Saturday, June 13, 2009

Children and the Platonic ideal

As I listen to the jets flying over my house in West London away from the centre where they have been trooping the colour I am reminded of an episode in 2002. We joined the huge crowds in the Mall who were celebrating the Queen's Golden Jubilee. It was a very happy and jolly occasion with participants waving flags of all countries and regions. There was even one from the Isle of Man.

As the military planes flew past (one from every year of the Queen's reign) a little boy behind me repeatedly demanded to be told when the Spitfires were coming. They were not, of course, being from an earlier period. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by his insistence, the likelihood being that his grandparents had not been born when the Spitfires flew.

In the end I decided that he was thinking along the same lines as children do when they imitate choo-choo trains and draw steam engines if asked to explain what a train is like. The steam train and the Spitfire are clearly the Platonic ideal form of a train and an aeroplane. Children do not need to have this explained to them. They just know.


  1. Spitfires are associated with defence from bombers and invasion, which is dead scary. People learn better when memory and emotion are linked.

    That could be why the Spitfire is more memorable than my favourite fighter, the Harrier "jump jet", which has only been involved in a few invasions here and there.

    Now, would the child of an immigrant, when asked to draw a plane, be more likely to draw a Spitfire than any other plane?

    I don't know about steam trains. I'd like to think people think of them because they look awesome.

    What about cars? When I was a kid, I used to draw something that looked like a slightly smoothed out version of a Lada. Now that's a car! It was red, too.

  2. Great post! Love you page!!

    ps. Link Exchange??

  3. As the queen was in uniform at the end of WW2 it would have been smart to include the most iconic plane ever made, plus they sound fantastic, the growl of the V12 Merlin, did anyone ask her??