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1 of 14 Education Policy Analysis Archives Volume 5 Number 20November 24, 1997ISSN 1068-2341A peer-reviewed scholarly electronic journal. Editor: Gene V Glass Glass@ASU.EDU. College of Education Arizona State University,Tempe AZ 85287-2411 Copyright 1997, the EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES.Permission is hereby granted to copy any a rticle provided that EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES is credited and copies are not sold. The Use and Abuse of Socrates in Present Day Teachi ng Anthony G. Rud Jr. Purdue University Abstract The Greek philosopher Socrates is used as an examp le of a master teacher in in many contexts, from elementary school discussions, to college philosophy classes, to law school. I examine a number of current uses of Socr atic teaching, and expose inconsistencies among them. I analyze critically recent practition ers of Socratic teaching, such as Mortimer Adler, and I consider how the celebrated primary te acher Vivian Gussin Paley enacts the Socratic legacy in a novel way. I argue that the m isuse, or abuse, of the Socratic legacy occurs chiefly when his teaching is interpreted nar rowly as a pedagogical technique devoid of context and irony. Introduction The title of my paper is a deliberate play upon Fr iedrich Nietzsche's well-known essay, The Use and Abuse of History (1874, 1979). In that work, Nietzsche turned his eye upon his culture to decry what he termed its "malig nant historical fever" (p. 4). He believed that a mere studying of the past, particularly by s elf-absorbed scholars, was not a vital use of historical tradition. Rather, knowledge of the pas t must instead serve both the present and future (p. 22), and not become merely an abstract i tem devoid of the context that initially gave it life (pp. 11-12). Today, such a figure from the past serves as an im portant model and inspiration for much current pedagogy. The Greek philosopher Socra tes is used as an example of the master teacher in many contexts, from philosophy cl asses to law school. There is effort underway to incorporate "Socratic" dialogue into ma ny programs at the precollegiate level (Lipman et. al., 1980; Obermiller, 1989). On the s urface, then, it would seem that this particular bit of history, brought to life for us t hrough Plato, Xenophon, and Aristophanes, is also alive in teaching and learning, beyond the car eful scholarship of the university classicist or philosopher. This diversity in the use of the legacy of Socrate s in current pedagogy does signify a vital tradition. Many of the uses of this legacy a re admirable. Yet, understandings of a
2 of 14"Socratic method" differ widely. There is, for exa mple, disagreement over whether Socrates offered a pedagogical method as that term is unders tood today. I propose to examine a number of uses of Socratic pedagogy in different co ntexts in order to show inconsistency among them, particularly in reference to the Platon ic Socrates. I build upon other recent work (Haroutunian-Gordon, 1991; Burbules, 1993; Pek arsky, 1994) that explore the Socratic legacy for education, while offering insights into additional recent Socratic practitioners (Paley, 1986, 1990; Adler, 1982, 1990; Weiss, 1987) I conclude that there is widespread use of the ter m "Socratic" in descriptions of certain types of teaching. Yet, when Socratic teac hing is taken to mean everything from dialectical examination of philosophical issues of justice, the good, and the like, (Gray, 1988) to the use of questions by a teacher, indepen dent of the subject matter (Kay and Young, 1986), there needs to be a clearer understan ding of the uses of the Socratic legacy for teaching. Background: Some Recent Commentators on Socrates Several current critical views of Socrates should be taken into account if we are to fully understand and be able to appraise critically that legacy. Moreover, such criticism is a key element in a determination of the uses of Socra tes for present day teaching, as I shall argue at the end of this paper. Recent commentator s on both the historical and Platonic Socrates, among them Bruce Kimball (1986), I. F. St one (1988), and Friedrich Nietzsche (1872, 1956), have been critical of Socrates and hi s legacy. Stone sees a Socrates as the enemy of the nascent Greek democracy, Nietzsche por trays a degenerate destroyer of the heroic legacy of the tragic age of Greece, and Kimb all rues the emphasis of Socratic rationality over Ciceronian oratory in liberal educ ation. Nietzsche, though of at least two minds about Socr ates (Dannhauser, 1974, especially pp. 269f.), began his career with a full-force atta ck upon the Greek. In The Birth of Tragedy (1872, 1956), he laments the emergence of the Socra tic spirit of exhaustive analysis that put an end to the Apollinian-Dionysian mix that spawned early Greek tragedy. Nietzsche notes that Socrates was incapable of appreciating the ear lier tragedians, like Aeschylus, and only attended the plays of Euripides (whom Nietzsche sne eringly calls the first rational tragedian (pp. 81-83). Socratess insistence upon painstakin g analysis signaled for Nietzsche not only the end of the vitality of Greek culture, but also the beginning of an age of men with diminished spirits dependent upon rational analysis rather than creative myth. An even more blistering attack, though from a diff erent angle, comes from the late journalist I. F. Stone (1988). Stone sees Socrates as democracy's enemy, one who believed that the herd of men needed to be firmly ruled (p. 38). This political view, coupled with the belief that knowledge is absolute and unattainable, and that virtue and knowledge could not be taught (pp. 63f.), makes it difficult for Stone to see how Socrates could be defended as a teacher or even citizen of Athens. Stone's book ma de a splash in the trade press because he attempted to defend Athenian democracy against Socr ates. A more measured critique of Socrates's influence c an be found in Bruce Kimball's widely discussed book, Orators and Philosophers (19 86). Kimball points out that the philosophical tradition of Socrates has won out in contemporary liberal education over the oratorical tradition of Cicero. Kimball sees a ten sion between the pursuit of knowledge on the one hand, and the recognition and maintenance o f the importance of historical traditions within learning communities on the other hand. Kimball's discussion has crucial educational impor t. It challenges us to find ways to keep alive the Socratic spirit, however corrosive o r parasitic of myth and culture, while also maintaining an appreciation and a cultivation of tr adition and custom advocated in the
3 of 14Ciceronian oratorical view. This challenge was of course Nietzsche's own too, made clear in The Use and Abuse of History. We shall keep this t heme from Kimball and Nietzsche in mind as we examine contemporary Socratic pedagogy. Such views were not voiced specifically apropos of educational practice; yet they are key to understanding Socratic pedagogy today. This import is evident in a heated published exchange between Richard Paul and Louis Goldman con cerning the role of Socratic inquiry in the schools (Goldman,1984; Paul,1984). Goldman believes that Socratic questioning can be dangerous if begun too early: "A proper educati on of the young must begin with a firm grounding in the nature and values of our culture" (Goldman, 1984, p. 60; see also Nietzsche 1872, 1956; Beatty, 1984; Kimball, 1986). He notes that Plato advocated dialectics only after a long preparatory education. Socratic quest ioning can become dynamite in the wrong hands, and we only approximate his practice (p. 62) Goldman recommends that we attend to traditional (Ciceronian, in Kimball's term) educ ation for the young, and not encourage too early an introduction to dialectics. Richard Paul, perhaps the most well known advocate of critical thinking in the schools, disagrees with Goldman. He believes that we must foster the habit of thinking critically at the same time and in tandem with an a ppreciation of culture. He takes up the challenge offered by Kimball and others. To borrow Kimball's terms, Paul believes that a synthesis of Socratic inquiry and Ciceronian tradit ionalism should be fostered. Paul goes further by making a claim common to theorists inter ested in philosophy for the young (Matthews, 1980; Lipman, Sharp, & Oscanyan, 1980). Thinking philosophically occurs naturally in children. Infectious curiosity manife sted in childlike wonder and the persistent questioning that attends such wonder should be harn essed by a sensitive teacher to further the appreciation of cultural traditions and other e ducational aims. Socrates as Teacher: A Reexamination Prominent philosophers of education extend these p erspectives, from Nietzsche to current debates in the area of critical thinking. Perhaps the most sustained