Socrates in the Classroom

This isn't a dialog about Socratic seminars or circles, though I do find them interesting and inspirational. And, there will be no imbibing of hemlock on the Senate steps.

Instead, I wonder how Socrates would approach the modern educational dilemma.

Educational Dilemma. It seems there's been one every year since Socrates, and I don't know if there actually is one, or if it's just the same issue since then and that issue hasn't ever been resolved. Keeping that in mind, if there's an issue that hasn't ever been resolved, is it a dilemma or just a quandary?

Perhaps, I'll refer to it as the Educational Quandary from here on in.

So, what is the Educational Quandary?

Here I stand in the front of the classroom, Monday through Friday barring holidays, and I expect to see attention, semi-attention, and non-attention. Henry Wong coined these green, yellow, and red zones. Other teachers have come up with synonymous dubs, and I think they're all right. At any given moment, some students will be completely attentive (because that's just who they are), some will be partially paying attention (because that's just who they are), and some will be paying no attention whatsoever to anything the teacher is saying.

These three groups of students can be further identified:

Category 1: The smallest group pays attention one-hundred percent of the time because they are absorbers. They pick up any iota of detail and filter it. This isn't to say they're the smartest, though often the most intelligent will fall into this category. They hone in on information and sock it away for further use.

Category 2: This group is also small. They are the non-attentive students. These students will adamantly avoid any academic information. They will seem like they are listening, but they are instead wandering the sports field, playing video games, or doing some other activity that is allowing them to actively ignore any information. These are the rebels, and they might contain the most intelligent children.

Category 3: This is usually the largest of the groups. In this category, students will shift in and out of focus depending on the information presented. They may hate anatomy, but love taxonomy. They may pay rapt attention during poetry, but stare out the windows during a lesson on Greek tragedies. Since this is the largest group, it may contain the highest number of highly intelligent children. Most of society also fits into this category.

There is a misconception about the rebels on campus, and it has cost the education field considerable man-hours to convince teachers and administrator that the students who could care less are the most capable. Sometimes, students are just not into school.

This is the Educational Quandary. Teachers, in large part, are completely aware of the divisions in the classroom. We are completely aware of the learning differences and the rigor requirements, and how to assess and rewrite lesson plans. However, we've been told that if we just don't give up on every student then our classes will operate like an angelic chorus, that every time the students walk into our classrooms the rivers will part and the sun will shine if we just never give up on a student.

Well, in some regard, that's true. It's true that we have to poke holes in our aura of giving and let our energy flow forth onto our kids, we have to try to brighten their days. But, that does not mean that we have to try and have that euphoric fictional moment.

Teachers spend hours developing lesson plans that speak to our kids, make things relevant, in hopes of what? In hopes of attempting to reach that 1st Category? There's one inherent flaw with that thinking: we aren't them! We aren't students, so our lessons that we craft are built on an illusion of connectivity. We are building lesson plans that we believe will impact our kids. We draft plans that are engaging to us, but that's where it ends. We save plans if they work one year, but, guess what, they might not work the next period, let alone the next year. We dive into technology thinking that that will somehow hook our students into suddenly realizing that school is fun, that learning is fun, but that only ends up chasing our kids down the rabbit hole of internet and 2D phantasms.

Tech integration is one of those infamous buzzwords. Try telling da Vinci that the internet is a more valuable teaching tool than using our hands to build and paint, than putting an instrument in the fingers of our kids, than singing and dancing, and doing learning the way humans have for millenia. More and more, children are losing their ability to retain information, and it's because they've supplanted their own memory with the internet. It's a huge disservice we are doing to the youth of the world by allowing them the use of technological devices at such a young age. Books, the great treasure hunt, should be on our desktops (sense the hypocrisy?).

I've been experimenting with my new group of kids, and I'm collecting data through the end of their 8th grade years. I want to see the impact of mnemonic devices, kinesthetic awareness, and lab work will have on their work ethic, their retention, and their memory. So far, the data is astounding. There are so many gaps, and I have to go back to the teachings of Suzuki and Montessori. They were pioneers, demanding that the classroom be organized so that the children are the ones who lead the learning. But, what does that look like?

Teachers, get out from behind your desks, structure, and deliver. Your job (college professors included) isn't to spill information, but to make kids search for it. You are the best nemeses. You are the code-makers and maze-builders. Never, never, never give answers for free.

This is our Quandary: do we let the world tell us that technology is the solution for the kids who cannot be reached, or do we teach our hearts out to the students who will listen?

I vote for the latter. I vote that we have to get up and fight for our kids' rights to become the person they are supposed to become. We can only do that if we let them choose how they learn, not the other way around.

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