The name DEMOI is plural for the Greek word “Demos” meaning “the common people of a democracy.”
I decided upon this name because I fervently believe that education is a democratic enterprise capable not only of encouraging literacy, self-awareness and mutual understanding but that education is also an exercise in empowerment. I use the word “empowerment” with a specific meaning in mind.
The American philosopher John Dewey wrote that democracy requires a “democratic conception of vocation”: a person’s “work” should be their calling. In a democratic society each student has a right to be educated and to be given the opportunity to choose the work they would like to do. This is not a whimsical matter but goes to the heart of independence and self-responsible authority. Democracy requires vigilant and intelligent citizens who are capable of debating and discussing the pressing issues of the day and holding powerful private and public officials accountable through their own steadfast commitment to literacy, empiricism and intellectual honesty.
I share Dewey’s belief in the importance of a calling which is why I decided to become an independent teacher. I believe in public education but I also am promoting the need for one-on-one and small group Socratic learning. In one-on-one and small seminar sessions I am able to help students shape their own curriculum and pursue a rigorous course (or courses) of study that encourages personal independence and the idea that education is a lifelong objective. I model my pedagogical approach on the Oxford University Tutors who meet regularly with students to discuss what they are reading, to ask them penetrating questions as well as requiring them to write and debate the themes and problems which arise in their studies.
My goal is simple: I want each student to know that education is made for them. I want them to learn how to trust their own judgment, become critical thinkers and learn the dual art of rhetoric and literary expression. I am convinced that by acquiring these skills they will be able to discover and acquire their vocation and use it to better their own lives and the lives of others. Informed citizenship, personal autonomy and meaningful work all begin with independent learning.
When I first am introduced to a new class or begin working one-on-one with a student my initial concern is finding ways of helping him become a self-impelled learner. I believe this is achieved by initiating a conversation with the student about what intrigues him and by asking how he sees himself in relation to his world.
I look to discover two things: how a child learns and what motivates him to learn. I am of the opinion that the best type of curriculum is one that demonstrates flexibility toward student interests and group dynamics. The benefit of using interdisciplinary curricula is in its demonstration that every subject offers insight into the mysteries and problems of the world. I teach literature as a meditation on how human beings confront timeless (and historical) problems and I like to show how the arts often provide the most profound expression of the moral imagination. The Socratic Method’s appeal lies in its encouraging of an interdisciplinary approach to the curriculum by drawing from students their creative, rational and emotional responses.
A Socratic conversation offers students opportunities to test their individual gifts and abilities and indulge their interests and avidities by presenting them with the task of problem solving. I like to emphasize problem solving because I subscribe to John Dewey’s belief that people learn best when captivated by their tasks. If I understand Dewey properly I believe he was saying that education is a form of apprenticeship which trains students to become masters of the craft of their own learning process. I believe in the underlying democratic message of this form of education because it can help students develop confidence in their capacity to grow as learners, cultivate their reason and apply their emotional and moral insights to the pressing social and ecological problems in their communities.
My primary concern as a teacher is to avoid a managerial or hierarchical approach in my teaching. Far too often young people are led to believe that it is their duty to mimic the opinions of their teachers in order to merit high marks. I have seen this happen repeatedly just as I also have witnessed students who have attempted to be creative and original in their response to assignments and have their efforts subjected to withering (and irresponsible) criticism. This seems to me to be a gross injustice because it forecloses a valuable opportunity in the intellectual and emotional development of a young person to begin exploring their cognitive and creative depths. School should be a place where creative experimentation is encouraged and rewarded since it is a studio where students learn the various forms of communication, exposition and inquiry and are encouraged to apply to those forms their newly acquired skills.
In more than thirteen years of teaching I have found no better approach for encouraging creativity, debate and motivation in my students than the Socratic Method. In my personal life as a writer and student of the humanities I am constantly being reminded that writing, research and observation are creative processes that demand self-confidence, imagination, personal reflection and an exacting commitment to probity and integrity. Adolescence is a very delicate time when kids want to be taken seriously and explore their own emerging ideas, doubts and desires for greater independence while also looking to do so from a place of safety. I feel it is my duty to nurture my students by creating an environment where they will be taken seriously and feel that they are learning how to assume ownership of their education. Teachers and schools have been tasked with showing young women and men how to become conscientious contributors to their communities and demonstrating that by helping improve the lives of others they are realizing what their education is really for.