attempt to grapple with the legacy of Socrates for pedagogy ha s been made by Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon and her colleagues (Hansen 1988; Haroutunian-Gordon 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991; Haroutunian and Jackson 1986). Through a close reading of several of the Socratic dialogues, particularly the Gorgias, Meno, Philebus, Phaedo, and Protagoras, Haroutunian -Gordon challenges the notion of a "Socratic method." For instance, she points out So cratic inconsistencies that call into question use of the term. She makes a further clai m that the reason Socrates does not follow a prescribed formal method is that he is in what ed ucational researchers now call an "ill-structured teaching situation." Following a p redetermined dialectical blueprint will not suffice for the way that a discussion may have gone "awry" (Haroutunian-Gordon, 1988, p. 231). In such situations, the questions one asks d epend on the content of the conversation, and how nuance and shadings of meaning issue forth their own structure. Certainly many post-Wittgensteinian philosophers, as diverse as Gr ice and Gadamer, have explored this phenomenon long known to writers of imaginative lit erature. For our purposes, so too have experienced teachers known how to work their way ou t of ill-structured situations to effect learning for diverse students. Elsewhere, by way of showing again the inadequacy of a formal description of Socratess teaching, Haroutunian-Gordon attempts to "identify pedagogical aims" (1987, pp. 119f.) by giving four suggestions about what these might be: 1) bring interlocutors to aporia; 2) pursue truth about fundamental questions ; 3) teach proper intellectual habits; 4) modify the moral principles of the interlocutors. Though Socrates may advocate the philosophical life via these aims according to Haro utunian-Gordon, he does not demand that
4 of 14others follow this life, nor are these purported ai ms necessarily relevant to the "task of explaining why he did what he did in the dialogues" (1987, p. 129). Haroutunian-Gordon's arguments are important, for they powerfully underm ine an easy mimicry of the use of Plato's Socrates in one's pedagogy. Socratic Pedagogy in the Meno The Socratic legacy offered up by Haroutunian-Gord on and her colleagues, along with the views discussed by recent commentators, ma ke it difficult to see how Socrates has become such a pervasive pedagogical model. He says repeatedly that he is not a teacher, and then seems almost intent on proving that claim by i rony, inconsistent action, and an occasional long-winded speech, as at the end of the Gorgias. Yet, perhaps we can turn to one place where many have looked when they speak of Socratic teaching, Platos dialogue Meno. An old man drawing geometric figures in the sand for a young slave boy is a powerful image of what many believe Socratic teachi ng to be. Nevertheless, we must be careful with this seeming ly transparent instance of pedagogy. Though an important theme of the dialogu e comes when Socrates extracts the distinction between knowledge and true opinion thro ugh coaxing and vivid imagery, his supposed drawing out of the recollected geometric w isdom from the slave boy is troublesome as a display of pedagogy. Socrates begins his lesson by putting words in the mouth of the slave boy (82B f.). Is this a convincing display of pedagogy? Leaving asi de the blatant (to my eyes at least) problems of power and dominance of an elderly Greek citizen teaching a slave boy, this example of teaching has always left me cold. It is not apparent at all that teaching has occurred though it is a convincing display of infer ence as R. E. Allen (1959) has pointed out. It is not made clear in the dialogue that the slave boy is somehow capable of using his knowledge. He appears more like a sounding board f or Socrates, who here seems to be just a mouthpiece for the theories of recollection (anam nesis) and innate knowledge. I grant that a more generous reading of the Meno t hat sets aside this power differential is possible (Macmillan and Garrison, 1 988; Burbules, 1993, pp. 120-122). Here Socrates is actually teaching when he asks his lead ing questions of the slave boy, because these questions are disguised answers to the questi ons that the boy should be asking. These questions are "stepwise" (Burbules, 1993, p. 122) i n an instructional kind of dialogue where the end is known by the teacher, and implicitly kno wn by the slave boy (Macmillan and Garrison, 1988, p. 154). Contemporary Inspiration: Capturing, and Missing, the Socratic Spirit Though the Meno may be troublesome to some as peda gogy, it has provided inspiration to classroom teachers. The famous pass age (80A-B) where Meno chides Socrates for being like the electric ray (or torped o) for delivering perplexing questions has provided Donald Thomas (1985) with a way to teach s o that students will go out on their own and dig under the surface. In a brief and thou ghtful essay, Thomas describes an episode in his early secondary school teaching career when he dramatically presented a sermon by the Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards for his stude nts. He wanted to stun his students into a perplexity that might be uncomfortable, much as S ocrates makes Meno uncomfortable with his persistent questions. Thomas wanted them to see Edwards come alive so that these contemporary students would not forget the Puritan' s images. The "torpedo's touch" was there, much to the chagrin of a team of behaviorall y oriented evaluators in the back of the room.
5 of 14 Many years after this incident, Thomas still uses the "torpedo's touch" in his pedagogical array. Like Socrates, he often begins with pleasantries and surface talk, waiting for the right moment to deliver the stark and perpl exing questions that may provoke wonder coupled with a realization of ignorance in his stud ents (p. 222). Yet, Thomas's essay is too brief for him to give us examples of his questions, and to recreate a number of different pedagogical scenarios. Furthermore, we would want to know just how his questions were akin to those of Socrates beyond being perplexing a nd intellectually numbing. While Thomas has taken inspiration from Socrates i n his classroom practice, others attempt to devise Socratic teaching strategies devo id of such spirit. Some of the most flagrant "abuses" associated with using Socrates as a pedagogic model come when superficial aspects of the Platonic Socrates are us ed uncritically as pedagogic strategies. Fishman (1985) notes several of these "misconcepti ons." The Socratic method is often seen and used today as an open-ended question and answer process (p. 185). Kay and Young (1986) equate Socratic teaching with asking m ore questions in the classroom and with the encouragement of students to become indepe ndent and autonomous thinkers. They compare Socratic questioning with a teaching strate gy called "ReQuest," developed by the educationist Anthony Manzo. No mention of content or aim of the questions is given by Kay and Young; apparently to them it seems sufficie nt that the teacher is a full-time questioner in order to be dubbed Socratic. Beyond Inspiration: Current Socratic Teaching In what follows, I explore a number of examples of Socratic teaching strategies that have gone beyond either drawing inspiration from th e dialogues or missing that inspiration. A weakness in Thomas's approach is that a pedagogic al strategy, rich with examples, is not spelled out in his brief essay. On the other hand, if an understanding of the Socratic mission is absent, we may be led to the lifting and distort ing of formal qualities of Socratic practice in our teaching, as with Kay and Young (1986). Th e teaching of Vivian Gussin Paley and another Chicago based Socratic practitioner, Mortim er Adler, provide our next examples as we enrich our horizon concerning Socratic pedagogy. Vivian Paley, recently retired from years of teach ing kindergarten, tells us of numbness of a different kind from that of Thomas's "torpedo's touch." She describes candidly her lack of interest and enjoyment in her early years of teaching (1986). She happened to observe a colleague using the "old Socr atic method" (p. 123) she too had once used as a Great Books discussion leader. Then she began to realize how excited she was about the process of thinking going on in the minds of her students. She now affirms the place of this process over any other outcome, or pr oduct, in her teaching (1990). Children are not interested in answers, she claims, but are fascinated by process (1990; see also Matthews, 1980) and entranced by meaning making and the play of language. The impetus for renewed interest and curiosity abo ut her own teaching came from the hard realization that she did not know the answers to the questions that her young charges were posing. Paley was thus forced to keep asking relevant questions, based not on her own preconceptions, but rather on how the child was thi nking about a topic (1986, p. 124). The classroom drama, in which her students enacted imag inative stories of their own construction, became for her "a paper chain of magi cal imaginings mixed with some solid facts" (1986, p. 123). This paper chain offered Pa ley abundant opportunities for her version of Socratic probing. Yet Paley the teacher goes beyond Socratic questio ning in the classroom. She turns the questioning reflexively upon herself and her ow n thinking with a "specific tool" (1990) she has used for years, the tape recorder. Paley t apes daily ninety minutes of her students'
