My Critique of the Socratic Method

The Socratic Method: What It is and How to Use It in the Classroom


There are four parts to the Socratic Method (SM), according to Dr. Rob Reich.

“Rob Reich is a Professor of Political Science and, by courtesy, in Philosophy and at the Graduate School of Education.”, according to <<>&gt;. He teaches at Stanford University.

He has a BA and a Master’s in Philosophy (from the video) and a PhD in philosophy of education. What is he doing teaching Political Science if he is a philosopher?

Dr. Rob Reich says, number one is SM is NOT a lecture so PowerPoint is not and cannot be used. You pose a question and then discuss this topic.

Number two is the SM generally focuses on morality (Ethics). It is meant to get students to examine and defend their belief systems.

Number three is the SM must promote a productive discomfort. The student is meant to think before coming into class, “Will one be called on to account for one’ self?” Will my belief system stand up to scrutiny?

Number four is the SM is used to demonstrate the complexity and uncertainty of life and not to illicit facts.

I agree that numbers one and two are both fairly accurate. It is the other two that I have to question.

Number three may be right according to Socrates but I question the notion of producing discomfort in the students is never good. It might produce resentment, fear, and not wanting to continue in his class or even think about it after graduation. If I am not mistaken becoming a student of Socrates was strictly voluntary, that is, you could come and go as you pleased. You were not a captive in a classroom for 16 weeks, 2-3 times a week.

Also, the IQ of Socrates was supposedly 160 and one of his best students, Plato, had an IQ of 180. These are, by definition, geniuses. Most college students, while smart, are not geniuses. So, this approach may not work. Also, some smart people do not speak well or would prefer not to have to answer a question in a few sentences, that might take a book to answer. When you cannot fully explain your answers verbally, speaking in sound bites, then it makes one appear stupid and causes frustration in that person.

Verbal discussion of complex ideas does not bode well together, given the restricted time limits.

My problem with number four is its not coming up with the answer. I find this problematic because Socrates believed that we human beings had all of the answers. If the answers were not forthcoming then, according to him, the right question had not been asked.

So, he was trying to ask the right question in order to come up the answer, the solution to the problem. Ethics is not just an in-depth  discussion of a topic but it is meant to come up a solution concerning what we should do. This is the ultimate goal of Ethics. So, the ultimate goal of the Socratic Method should be to come up with the answer.

Apparently Stanford University is going to try and implement the SM in more, if not all of its classes, besides Ethics/Philosophy. They talk about Inter-Disciplinary and Multi-Disciplinary teaching. While the SM is not directly tied to these teaching but it is implied.

Professor Reich says that is can be used in other disciplines but you must be that it must be gotten to in some other way. He does not say how.

If the Socratic Method is used to find no answer then how can it be used to find answers in other disciplines.

The Socratic Method is a system that has worked with very smart people but that does not mean it should be taught to all philosophy majors and most definitely not to all students. Oft times when attempts to use a system that works in one area and try it in another it will not work. It will have unintended consequences.

Inter-Disciplinary teaching is not needed. They say it is needed to solve complex problems. Do you expect students to solve complex problems, especially undergraduate students? I do not. People spend their lives trying to solve complex problems—peace in the Middle East, for example.

Plus, truly smart people are good at taking knowledge from various disciplines and synthesizing more knowledge and solutions. They do this without be taught the inter-disciplinary classes. Just give them the knowledge of your area of expertise.

So, I would not like to see the Socratic Method being taught at all and especially not any class other than Ethics.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: