On Socratic method

Just quick, it’s late, and I’ve a torrent to watch. Witch.

I was made sad beyond all reasonable bound by a student’s complaint. “He has a great sense of humour but he doesn’t teach.” Someone I admired and respected so was open to feeling hurt by.

I guess in a sense she was right. You know that guy Obama? Whom I aspire to be when I grow up? And who got mocked for saying something about leading from behind? I sort of teach like that. Want you to be your own teacher, and poke you till you find it.

Times I want to say, some students, smart and shallow, young and coddled, they aren’t up for being poked. Entitled brats.

Times I want to say, it’s me fucked up, poked when I had no okay to, missed the cues, all my bad. (I’m leaving out all the lovely times it went bitchin’ fine.)

Seems to me, as of this now, it’s neither this nor that.

There’s no telling how the combos, one person and another, or 20, are going to work it out. We like to think our sciences can say, but no.

All there is, is, I do my most honourable best, you do your most honourable best. And if we fail to meet – no harm, no foul, okay?

I like to think, when I’m feeling sympathique to Plato, that that’s a premise to all his dialogues (just as all his dialogues are together a premise to all our universities). If we fail to meet, no harm, no foul, okay?

It happens to the best of stars, too. They fly on.

The bit I’ve put in my syllabus newly, with that student’s, and another’s, negations in mind.

I work by Socratic method. I ask questions meant to sharpen distinctions, shed light on unexamined premises, and enhance a student’s own capacity for inquiry. It’s a messy, improvisational process that sometimes falls flat and makes everyone (me included) feel awkward. Sometimes it looks sort of inefficient. And yet it’s the oldest teaching method we have (older than the university, as an institution, itself) and has survived this long for a reason. It makes the student her own teacher.

If it causes discomfort sometimes that’s why. Or I think so anyway. Being asked to be your own teacher is not easy or comfortable.

They’re growing more tender by the year. What’s the bearing we need to meet them rightly and kindly? I want not to do harm – want also, not to let up.

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I write draw teach blog in and from the Pacific Northwest of America.

2 thoughts on “On Socratic method”

  1. It’s not that you don’t teach, it’s that you don’t coddle. Myself and countless others are all better for it too. And what a massive compliment it is that you think us all fully capable of teaching. I’m thinking back to my own co-teaching experiences, and whenever I had even a bit of doubt in myself, remembering that someone (you) must think I’ve got the ability to teach others what admittedly scared the hell out of myself. Hardly any learning to be done inside a comfort zone, so thanks for consistently pushing me out of mine.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Alex. You were part of the co-teaching thing right from its inception. And were one of the ones whose skills and smarts helped it become what it was. I learned a whole lot as a teacher from you.

      Liked by 1 person

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