6 of 14stories and the accompanying dialogue. The tape re corder, with its "unrelenting fidelity" (1986, p. 123) trained her to listen precisely to w hat the children say. In transcribing the taped dialogue, large chunks of which appear in her books, Paley has the opportunity to review all that went on in the classroom. Using wh at she calls an "internalized Socratic method" (Obermiller, 1986, p. 19), she takes hersel f to task in preparation for her writing, asking herself questions like "why did I ignore tha t question?" or "is that something I could have taken up with him?" (1990). For Paley, this activity is part of the "intellect ual game of teaching" (1990). Interacting with preschoolers as they play with blo cks is not merely play, but also the process of thinking and intellectual inquiry. Her exhausting teaching, taping, and transcribing regimen is an important living manifes tation of the Socratic notion of the worth of the examined life. This element of reflexive in quiry aimed at self-knowledge, difficult to achieve, is absent from such purported Socratic tea ching advocated by practitioners like Kay and Young. Paley's methods have attracted attention and accla im. Yet Mortimer Adler and his supporters espouse an even more widespread version of Socratic teaching. Adler's Paideia Proposal (1982) is one of the key documents of the recent school reform movement. In this brief work he advocates three interrelated ways of learning (p. 23) that should be followed by all students regardless of age or ability: 1) t he acquisition of knowledge by lectures, memorization, and other means; 2) the development o f intellectual skills, through coaching; 3) the enlargement of understanding through Socrati c discussion of ideas and texts. However, the overwhelming majority of the focus giv en in the implementation of the Paideia Proposal, has been on the third type of lea rning, the Socratic seminar (Gray, 1988, Sizer, 1984, Chapter 5). Let us turn to a discussi on of Adler's version of Socratic pedagogy. Adler's description of seminar pedagogy is decepti vely simple: A "discussion in which students both ask and answer questions" (1982 p. 53). One of his close associates, Patricia Weiss, defines a seminar as: "(an) educat ionally oriented discussion in which ideas, issues, or principles are examined...The main teach ing method used in seminars is one of questioning and examining responses. This style of teaching is often referred to as Socratic teaching, named after Socrates who used questions i n his teaching of the youth of Athens in 400 BC" (1987, p. 1; emphasis added). Weiss then describes the three tasks of the semina r leader proposed by Adler: 1) to ask a series of questions, 2) to examine the answer s by trying to draw out the reasons for them, or their implications, 3) to engage the parti cipants in a two-way talk with one another when views appear to be in conflict" (p. 1). I can recognize Socrates in 1 and 2, though I cannot recall anywhere in the dialogues where Socra tes encourages his interlocutors to debate each other. Rather, with few exceptions (Ca llicles comes to mind), these interlocutors are more likely to give monosyllabic replies to Socrates's withering questions, prompting more than one reader to wonder just how d ialogic these accounts were intended to be. One the other hand, though this Adlerian technique may not be true to the Platonic Socrates, might it be seen as a commendable develop ment of Socratic practice? After all it does seem odd (unless you consider Plato's own agen da for his created characters) that these interlocutors, many of whom are absurdly laconic, r arely argue amongst themselves (the Gorgias being a striking exception). Sadly, though at least in my repeated observation of seminars led by Adler himself and some of his assoc iates, this third task of a seminar leader is as rarely practiced today as it might have been in ancient Athens. Let us now turn to a closer examination of how Wei ss practices Socratic teaching. In her manual that accompanies the videotapes of Adler leading seminars for high school students (1987), Weiss provides a detailed discussi on of how to structure a seminar. She
7 of 14suggests that the teacher first set an atmosphere t hat will allow students to feel at ease in asking questions. This may include putting to one side any expertises students may bring to the text at hand (Gray, 1988) so that general discu ssion among (near) equals may be established. Weiss begins her classes with a varie ty of nonthreatening questioning techniques (e.g., round robin, voting, random call on whether students like or dislike Socrates are typical in her teaching of the Apology ) to get discussion going. Once discussion is underway, Weiss may move to ask whether Socrates is a teacher, opinions on the charges made against him in the Apo logy, or whether he is guilty or innocent. Like Haroutunian-Gordon (1988), Weiss ac knowledges the "ill-structured teaching situation" through this emphasis upon maki ng teachers aware of the importance of being prepared to ask unscripted follow-up question s (Weiss, 1987, p. 2). These practices are all commendable, but they rest upon a crucial a ssumption, made clear by another Paideia advocate, Dennis Gray. Even as Gray asserts that S ocrates had no syllabus, he declares that the purpose of Socratic teaching is to focus always on texts, with even the opening question based upon a close study of the text at hand (1988) The changes we moderns have made in the name of So crates could not be clearer. Socrates, of course, did not use a common reading a round a seminar table. Furthermore, this assertion by Gray makes apparent another related as sumption of the Paideia method, namely that great works will contain great ideas. The Dark Side of the Socratic Legend The image of Socratic teaching presented above has been mixed. Socrates can be difficult and disarming. Yet we educators are ofte n intent upon seeing Socrates in the warm glow of history as the one who began humanistic inq uiry. In this section, I shall return to an unromantic view of Socrates that I have so far only presented through other writers such as Stone and Nietzsche. I shall suggest the importance, though with qualif ications, of the dark side of the Socratic spirit by turning to some first-hand accou nts of legal pedagogy, and the use of the "Socratic method" in law schools. In spite of Adle r's inroads into the nation's schools, the popular image of Socratic teaching often comes from the so-called "Socratic method" used in law schools. I gleaned insight from colleagues from graduate school who hold the doctoral degree in philosophy and have also studied law. Many of us have never entered a law class, but we feel that we know what goes on there. We have seen John Houseman's portrayal of P rofessor Kingsfield in the film and television show, "The Paper Chase." Houseman's dep iction of an unforgiving taskmaster asking his often-timid students withering questions is the beginning and the end of legal pedagogy for most of us, and for our perceptions on how Socrates is used in legal teaching. In consulting two colleagues who have experienced l egal pedagogy, I was able to deepen my understanding of Socratic legal teaching beyond thi s popular image. Peter Suber, professor of philosophy at Earlham Co llege, holds both the PhD and JD degrees from Northwestern University. His descript ion of a law class is truly harrowing: "Incorrect answers, undue delays in answering, or o vert signs of nervousness are punished with sardonic jibes or withering glances. The atmo sphere is humiliation; the punishment is humiliation...The consensus among students is that the method is not 'educational' in any traditional sense. It does not help one learn case s or legal reasoning. It is sadistic" (1990). Suber sees ample evidence in the dialogues to think that Socrates behaved similarly. Furthermore, Suber believes that the so-called lega l Socratic method is used in different ways in law schools of different levels of prestige (1990). In the most prestigious category, students behave in the "Paper Chase" fashion, recit ing the facts and attendant arguments while standing and attempting to answer the profess or's questions.
