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20th February 2015 at 00:00

` "Listen Then, or Rather, Answer": Contemporary Challenges to Socratic Education' by Fullam, J

Educational Theory, 651: 53-71, February 2015 (Wiley) bit.lyQuestioningSocrates

Its namesake may have died more than 2,000 years ago, but the Socratic method still informs education practice. In this paper, Jordan Fullam examines the work of French philosopher Jacques Rancire (pictured), who has launched a number of challenges to the Socratic approach.

Fullam starts by reflecting on the stature of Socratic thought in modern education, noting its use in settings ranging from primary schools to college philosophy classes.

Rancire's main objection to this is that the Socratic approach subordinates the student's intellect to the teacher's, meaning that the students do not really think for themselves. In Rancire's theory, Socratic education is stealthy, appearing to allow students to think independently but actually guiding them towards a position held by the teacher.

To examine this claim, Fullam analyses the portrayal of the Socratic method as it appears in The Republic by Plato - one of the chief accounts of Socrates' teaching. The text portrays moments where Socrates manipulates his students. In these terms, Rancire's critique may well be justified.

But Fullam points out that Socratic education in contemporary literature is not the same as that discussed by Plato. He notes that of all modern Socratic educational approaches, "none that are documented in educational literature include a strategy of leading questions in the manner Rancire identifies".

Fullam says that modern Socratic education is still valid and useful - but educators must take care not to slip into stultifying practices. "We often must remember that the most important part of our work is to get out of the way," he concludes.

Alexander Tyndall

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