Yesterday NPR ran a good story on schools and teachers using the Socratic method in their classes in a variety of subjects. My own kids are fortunate to attend a public school that incorporates Socratic teaching in middle and high school.
The story quotes John Caelstrom making the crucial point about the aim of Socratic teaching: “Let’s not make this all about learning to gain information but to learn how to learn.”
In a good Socratic seminar you do “gain information” about the history, culture, author, and any number of facts, but the point isn’t merely to acquire the kind of information you can regurgitate on a short answer test or multiple-choice exam. It is instead to sharpen your mental acuity so that you can think through difficult problems and important questions, sift evidence, weigh propositions, and evaluate answers and solutions, all on your own. To encourage an awareness of what you don’t know together with an inquisitiveness and mental toolkit to seek out knowledge. As I emphasized in my tutorial, it is to gain new and healthy habits of mind, intellectual dispositions, that empower you to participate and lead in a democratic society.
In my upcoming posts, I’ll be starting a new series about the specific texts that one often finds on “Great Books” or “Great Ideas” courses. These will be very brief posts, very opinionated, and if given due consideration, I hope very helpful to you. Gilgamesh will be coming to your browser very soon.