8 of 14 On the other hand, Suber notes what he calls secon d echelon schools and below may be places where the method is more humane. Here th ere may be more emphasis upon reasoning and thinking rather than performance. Un like the first instance cited, this gentler use of the method may in fact emphasize "respond(in g) to well-crafted counterfactuals again and again" (1990) in an atmosphere of support and t rust. Another former colleague, Mark Olson, also holds t he doctoral degree in philosophy from Northwestern University and a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley. Olson, now a practicing attorney, takes a different tack in discussing his experience. He begins by offering a definition of what he carefully calls the "legal Socratic method: "(It) employs the use of actual recorded c ourt cases to teach students the rules of law and their application and justification (whethe r clear or not, whether persuasive or not), through the instructor's use of a series of hypothe ticals based on the main case and through the students' discussion of the case and the hypoth eticals. Its successful use and reception calls for skill and wit" (1990). Olson reminds us of other factors that I agree are crucial to the understanding of the legacy of Socrates for pedagogy. The Socratic meth od evolved in law training as a "historical formation, which, in its present form p resupposed the existence of a legal casebook" (1990). Above all for Olson, the method is not a technique; when it is so practiced it is characteristic of inept instructors In those classes students are not probed, but are allowed to give "unreflective (knee-jerk) respo nses to complex social issues" (1990). One of my deep seated and cherished beliefs has ag ain been questioned by this knowledge. I want to believe, along with Adler and other sanguine educators, that Socratic teaching is a means to search for truth. I still m use in uncritical moments about a Socrates, beneficent and maligned, leading the youth of Athen s on the golden path of instruction. Even in graduate programs in philosophy one does no t discuss often the darker side of this practice as argued by Stone and Nietzsche, and brou ght to the fore here in a different way by Suber and Olson. Stone's criticism of Socrates is too recent; besides, he built his reputation as the consummate outsider journalist who only taug ht himself Greek in his waning years. He did not belong to the anointed academic club of classical scholarship. Nietzsche, though a classical scholar, is often dismissed as a German at best and a raving crank at worst, particularly when it comes to his views on Socrates Yet, this "darker" side of Socrates must be preser ved, as I shall contend in the following section, if we are to truly "use" and not "abuse" Socrates in present day teaching. Suber's description of a harrowing law class may be an extreme version of such practice, though a recent feminist critique of legal educatio n supports Subers claims. Guinier, Fine, and Balin (1997) go even further to call the legal Socratic method "ritualized combat" that is harmful and counterproductive to the education and well-being of women law students. Subers description of the "sadistic" querying tha t may go on in higher echelon law schools may be true to Socrates in one sense; he wa s relentless and oftentimes unpleasant. But we must ask to what end these displays are head ed. In the following section, I shall seek to show that we must preserve the wily, irascible S ocrates most of us have come to love (or hate) so that at the same time we preserve the core of his mission. Conclusion: Determining the Use and Abuse of Socra tes We have seen how Socrates is part of many classroo m situations, from Paley's kindergarten on up to law school. Which of these a re legitimate uses of Socrates and which are abusive? To determine such appraisals, I belie ve we must use several standards. Abuse of Socrates does not necessarily come, as might be first thought, when the Socratic "victim" is mischievously questioned and pierced with sardon ic barbs. Abuse may come rather more
9 of 14from well-meaning educators who, perhaps in the joy of discovering a technique that is liberating and aims toward thinking, strip Socrates of his power. How could the Socratic legacy be so diminished? First, we may forget that Socrates at his best was attempting to uncover self-knowledge and encouraging others to do so too. He followed his daemon and eschewed followers. As both Stone and Suber unders core, Socrates was devious and crafty. These factors must lie at the core of any interpret ation of Socrates for present day teaching. If we apply (and I use this term deliberately) a So cratic method to any topic, this strategy does not necessarily guarantee that self-knowledge will occur. Self-knowledge is a difficult concept, as the irony used by a Socrates or a Soren Kierkegaard seems to suggest. Yet to forget the unsavory aspects of Socrates is to forsa ke the Socratic spirit, and thus to abuse the legacy of Socrates for education. A related abuse of Socrates in present day teachin g comes when we believe uncritically that Socrates himself was a teacher. The word teacher makes most of us who are in the "education business" think of someone wh o may devise and implement a curricular rationale. If Socrates was indeed a tea cher, then he must have had a specific pedagogy and a specific set of topics that can be l earned by others, the reasoning goes. A central insight of Burbuless recent book on dialog ical teaching (1993) is in seeing clearly Socratic teaching as a multifarious repertoire. Bu rbules argues that Socratically inspired teachers play a dialogical "game" that, though guid ed by rules, is sensitive to context. Platos own writing of the dialogue is itself a Soc ratic teaching act. The writer is the teacher, and the reader, the student, both of the d ialogue, and, reflexively, of him or herself. But this has not deterred other educators from advo cating what they suppose are simple teachable strategies and curricular objectives deri ved from Plato's character. While I have observed Mortimer Adler using irony a nd even humiliation in a manner akin to Socrates, it is not clear that those traine d by him have the confidence or the temperament to use these ploys. I have watched wel l-intentioned teachers trained under Adler leading supposedly "Socratic" discussions wit hout suggesting even a hint of irony or challenge, something Adler himself criticizes as "w atered-down" seminars (Adler, 1990). Perhaps a good number of teachers find themselves i ncapable of being "mischievous, disingenuous, and cunning, and occasionally even de vious" (Suber, 1990) in the way that Plato's Socrates was. Conflicts between Socratic teaching and other aims of education are also apparent and disturbing. Educators are urged to be supporti ve, to nurture their students, many of whom are currently "at-risk." Teachers must often serve as surrogate parents to students from dysfunctional families. I have taught Platos Socrates to a number of graduate students in special education. They have all told me that u sing Socratic dialogue moves in their teaching would be highly problematic if not impossi ble. It is thus difficult and perhaps even at cross-purposes to use such a pedagogical method and encourage the cultivation of self-knowledge with these students. Here is where the sensitivity, knowledge, and skil l of a teacher, well-versed in a Socratically inspired repertoire of pedagogical str ategies and moves in the dialogue game (Burbules, 1993), comes into play. In addition, su ch a teacher must have a sympathetic understanding of each student and the nuances of th at particular classroom climate. Otherwise such abuses already discussed such as eit her a stripping of Socratic teaching to just a questioning exercise, on the one hand, or th e "ritualized combat" experienced by many women in law classes, could occur. My argument points to the need to recognize an end uring core of the Socratic legacy for teaching. Haroutunian-Gordon and others have g iven enough textual evidence in order for us to be suspicious of thinking that Socrates w as a teacher in any conventional or current
10 of 14sense of that term. Other commentators as diverse as Nietzsche, I.F. Stone, Bruce Kimball, and Louis Goldman have called attention to the corr osive and even dangerous qualities of Socratic inquiry. Yet why does Socrates continue t o leave the torpedo's deep marks upon most anyone who reads the dialogues, and on those o f us who are inspired to model his actions in our own teaching? The Socrates of Plato's dialogues continually cuts past areas of knowledge apprehended by either episteme or phronesis, theory or practice. Socrates can make us feel that the failure to sustain a thesis or find a defi nition is not just a defeat of intelligence, but rather a moral disaster (Vlastos, 1971, 1980, p. 6) Socrates may not have given us a simple "method" that we can apply to any topic, and it may be difficult to teach Socratically in today's "antidialogical" schools (Burbules, 1993). Yet the larger issues raised in the dialogues must not be ignored. If anything, Socrat ic irony confounds many of the simplistic interpretations of the Socratic legacy for teachiin g. The care of the soul, the project of moral inquiry, and a searching that cuts across social cl ass should be the first and foremost use, and ultimate worth, of Socrates for present-day teachin g (Vlastos 1971, 1980; see also Gadamer, 1986; Seeskin, 1987; Johnson, 1989). Note: This paper is based on a presentation at AERA. I wish to thank Jim Garrison, Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon, Michael Jones, and Ralph Page f or comments upon several subsequent drafts prior to submission, and Gene Gla ss and four anonymous reviewers for this journal for their comments subsequent to submi ssion. References Adler, M. J. (1982). The paideia proposal New York: Macmillan. Adler, M. J. (1990, January/February). No watereddown seminars. The Paideia Bulletin VI(3), 1; 6. Allen, R. E. (1959). Anamnesis in Plato's Meno and Phaedo. Review of Metaphysics, XIII(1), 165-74. Beatty, J. (1984, winter). The complexities of mor al education in a liberal, pluralistic society: The cases of Socrates, Mrs. Pettit, and A dolf Eichmann. Soundings 67(4), 420-42. Burbules, N. C. (1993). Dialogue in teaching: Theory and practice New York: Teachers College Press. Dannhauser, W. J. (1974). Nietzsche's view of Socrates Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press. Fishman, E. M. (1985, fall). Counteracting misconc eptions about the Socratic method. College Teaching 33(4), 185-88. Gadamer, H-G. (1986). The idea of the good in Platonic-Aristotelian philo sophy (P. C. Smith, Trans.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Pr ess. Goldman, L. (1984, September). Warning: The Socra tic method can be dangerous. Educational Leadership 42(1), 57-62.
11 of 14Gray, D. (1988, summer). Socratic seminars: Basic education and reformation. Basic Education: Issues, Answers, and Facts, 3, 14. Wa shington, DC: Council for Basic Education. Guinier, L., Fine, M., & Balin, J. (1997). Becoming gentlemen: Women, law school, and institutional change Boston: Beacon Press. Hansen, D. T. (1988, spring). Was Socrates a "Socr atic" teacher? Educational Theory 38(2), 213-224. Haroutunian-Gordon, S. (1987, fall). Evaluating te achers: The case of Socrates. Teachers College Record 89(1), 117-32. Haroutunian-Gordon, S. (1988, spring). Teaching in an "ill-structured" situation: The case of Socrates. Educational Theory 38(2), 225-237. Haroutunian-Gordon, S. (1989). Socrates as teacher In P. W. Jackson & S. Haroutunian-Gordon (Eds.) From Socrates to software: The teacher as text and the text as teacher (Eighty Ninth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, Part I, pp. 5-23). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Haroutunian-Gordon, S. (1990). Statements of metho d and teaching: The case of Socrates. Studies in Philosophy and Education 10, 139-156. Haroutunian-Gordon, S. (1991). Turning the soul: Teaching through conversation in the high school. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Haroutunian, S., & Jackson, P. W. (1986, fall). Th e teacher in question: A study of teaching gone awry. Teachers College Record 88(1), 53-63. Johnson, T. W. (1989, fall). Teaching as translati on: The philosophical dimension. Thinking: The Journal of Philosophy for Children 8(3), 34-38. Kay, L. H., & Young J. L. (1986, July-August). Soc ratic teaching in social studies. Social Studies 77(4), 158-61. Kimball, B. A. (1986). Orators and philosophers: A history of the idea of liberal education. New York: Teachers College Press. Lipman, M., Sharp, A. M., & Oscanyan, F. S. (1980). Philosophy in the classroom. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Macmillan, C. J. B., & Garrison, J. W. (1988). A logical theory of teaching: Erotetics and intentionality. Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Kluwer. Matthews, G. B. (1980). Philosophy and the young child. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Nietzsche, F. N. (1872, 1956). The birth of tragedy (F. Golffing, Trans.). Garden City, NY: Doubleday. Nietzsche, F. N. (1874, 1979). The use and abuse of history (A. Collins, Trans.).
12 of 14Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill. Obermiller, T. (1989, summer). All in a day's play University of Chicago Magazine 15-19. Olson, M. A. (1990, January). Personal corresponde nce with the author. Paley, V. G. (1986, May). On listening to what the children say. Harvard Educational Review 56(2), 122-131. Paley, V. G. (1990, January). Telephone interview with the author. Paul, R. W. (1984, September). The Socratic spirit : An answer to Louis Goldman. Educational Leadership 42(1), 63-64. Pekarsky, D. (1994). Socratic teaching. A critica l assessment. Journal of Moral Education 23(2), 119-134. Plato (4rth Century BC, 1973). The collected dialogues of Plato (E. Hamilton and H. Cairns, Eds.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton Universit y Press. Seeskin, K. (1987). Dialogue and discovery: A study of Socratic method Albany, NY: SUNY Press. Sizer, T. R. (1984). Horace's compromise: The dilemma of the American h igh school. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Stone, I. F. (1988). The trial of Socrates. Boston: Little, Brown. Suber, P. (1990, January). Personal correspondence with the author. Thomas, D. W. (1985, May). The torpedo's touch. Harvard Educational Review 55(2), 220-22. Vlastos, G. (1971, 1980). The paradox of Socrates in G. Vlastos (ed.) The Philosophy of Socrates: A Collection of Critical Essays (pp. 1-21). Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. Weiss, P. F. (1987). Great ideas: A seminar approach to teaching and le arning. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica. About the AuthorAnthony G. Rud Jr. firstname.lastname@example.org Associate DeanSchool of Education, 1440 LAEBPurdue UniversityWest Lafayette, Indiana 47907-1440 USA
13 of 14 email: email@example.comPhone: 317-494-6542Fax: 317-494-5832Home page: http://www.soe.purdue.edu/faculty/rud.html Anthony Gordon Rud Jr. is associate dean, and assoc iate professor of educational studies, in the School of Education at Purdue Unive rsity. He received his A.B. with honors from Dartmouth College, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in p hilosophy from Northwestern University. Rud is a founding member and former off icer of the Association for Philosophy of Education, a former member of the Committee on I nternational Relations of the American Educational Research Association and the C ommittee on Pre-College Instruction of the American Philosophical Association, and a se nior associate of the Council for Basic Education. He has served as a consultant for school systems on leadership issues, critical thinking, moral education, and school reform, and f or organizations as diverse as the National Paideia Center at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character at Boston U niversity, and the Department of Special Education at the University of South Florid a. Rud came to Purdue from The North Carolina Center f or the Advancement of Teaching, where he served as Senior Fellow. He also has worked at Dartmouth College as an administrator, adjunct faculty member, and fresh man advisor, and taught high school humanities and social studies. Rud's research inter ests center upon the intersection of the foundations of education and educational practice, with particular emphasis upon the preparation and professional development of teacher s and educational leaders. Rud is senior editor and contributor to A Place for Teacher Renewal: Challenging the Intellect, Creating Educational Reform published by Teachers College Press. The author o f a number of articles and reviews, he regularly make s presentations at major professional conferences. Rud serves on the editorial boards of several academic and professional journals, and is the chair of the editorial board o f Purdue University Press. He joins James W. Garrison as coeditor and contributor to a volume of essays entitled The Educational Conversation: Closing the Gap published by the State University of New York Pre ss in 1995. Rud lives in West Lafayette, Indiana with his wife Rita and daughter Rachel.Copyright 1997 by the Education Policy Analysis ArchivesThe World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is http://olam.ed.asu.edu/epaa General questions about appropriateness of topics o r particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Gene V Glass, firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him at College of Education, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-2411. (602-965-26 92). The Book Review Editor is Walter E. Shepherd: email@example.com The Commentary Editor is Casey D. Cobb: firstname.lastname@example.org .EPAA Editorial Board
14 of 14 Michael W. Apple University of Wisconsin Greg Camilli Rutgers University John Covaleskie Northern Michigan University Andrew Coulson email@example.com Alan Davis University of Colorado, Denver Sherman Dorn University of South Florida Mark E. Fetler California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Richard Garlikov firstname.lastname@example.org Thomas F. Green Syracuse University Alison I. Griffith York University Arlen Gullickson Western Michigan University Ernest R. House University of Colorado Aimee Howley Marshall University Craig B. Howley Appalachia Educational Laboratory William Hunter University of Calgary Richard M. Jaeger University of North Carolina--Greensboro Daniel Kalls Ume University Benjamin Levin University of Manitoba Thomas Mauhs-Pugh Rocky Mountain College Dewayne Matthews Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education William McInerney Purdue University Mary P. McKeown Arizona Board of Regents Les McLean University of Toronto Susan Bobbitt Nolen University of Washington Anne L. Pemberton email@example.com Hugh G. Petrie SUNY Buffalo Richard C. Richardson Arizona State University Anthony G. Rud Jr. Purdue University Dennis Sayers University of California at Davis Jay D. Scribner University of Texas at Austin Michael Scriven firstname.lastname@example.org Robert E. Stake University of Illinois--UC Robert Stonehill U.S. Department of Education Robert T. Stout Arizona State University
