Notes on the Socratic method

The Socratic Method

1.) Being a midwife to students’ ideas

Socrates in the Theaetetus speaks of being a “midwife” to the ideas of students. He sees the Socratic teacher as helping the student bring their idea to life and then once it is “birthed,” help them to determine whether the idea can live in the world or not. Socrates makes it clear that his role is not to put ideas into students’ minds but to help students “birth” them.

2.) Art of not having answers/ not seeking recognition 

The Socratic educator does not have answers. Socrates was famous for saying: “All I know is that I know nothing.” He did not seek credit for ideas, theories, inventions; his contribution was, again, to aid the “birthing process” in students. In the Socratic dialogues of Plato, readers are treated to a demonstration of how this birthing process works and how it benefits the student.

3.) Connection to parenting

A Socratic parent is someone who sees what their child is trying to say/solve and they help their child express it. In the Jewish tradition, this is seen in the Four Sons at the Passover Seder. The sons are tasked with each asking a question about the history of the seder and the basis of its customs. The youngest son does not yet have the language skills to ask a question entirely on his own. In that instance, the parent helps the child form the question by discovering what it is the child wants to know. This is one example of Socratic parenting.

Noam Chomsky on John Rawls

On a note related to my previous post:
I am currently weighing John Rawls’ ideas on “justice as fairness” with my own re-envisioning of the history of my native land. I recently read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ collection of essays “We Were Eight Years In Power” and found myself sitting once again with a bedevilling problem, which has long disturbed me: the tension between theory and practice; that distance between the careful and necessary study of ideas, especially ideas about fairness, liberty and equality as first order principles and, frankly, reality: the socio-economic and political realities of race and class, which play such a formative role in the application of fairness, liberty and equality.

I remember so well being confronted with a terrible feeling of inadequacy when I was immersed in graduate studies whereby I felt that my work in history was irrelevant; irrelevant to the concerns of contemporary society. The inadequacy was, I think in hindsight, the result of a flaw in my approach to my research (these things often are). But I have never been able to move away from, or beyond, a terrible sense that the careful examination of first order principles of how a fair and just society is to be constructed are somehow far removed from the historical legacy and the contemporary socio-economic and political -not to mention ecological- realities of the United States (Canada, too). I mention the U.S. specifically as it is my native land and therefore the society I know best.

In the short clip that follows, Noam Chomsky speaks to this dilemma I am facing as I read and re-read Rawls and try and respond to the claims and criticisms Ta-Nehisi Coates has so profoundly drawn together in his essays on the 2009-2017 period in American history (with all of its antecedents).