The Socratic Seminar "The Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living" Essay

1853 words - 8 pages

"The unexamined life is not worth living"

The Socratic method of teaching is based on the theory that it is more important to enable students to think for themselves than to merely fill their heads with "right" answers. Socrates regularly engaged his pupils in dialogues by responding to their questions with questions, instead of answers. This process encourages divergent thinking rather than convergent thinking, and it examines our underlying assumptions (the reasons why we hold our beliefs). After all, he is also the philosopher who stated that “the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

Socratic seminars explore issues, ideas and values drawn from works of literature selected for their richness. They are devoted to making meaning, not to mastering information, for the Socratic method of questioning recognizes that questions, not answers, are the driving force in thinking.   Discussion leaders help participants to make sense of a text and of their own thinking by asking questions about analysis, interpretation, reasoning, connections, support, and other aspects of sound thinking / evaluation. Active examination fosters participants' learning by getting students actively engaged in rigorous critical thought.  A Socratic Seminar is always followed by a period of reflection and discussion about what has been experienced—and what the participants have learned.
Students are given opportunities to examine a common piece of text, whether it is in the form of a novel, a poem, an art print, or a piece of music. After carefully reading the common text (reading it "like a love letter"), open-ended questions are posed.
Open-ended questions allow students to think critically, to analyze multiple meanings in text, and to express ideas with clarity and confidence. Student confidence is built on the fact that this type of questioning is based on dialogue and not debate; thus, participants attain a certain degree of emotional safety.
Dialogue is exploratory and involves the suspension of biases and prejudices. Discussion/debate is a transfer of information designed to win an argument and bring closure. While Americans are great at discussion/debate, we do not always dialogue well. Once teachers and students learn to dialogue, they find that the ability to ask meaningful questions that stimulate thoughtful interchanges of ideas is more important than a single correct answer.
Participants in a Socratic Seminar respond to one another with respect by carefully listening instead of interrupting. Students are encouraged to paraphrase essential elements of another's ideas before responding, either in support of or in disagreement. Members of the dialogue foster respect by looking each other in the eyes and by using each other’s names. This simple act of socialization reinforces appropriate behaviors and promotes team building.
What is the difference between dialogue and debate?

· Dialogue is collaborative: participants work...

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