1 of 7 Contributed Commentary on Volume 5 Number 20: Rud The Use and Abuse of Socrates in Present Day Teachi ng 30 May 1998 Rick GarlikovRick@Garlikov.com Preface I am deeply troubled by the comments about Socrates and the Socratic Method that Anthony G. Rud, Jr. makes in his "The Use and Abuse of Socrates in Present Day Teaching" (EPAA Volume 5 Number 20, November 24, 1997), becau se I think they reflect what many educators today might feel about Socrates as portra yed in the Platonic dialogues; and if so, I think that is a terrible loss for today's students. In this response I want to deal only with issues about the Socratic teaching method, not with the interesting, and I think false, claim Rud seems to accept (ascribing it originally to Nie tzsche) about the supposed conflicts between "rationality" and "creative myth" or betwee n the search for truth and the continuing of cultural traditions. And I do not wish to consid er specific beliefs of Socrates involving possible errors in reasoning or in the factual know ledge from which he was reasoning. I wish only to examine issues relevant to instructional me thodology. What I find particularly troubling is that Rud (and from his citations, apparently many others) doesn't see what seems to me to be quite ob vious in regard to what Socrates' methodology is all about. (Note 1) The method of questioning of the slave boy is not unlike Socrates questioning of Euthyphro or of the many other, often famous and powerful, a dults in the dialogues. So where Rud sees it as displayin g "blatant...problems of power and dominance of an elderly Greek citizen teaching a sl ave boy," I see the age and class difference as irrelevant features of that dialogue, since the essential features in it are no different than in the others, where Socrates questi ons quite prominent and highly positioned citizens. Nor, in many cases are the questions, and the answers given by the characters in the dialogues, very different from what would occur tod ay if one were talking to someone about those very same subjects in a modern vernacular and with references to contemporary examples of the same sorts of actions and ideas Soc rates gives his examples to illustrate. In discussing both Burbules and Haroutunian-Gordon, Rud seems to think it somehow surprising that Socrates does not follow prescribed formal methods and that he did not have a "specific pedagogy and a specific set of topics t hat can be learned by others." I do not know how to account for finding that surprising. It is quite clear from the dialogues that Socrates simply had thought deeply about a great ma ny different things, and that he questioned people who expressed views he thought fa lse about those things to see whether it was he or they who were in error, probably thinking it more likely they would be the ones who were mistaken, but entertaining the possibility he was the one who was mistaken. In the dialogues I have read, it is quite clear that Socra tes' analysis is always deeper and more sustained than the other participants, and that the latter tend to express either unanalyzed,
2 of 7unreflective, popular views or views for which they may have some shallow reasons, but not very good ones certainly not ones that will withs tand scrutiny. To characterize this sort of inquiry, where one responds to others' views by sho wing them the problems with those views, as an "ill-structured teaching situation" th at teachers need "to work their way out of" is to think of teaching much too narrowly as someth ing that can only occur with a particular topic in a particular formal and prescribed way und er particular conditions regardless of what beliefs or knowledge or ability one's students bring to the classroom. And the requirement of a specific pedagogy and set of topic s ignores the common notion of teaching as something, say, parents might do when they teach their kids table manners, bicycle riding, the rules of baseball, how to throw a curve ball, b adminton, croquet, how to drive, checkers, card tricks, how to deal with defeat or disappointm ent, and a zillion other things that parents teach children without curricular rationales or sys tematic, formalized topics offered at specially chosen preconceived times. The method involves teaching things at times they a re relevant in ways that are most relevant to the person one is teaching, or guiding. That necessarily involves being able to ascertain what they already know or believe and und erstand that can help you teach them what you want them to learn. Although there will be similar elements each time you teach the same topic to different people, some quite diff erent questions and ideas may be required as well, sometimes extremely different questions. O ne class I taught in the early 70's was so wedded to the principle of being true to yourself a nd honest with everyone else that when we discussed "When is it right to break a date, and wh y?" they honestly believed one should break a date, or do any thing whenever one feels like it, regardless of wha t expense or effort the other person might have put into preparation fo r the date, and regardless of how important it might be to him or her. I thought of e very possible question I could to get them to see that was not really a very good principle an d that they really couldn't possibly believe it, but no matter what case I presented to them, th ey consistently took what seemed to me to be the most absurd and untenable position in favor of "doing whatever you really want to" even if it meant committing murder you thought you could get away with. So I had to use a very different strategy to get them to see they did n't really believe that principle was a good one to follow. That was the only group of students I ever taught who held that view; and so the way I had to deal with them during those classe s was different from the way I ever had to deal with any other group. I don't consider such cl asses ill-structured teaching situations. I consider them to be normal teaching situations if o ne is really trying to address students' current knowledge, understanding, beliefs, and sinc ere interests as a starting place to help them learn. And that makes reading Socratic dialogues harder th an participating in one. When the interlocutor gives an answer you would not have giv en, immediately the dialogue will veer from the direction it would have taken had you been the one answering. You may lose interest or you may not understand or appreciate th e answer; or you may not "get" the teacher's response to that answer. Yet you are not there to ask him what s/he means or why the question is relevant. Further, when you are not a participant, it may be difficult to see certain things that are important to see in order e ven to understand the questions. In the edition I have of the Meno, there is a diagram of t he squares Socrates is discussing with the slave, but it is a finished diagram, containing all the elements Socrates draws out for the slave boy one at a time as he needs them. It is dif ficult to tell which lines Socrates is pointing to as he asks questions about the various squares and their areas relative to each other. So what might be quite instructive for the s lave boy in Socrates' presence as he draws or points to certain lines in the figure might be m ore difficult for a reader to understand than would be reading a straightforward essay or argumen t. Unless the answers given by another student are the same as what you would have given, the reading of a Socratic dialogue
3 of 7involving him or her is not the same educational experience as participating i n such a dialogue. Even for the same topic, each occurrence of Socratic teaching is potentially quite different from another. That may explain why someon e might see given dialogues as just a bunch of persistent questions that are "devious" an d difficult. They may not appreciate the point or rationale for the specific questions in a specific dialogue. But since Rud is a philosopher, presumably knowledgeable about some of the topics in the dialogues, that does not explain to me his characterization of them that way. I would have th ought he would understand why Socrates chooses the particular ques tions he does at the times he does. Before getting into the method itself, I would like to dispose of two psychological characteristics Rud associates with it in some case s, that I think are also irrelevant to it: 1) ridicule of the respondent or of his answers, and 2 ) paralysis from fear by the respondent about having to participate in the enterprise. Ridi cule can be used with almost any teaching method, even responding to raised hands, one can ca ll on a student in a hostile and derisive manner. There is nothing about the Socratic method itself that requires hostility and sarcasm. And Socrates did not use it that way generally, if at all. To say or imply that because some people use the method "sadistically"to "humiliate" students in a form