A Socratic Educator

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

How to be a DJ

I was 17 when I was offered my first job as a DJ. I had done my senior project on education and how I had made my way through the broken system. The final product prompted one of my mentors to ask me to host a radio show about ed reform. I was an amateur media enthusiast at the time. My only experience with media work was the documentary I had made the previous year. Although that documentary won its category, I couldn’t deny it’s mediocrity. I went into the studio, doubting my ability to act as a mediator and draw ideas out of my peers, but I left feeling elated. Not only was I capable of my job, I was fantastic. Our show was a success and it was the first time I had ever heard young people around me sharing their stories and criticizing the system they were forced into.

My next show was about gun violence and reform. In the wake of the Parkland shooting, we wanted to bring the student voice to light again. We had a lot of contrasting views in the studio, but regardless of the difference in opinion, everyone agreed that the Stoneman Douglass students represented a new wave of young adults who were not only willing to have their voice heard, but demanded it. The recognition that I had experienced with my first radio show began to feed my confidence. I knew I was capable in the technical side of the studio, now I wanted to challenge myself as a leader.

I did my third show today. It was more of a marketing program, but it still meant a lot to me. I am currently working with Dr. Yonty Freisem to promote his Media Production Hive curriculum. True Kids 1 and Dr. Freisem’s curricula fit together perfectly, with both sides focusing on media education, student voice, literacy, and empathy. Our show was truly just an advertisement and informational piece on this effort, but we were still able to converse in a Socratic form. As we finished our discussion on what it meant to be conscious on social media and the importance of teaching students to be digital citizens, I felt more comfortable in the studio than ever before.

So that was it, three shows in and I felt like a real DJ. I would be lying if I said the content of my broadcasts were consistent, but the quality of them are. At the beginning of the show, I talked a little about how important it was for me to be given an opportunity to act professional and operate in a professional setting. My mentor jumped in and told me how he wanted everyone involved in the program (True Kids 1)  to excel as much as I did. Although I appreciate his comments, I can’t say that the quality of excellence I was able to achieve is unique to me.

Why are my achievements seen as rare or uncommon? They’re not. The only difference between myself and every other student in school today is that I was granted the chance to act as a professional in a setting I was interested in. Doing a radio show sounded exciting and new, so I naturally wanted to appear prepared and poised. By just allowing me the opportunity, my mentor had already given me a reason to reach for a higher level of quality. I wanted to prove that nothing stood in my way of doing the best job possible. I wasn’t going to allow my age or my education dictate what kind of professional environment I did well in. I was going to let my passion, my drive, and my happiness tell me where I should place my efforts.

From what I’ve seen, a lot of students don’t feel as though they deserve a chance similar to the one I was given. Public education has a funny way of crushing a young person’s self-esteem and making them disassociate from the “adult” world. However, when given the opportunity to integrate themselves into a world of skill and experience, they are so grateful and excited that they will strive to be their best without any outside force.

How to be a DJ is the same thing as how to have a job you enjoy. Every student, every person who is willing to show how hard they can work is deserving of an opportunity to act on that will.

However, being deserving of an opportunity doesn’t mean it will come along by chance. Being young is difficult, people will automatically assume you are less capable, but that just means they will be even more pleasantly surprised when you prove your worth. Get yourself that opportunity, network, make friends, ask for a chance, do your research, always work harder than you did yesterday, and show them the value they don’t expect. We can make excuses about things we cannot control, but achieving excellence is not about focusing on the obstacles, it’s about looking for the solutions.