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We could do with some Socrates

Jun 24, 2012 - By Randy Tucker, Staff Writer

While technology continues to move forward at an ever-increasing rate, we humans don't have the ability to keep pace.

Rarely do we hear of the Socratic Method in the maelstrom that surrounds education the last three decades.

In essence, the great Athenian philosopher taught his students through a series of inductive questions that systematically removed opposing arguments, irrelevant comments and superfluous statements until only a kernel of truth remained.

In practice it can be both invigorating and intimidating, depending on where you stand as the methodology progresses.

Socrates was the last great practitioner of the western oral tradition. His most famous student, Plato, rode the initial wave of the literary tradition that remains with us today.

The turmoil in embracing the written word in fifth century B.C. Greece was one of the three great upheavals in human communication over the last 25 centuries.

The second change came two millennia in the future, when books became available to all classes of people with the advent of inexpensive printing presses across Europe.

John Locke wrote extensively of this change as it took place and of its effects immediately afterward. The wide dissemination of the works Francis Bacon, Martin Luther and Shakespeare would not have been possible without the press.

We are riding the latest wave as television, computers, cell phones and the omnipresent Internet take their places in the lineup of human communication.

Whether this paradigm shift proves to be a good one is very much open to debate.

While technology continues to move forward at an ever-increasing rate, we humans don't have the ability to keep pace.

Those who would simply plop a kid in front of a computer or television screen and wait for something magical to take place suffer from the worst form of educational delusion.

The key to understanding always begins with the oral tradition, then continues through formal instruction in the written word. There is no substitute for the interaction a cared for newborn, infant or toddler experiences from tactile, auditory or visual stimulus from the world around them.

Many of the deficits children face academically stem from an early environment devoid of these irreplaceable experiences.

Children raised properly by their parents always will have a leg up on those who are not.

We often hear the talking heads complain and lay blame on the schools, but rarely do they extend their diatribes to the people in charge of a child in their most formative years.

Perhaps the worst thing a parent can do educationally to a young child is to sit the kid in front of a television and later a computer and let the child mindlessly be entertained.

It frees up time for the adult but it does nothing but cripple the child intellectually. This crippling effect rarely can be compensated for later in spite of the best efforts of concerned professionals.

Electronic media, even the most sophisticated, cannot provide a child with the same stimulus that interacting with an adult can. The best computer program pales in comparison with the mental imagery that simply reading a book creates.

As experienced teachers have always known, interacting with other people and the mental engagement that accompanies the act of reading lead to other educational avenues. In other words, the mind wanders, but in a productive way.

How many times have you experience a cascading flurry of thought as you listen to a great orator engage an audience? How many times have random thoughts jumped to the forefront of your mind as you've read an enticing text?

The mind reacts in unique ways to oral and visual stimuli, but learning only takes place fully when the mind is engaged and the body is physically involved as well.

Watching does nothing to engage mental imagery. Do this simple test. If you doubt that statement, watch the nightly news then try to remember what was presented.

Research indicates that the average American adult can remember less than 20 percent of local news broadcast just 60 minutes after watching it. Sensory overload is a very real problem.

Imagine the mental retention a bored, unmotivated child experiences as they watch yet another video, play yet another "educational game" and move through their over stimulated academic day.

Educating children is hard work. If it wasn't, everyone would do it.

Taking the time to give your own children or grandchildren a fighting chance at success begins with clicking "off" on the remote power button and shutting down the PC once in awhile.

Try telling the kids a story. Play a game, do a puzzle, build something together.

Or just read to them.

Entertainment sells cars, tires, fast food and makes corporate America wealthy, it doesn't educate your son or daughter and it never will.

Socrates may have been on to something, just how "Socratic" is your cable box?

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