of "ritualized combat," the method has a "dark" or "unsavory" side ("to for get the unsavory aspects of Socrates is to forsake the Socratic spirit...", among other such p assages) is like saying that because some people lecture in a boring manner, that lectures ar e by nature boring, or that because some jokes are tasteless that humor is by nature tastele ss. Further, neither the slave boy nor many of the othe r people Socrates questioned seemed to be numbed by fear of making some sort of mistake. Used in an engaging and kind way, there is no need for the method to be threaten ing. And while many students or colleagues tend to become suspicious "something is up" when someone, particularly a philosopher, launches into what seem to be Socratic types of questions, that seldom ties many tongues, unless one feels interrogated and thr eatened by the questioner for reasons other than his/her asking questions. Many of the ch aracters in the dialogues do seem to find excuses to leave the discussions when they find the ir initial views untenable, but they don't seem hesitant to be in the discussions up to that p oint. For students, who are often not so wedded to a view that they find a successful challe nge to it unbearable, the Socratic method is often quite exciting. My experience in using it with "at risk" or students with low GPA's and/or low self-esteem is that they find it interes ting, challenging, stimulating, helpful, and nurturing. Rural Alabama students and urban inner-c ity students alike have said they wished their previous courses had been as thought-provokin g, challenging, and attentive to their own ideas. Students often prefer to have their idea s taken seriously and disagreed with and questioned than to have them ignored or patronizing ly given a good grade with no real critical or analytical attention paid to them. It i s a terrible mistake to see the Socratic Method as being always and automatically antithetical to n urturing or supportive teaching. It only appears that way on the surface, or perhaps to peop le who don't think any ideas should be probed too deeply or their advocates challenged to justify them. Finally in this preface, Socrates answers Rud's obj ection that "It is not made clear in the dialogue that the slave boy is somehow capable of using his knowledge." Socrates says what I think is true: "At present these notions hav e just been stirred up in him, as if in a dream; but if he were frequently asked the same que stions in different forms, he would know as well as anyone at last." The way I tell this to people whom I teach photography is to say, "In two lessons [about four hours total time] I wil l teach you almost everything there is to know about photography so that you will understand it all. But you will not be able to apply it automatically or even keep it all in mind, for i t will not have "sunk in". For that you will need to shoot pictures and bring them to me so that I can go over them and analyze them with you in light of the principles I will have tau ght you. That is when your understanding
4 of 7will start to sink in and become automatic(ally app lied)." The Socratic Method The Socratic Method is simply a way, through asking certain sorts of pointed and stimulating, interesting or "live" questions, to ge t students, or anyone, to focus on the elements one thinks important for understanding of an idea or phenomena, in an order or perspective likely to help them gain that understan ding. The idea is that by asking leading questions -often logically leading questions-ab out the elements one is bringing attention to, the other person will be able to see what you s ee about the idea or phenomena and will then attain the same understanding of it that you d o. The method only works with regard to logical/concep tual types of material; one does not learn "facts" via the Socratic Method, not dire ctly anyway. (It may help the discovery of new facts by showing where one might need to "look" for phenomena, in the same way that theoretical physics often fosters discoveries in ap plied physics.) However, it can be used to make learning facts easier, by organizing their int roduction to the student in a way likely to be more meaningful to him or her. More about this b elow, with regard to teaching photography. When Socrates says it is not teaching, there are a number of things he might mean: (1) that it is not about telling anyone facts, or teach ing them a skill (2) that it is not about telling anyone any thing s/he does not already know, in som e sense of know, (3) that it only works with people who have some appreciation for, and sen se of, inference, (4) that it is not about learning new things, but about putting into perspec tive things one knows but does not fully attend to or see the significance of, and/or (5) th at it only applies to logical/conceptual aspects of material, not to the transfer of factual information In the Apology Socrates contrasts his kind of knowledge or wisdom with that of farmers, poets, etc. He does not have the kind of knowledge they have, which can be taugh t. He has a different sort of knowledge or insight. And he cannot "teach" one to have that, but he can demonstrate the results of his insight to others in certain ways, if they are will ing and able to be receptive in certain ways. I consider what Socrates does to be teaching, even if he did not, because I consider methodically and intentionally fostering particular new perspectives and greater understanding in another person to be one (extremel y important) form or aspect of teaching. But it is definitely not the same thing as trying t o tell or teach facts or fact-based skills. But the Method differs from just asking questions, especially open-ended or non-leading questions, or ones that one does not kn ow the answer to oneself. That is in part why it is a teaching method, not just a brain-storm ing activity nor an activity whose point is merely to inspire thought or research by simply ask ing general or open-ended questions or questions one does not know the answer to oneself. Bill Hunter and I had a long e-mail debate, which is available in an edited form at http://www.Garlikov.com/teaching/dialogue.html about whether fostering research or discovery by students, via questions the questioner may not know the answer to, is teaching. I use the Socratic Method for teaching many things. For a transcript of a fairly "pure" (i.e., questions only) use of the method, with comm entary about it, for teaching a logical/conceptual idea see my "The Socratic Method : Teaching by Asking Instead of by Telling", http://www.Garlikov.com/Soc_Meth.html But I also use the method for organizing material when I teach, say, photography; and for getting students to see mistakes in their reasoning in any subject matter area. An e xample of the latter case was in a discussion of homosexuality in an "Ethics and Socie ty" course where many students said that homosexuality was wrong because (the idea of) it was so disgusting. I asked them whether they thought that such disgust was a suffic ient characteristic to make an action be immoral. They said it was. I asked them then to clo se their eyes and think about ... their
5 of 7parents having sex with each other. They all let ou t an even bigger groan of disgust, and said they found that idea really disgusting. So I asked whether they would have to conclude then that it was immoral for their parents ever to have (or to have had) sex with each other. They agreed it was not. Of course they then asked whethe r that meant I thought homosexuality was moral. My response was that whether it is or is not is simply unrelated to whether it is personally disgusting or not to anyone. I was not t rying to argue in this particular case for or against the morality of homosexuality, but was mere ly trying to get them to see that finding an action disgusting did not justify their thinking it must be immoral just because of that. Having introduced the point to them in that dramati c ("Torpedo's touch"?) way, we then go on to talk about other activities that they might s ometimes characterize as disgusting but not immoral such as dietary preferences that may be q uite different from one's own, surgical procedures, etc.