RE: DSM:teachers/classes

Tom Spackman (
Thu, 22 Oct 1998 01:26:35 -0400

Scott -

While I agree with much of what you have to say about Socrates, I know from experience that the Socratic method can be one of the more effective "traditional" methods of instruction. I also agree that instruction isn't necessary, and kids at SVS and elsewhere can excel without it, but that doesn't change the fact that it _can_ be effective.

It is a peculiarity of my personality that I tend to enjoy the verbal/intellectual thrust and parry provided by the Socratic method. For me, and presumably for others, this makes this method of teaching effective under what Dan would classify as teaching by entertainment. My favorite professors in college and in law school each used this method, although they used it very differently. My college professor was a master of the art form, and I considered his classes to be performances. He used the method to manipulate and humiliate his students. The process was so entertaining (as long as you weren't the student being humiliated) that I actually sat in on some of his "intro" classes as a senior, just to watch him work. My law school professor was even better because his version of the method included humor, which effectively eliminated the humiliation. His method was still incredibly manipulative (which may be the essence of the Socratic method), but manipulation is acceptable in the context of traditional education. The result was one of the few classes where I actually retained some information longer than necessary to recite it on the final exam!

I guess my point is, despite Socrates personal and political failings, his educational method can be fun and effective!

just my 2 cents worth

Tom Spackman

-----Original Message-----
I'm no fan of Soicrates at all... Check out what both Xenophon (a friendly
critic) and Plato (a sycophantic follower) have to say about him... Socrates
used faux "discussion" to instruct, in a most unpleasant way, in which every
question was leading and every point made for the other side was a straw
dummy (at leat in Plato, not especially the Meno)... Socrates' instruction
was mostly aimed at trying to get a bunch of rich boys to rebel against the
democracy and make themselves "philosopher kings". Note, too, that this
actually happened -- the Athenian democracy was overthrown by a violent and
unpleasant oligarchic coup which placed some of the rich-boy pupils of
Socrates into power.

While I agree that it would be unfair to paint what Socrates was doing as
"lecture" it is likewise unfair to paint it as discussion. It had a definite
curriculum behind it, and ever line spoken was designed to herd the audience
into particular logical traps -- in which Plato was complicit by writing weak
flaccid arguments for the opposition.

How Socrates became the darling of those who believe that kids should play a
part in their own instruction, I'll never understand. We have no writings
from Socrates, only little plays by Plato which do not present _true_
conversations, and reports from Xenophon of a self-absorbed and haughty
misogynist. There is little question that Socrates (at least as presented by
Plato and Xenophon) cared nothing for anyone else's opinions, doing his best
to "teach" his own warped curriculum.

(Yeah, I would probably have voted for the hemlock... :-)

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