The Socratic Method, Part 1

Of the many, many things Socrates fathered in Western Society, none more directly messes with my day than the Socratic Method.

I'm a Little Tea-PotYou know when you’re in the presence of the Socratic Method when a teacher or lecturer adopts the “I’m a little tea-pot” pose (one hand bent so that dorsal side of wrist makes contact with waist, other arm extended with hand doing “eensy weensy spider” – although numerous variations have been observed). And then, while sawing the air, climbing the pipe, and summoning up a good head of steam, spouts something like:

“Who here can tell me what was the Prophet Jeffaniah’s motive for building a replica temple from toothpicks? Anyone?”

Don’t be fooled by the weird attempt to mash-up nursery rhymes, it’s a trick! They already know the answer (and if they don’t, they’ll pretend that they did anyway). Seek shelter under your desk! Stop up your ears! Look away! Just don’t answer the question.

Here’s why:
1. Socrates’ teaching method was part of his (or Plato’s) larger theory of human knowledge, which, through various exciting convolutions, derived from the belief that learning was essentially about remembering.

You see, back in the day, before our Souls became trapped in mortal flesh, we all beheld the naked truth of the Eternal Forms. Our fall from this state of perfect rational contemplation into darkness and error has caused us to forget those beautiful truths. And, because our souls are nourished by the Truth, not being able to contemplate the Forms makes us sluggish and stupid.

But all is not lost! Occasionally, we gain glimpses of the truth even through the distorted airs of this world, and these glimpses can stoke up memories of the Forms which can, in turn, nourish our souls and help us to ascend once again out of this body of flesh into the eternal, rational, world. Perhaps we should think of Socrates as a Philosopher-Evangelist who conceived of his task as liberation through remembrance.

Socrates thought that his theory could be proved by demonstrating that people could solve complex philosophical problems and come to the knowledge of the Truth simply by asking them the right series of questions. There was no need for input from a teacher or any external source of data, because your soul knew truth before you were born.
Everything you need to know about everything is already inside your head. Socrates’ particular voodoo was getting it out.

That, fellow critters, was why Socrates haunted the lane-ways of Athens, surprising unsuspecting artisans with bizarre thought experiments and generally minding everyone’s business but his own.

And this CRACKPOT is responsible for a method of PEDAGOGY!!!
I ask you…

More on the ill after-effects of the Socratic Method will be forthcoming.

photo by samantha celera
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5 thoughts on “The Socratic Method, Part 1

  1. I should probably point out I was not suggesting that anyone lecturing at Moore Theological College would ever have been so gauche as to engage in the Socratic Method.
    And to anyone else who might be tempted to make such slanderous accusations, I say this: certain classroom incidents that may, perhaps, have appeared to provide some refuge for such beliefs are revealed upon closer inspection to be subtle and deeply ironic subversions of the received pedagogical tradition

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