What does it mean to be a Socratic educator? What are the credentials required to label yourself as such? Well, I label myself as a Socratic educator, yet I have no credentials. I have yet to receive a university degree, attend any sort of licensing program, or been presented with a certificate detailing what I am trained in. What I did, however, I think is much more valuable than any piece of paper or four-year program could give me: I watched people who called themselves Socratic educators try to teach me and took note of everything they did wrong.
My high school was a Socratic school, but that label was truly only a marketing scheme. Throughout my four years at Moreno Valley High School, the amount of Socratic education I received steadily declined. What I was left with was a watered-down “discussion-based” school that focused more on teacher philosophy than on the student involvement. My seminars turned into lectures from instructors about their political doctrine or personal moral beliefs. Initially, this frustrated me, but I knew that I had to find a way to make the school work for me until I graduated.
Do I really have a right to call myself a “Socratic educator?” Maybe not. I think about all the people in my life that undoubtedly deserve that title, and I wonder if labeling myself as such is disrespectful to them. On the other hand, I do work in education, I do focus on discussion-based, Socratic styles of learning, and I have operated as an educator of sorts. I do believe there is more value in experience than anything else, and I lived through four years of watching my teachers fail to provide me with the education they promised.
The concept of a seminar is simple. A few rules here and there to keep the discussion calm, but otherwise, you’re free to speak as you want. Judgment is thrown away as people come together not to argue but to ask each other for a better understanding of their differing opinions. I took the best experiences I had, the best seminars I could remember, and thought about what set them apart from the rest. I wanted to focus on what seminars meant to me and how I could take the most meaningful elements and apply them in real-world settings.
I started hosting radio shows using Socratic ideas. Students who had never been exposed to any kind of discussion-based learning quickly adapted to a simple theory meant to keep the conversation productive. It was more than easy, it was enjoyable to introduce them to this kind of communication, which is more than the teachers at MVHS can say. The radio shows have been incredibly successful, airing on KNCE Taos, KSFR Santa Fe, and NPR. My most recent success with them was an award for the NMBA Best Student Journalism Broadcast on our show about gun violence.
I call myself a Socratic educator not because I think I am “deserving” or “worthy” of the title, I do it because it’s what I want to be. I am not interested in becoming a teacher or going through the grueling licensing process. Instead, I want to spread the idea of progress through conversation, through connections, not classrooms. People respond well to tolerance and genuine interaction, two ideas that seminar is based in. Being a Socratic educator has never been about shoving my ethics into the face of my peers, it’s been about asking them to consider a different point of view while I do the same. In my opinion, trying to spread that message has taught me a lot more than any lecture could.
Image credit to alignleadership.com