Socrates: An Ancient Teacher Still Up to Date

socrates

In 399 BC, Socrates, founder and proprietor of a kind of private day school for privileged Athenian boys, learned what many other teachers have discovered in the millennia since: Filling eager brains with new and unorthodox ideas can be dangerous. Socrates, according to his pupil Plato, could show the fallacy of received wisdom through a style of constructive interrogation.

When the powers that were in the birthplace of democracy decreed that Socrates undergo the hemlock maneuver, the great man's pedagogical career came to a sudden end. But he will always be revered for making searching dialogue the most powerful teaching tool of all, bequeathing to us the Socratic method, in which one teaches by asking rather than telling. In a way, Socrates also launched project-based learning, a process driven by the crucial question "What can you learn by doing?"

Next Article: The Classic Six 2007 > Shakespeare's Teacher

Owen Edwards is a contributing editor for Edutopia and Smithsonian magazines.

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