-so that that one example is not seen to be either an anomaly or a complete explanation. As to helping present facts in a manner conducive t o seeing their significance, when I teach photography, I give certain demonstrations an d then ask leading questions about them. Most people, even a great many who have taken a pho tography course or two, do not understand very well the significance of shutter sp eeds, aperture settings, or film ISO numbers. And they do not see that all these are rel ated to each other in a simple way, nor what that portends for their picture-taking. So I o pen the back of an empty camera, remove the lens cap, and point the camera toward a light s urface and trip the shutter, first at different shutter speeds, and then after some questions, at d ifferent aperture settings, letting them see what happens. After the shutter speed demonstration I ask them which shutter speeds let in more light, the ones where the shutter is open long er or shorter. They pretty clearly see that the longer the shutter is open, the more light come s in from a given source. After I point out that the shutter speed numbers are actually just re ciprocals of time measured in seconds (e.g., 250 stands for 1/250 second, 2 stands for second, etc.) I then ask how much more or less light is let in between each shutter speed on the dial. Except for one place where an insignificantly slight adjustment is made in the sy stem, because the time increments between shutter speeds are doubled (or halved in the other direction), they immediately see that changing shutter speeds doubles or halves the amoun t of light let onto the film by a given source, all other things being equal. Letting light from a source go through an opening for one second, for example, allows twice as much light to come in as does allowing it to go through for half a second. I then go through the same thing with regard to ape rture setting. "Which lets in more light?" Obviously the larger opening will. Then I s imply tell them that the aperture system is designed in such a way that the difference between adjacent apertures also lets in twice or half as much light, depending on the direction one is going. Then I ask them how much different the amount of light let in is if I were t o increase the shutter speed by one click, and also increase the size of the aperture by one click They see that is the same amount of light. I do it again, and again. All the changes make no c hange in the amount of light let in to the film. It does not take them long to ask their own q uestion, which is some variation on "Then how do you choose which combination to use, if they all do the same thing?" I take that question to be one sign they are understanding what I have been teaching them so far. And that question allows me to go into the properties s hutter speeds and apertures control in addition to amount of light. Now one of the, I think unjustified, criticisms of the Socratic Method is that the questions are not so much logically leading in a wa y to give insight as they are psychologically merely prompting questions whose an swers are obvious from verbal or psychological cues rather than from attention to th e content. This may be what Rud means when he says that Socrates begins by putting words in the mouth of the slave. I can discuss
6 of 7this criticism better with an example of my own fro m a criticism of my Socratic Method paper. There is a place in that paper where I repor t asking a group of third grade students how many numerals there are in our (Arabic, decimal) numbering syste m. At first the answer the class shouts out is "nine"; then someone says "ten" and there is some agreement with that. So I asked "Which is it, nine or ten," a nd they all yelled back "Ten!" I took that, whether mistakenly or not, as a sign that they were now including zero as a numeral that they had initially neglected to consider when they said "nine." My next question was "If we list the numerals in order, starting with zero, wha t will the list be?" I was taken to task by a critic of the method for essentially telling the st udents zero was a numeral. I don't think I did, because I was pretty certain their change from nine to ten implied they realized zero was a numeral to consider, but I can see how someone mi ght think so. However, it is really an irrelevant criticism of the method, though it may b e a justified criticism of this particular application of the method. Had I been more precise or more thorough, or had I thought it necessary, I would have asked something like "Why d id you change from 'nine' to 'ten'?" or "What are the ten numerals?" If zero were still mis sing, I could have asked something that would have got them to realize it, by, say, holding up a closed fist and asking how many fingers I was 'holding up'. When they said "none," I could have asked how they might write "none" numerically. Or if I asked them what the low est numeral was and they had said "One," I could have asked them whether there was no t some number lower than one. I assume that somehow or other we could have easily g ot to zero, and to their recalling and recognizing it was the lowest numeral. At that poin t the class would have continued as it then did in the original. As to the answers to the individual questions in a Socratic dialogue being prompted by cues other than logic, there are four responses I w ould make to dispute that. 1) You cannot get satisfactory answers to the later questions wit hout first having gone through the earlier questions, so at least these later questions by the mselves obviously do not contain the clues for answering them. 2) There are people who "get lo st" and cannot answer the middle to later questions in a chain of questions that develo ps a line of reasoning. They cannot make connections as they go along. They report that they cannot "follow" the line of thought being developed. 3) When people do successfully follow a chain of questions, they usually report that suddenly they "see" how all this [whatever is being explained or taught] works. They display a "Eureka" experience that cannot be accoun ted for by their having answered easy individual questions whose answers were obvious by the way the questions were asked. And 4) one can often see students make insightful comme nts or ask penetrating questions that show they are starting to catch on to things greate r or more encompassing than your individual questions have covered comments and qu estions they could not make or ask at the beginning of the chain of questions. Rick GarlikovNotes1. Rud at one point talks about Sophie HaroutunianGordon's operating from a "close" reading of the dialogues, and some of the comments he makes, especially about the geometric derivation Socrates goes through with the slave boy, indicate he and other critics may not be operating from that kind of reading. I w ould have thought any analysis would necessitate operating from a "close" reading, but p erhaps that is neither required nor expected in "citation-based" or "reference-based" s cholarship or analysis based on deconstruction. When Rud says, for example, "...Soc rates makes Meno uncomfortable with
7 of 7his persistent questions" that strikes me as an odd description of the origin of discomfort of the participants in the dialogues. It is not that S ocrates has persistent questions as a three-year-old might or as a heckler at a political rally might; and it is not that his questions are difficult or embarrassing. The crux of the disc omfort in many of the dialogues is that Socrates' specific questions lead logically and, in a sense forcefully, to ideas the participants cannot, or do not want to have to, entertain or acc ept. And when Rud says things like "Socrates was devious and crafty" or that Socratica lly inspired teachers are good at playing some sort of "dialogue game," it seems to miss the point in the same way it would miss the point to analyze Einstein's work by saying only tha t Einstein was intelligent but unusual in his thinking, and that his theories are quite stran ge. Furthermore, since "devious" and "crafty" imply gamesmanship or trickery of some sor t, their use paints a picture quite different from the picture I see of Socrates as I r ead the dialogues. I see the Socrates of the Euthyphro, Meno, Republic Apology, and other dialogues I have read as insig htful, brilliant, understanding, sincere, honest, and passionately op posed to loose and fallacious thinking. But I only came to see him that way after teaching modern versions of the same topics, and seeing that the views contemporary students and adu lts hold about those topics are not very different from the views portrayed by the Platonic participants, and that the same objections or arguments Socrates used, apply as well.
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Educational policy analysis archives.
n Vol. 5, no. 20 (November 24, 1997).
Tempe, Ariz. :
b Arizona State University ;
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida.
c November 24, 1997
Includes EPAA commentary.
Use and abuse of Socrates in present day teaching / Anthony G. Rud.
Arizona State University.
University of South Florida.
t Education Policy Analysis Archives (EPAA)