus

2013 Northwest ISD teacher of the year, Humanities Texas 2012 Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, and 2011 Outstanding Educator of North Texas Award (North Central Texas College). I'm currently a Regional Digital Learning Consultant with the Education Service Center Region 11 in Ft. Worth, Texas and a college government educator who incorporates philosophy, technology & humor. A student through and through, I walk with my students in their learning. Most importantly, I'm blessed with the 3 most perfect kids eva! I love on them ery day!!!
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