Type Book
Date 2014
Pages 151
Tags nonfiction, pedagogy, Socrates

Teach Like Socrates: Guiding Socratic Dialogues and Discussions in the Classroom

Teach Like Socrates aims to provide two things: first, an explanation of what Socratic dialogue is and why one might want to use it in the classroom; second, a practical guide for how to implement Socratic discussions in the classroom.

In the first goal, I feel the book succeeds. Wilberding gives a fair degree of detail about Socratic dialogue and how it has been used in education, historically, devoting about a quarter of the book solely to a discussion of Scorates's life and the definition (or, rather, definitions) of Socratic dialogue that will be used in the book.

In the second goal, I feel the book was less successful. Wilberding does provide what may be a useful framework for planning Socratic discussions, including 'worked examples' of lesson plans, but much of the advice and discussion boils down to "plan in advance".

I would have liked to see more discussion of how a Socratic discussion could be led in a real classroom. The dialogues of Plato, of course, are literary works, not transcriptions, and in a real classroom convenient examples won't always fall out of the discussion when needed. The book is adamant that the teacher not interject into the discussion with mini-lectures, or lead students too strictly, or, frankly, express any opinion at all. The question of how to guide the discussion in the face of actual student participation is simply dismissed: ". . . the dialogue in the classroom will make any necessary adaptation . . ."

The book offers examples of three lessons: "Induction and the Use of Examples: Lysis", "The Use of Counterexamples: Xenophon's Memorabilia", and "Slipery Slopes and Order Bias". All important topics relevant to the theme of critical thinking the book promotes, but also all very similar topics: they relate to argument, and so the use of a dialogue as example is natural.

Socrates's discussions were not about the business of arguing, they were about ethics or politics or a variety of other topics. If, as Wilberding says, Socratic discussions are such good teaching tools, why not show how to use them to teach algebra, biology, music, or any other topic which isn't intimately bound up with the idea of dialogue itself?

I do think that Socratic discussions can be useful in the classroom, if perhaps not for every classroom at all times, but Teach Like Socrates needs to do more to establish how to use Socratic discussions to aid in teaching the topics that students need to learn, rather than simply advising that amenable topics be chosen so that Socratic discussion may be used. The goal, after all, is the education of the students, not the promulgation of the method.

Name Role
Erick Wilberding Author