"Intellectual distinction is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for election to a Rhodes Scholarship. Selection committees are charged to seek excellence in qualities of mind and in qualities of person which, in combination, offer the promise of effective service to the world in the decades ahead. The Rhodes Scholarships, in short, are investments in individuals rather than in project proposals..."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I hesitate to tell you the truth, but it must be told.

Have you thought the books of Plato are above you?  Perhaps you thought it would take too long?  Maybe you don't think you need to read Plato, but have you given him a chance?  If not, why?

A Classical Education encourages one to understand our Western Civilization from the roots up and that includes the writings of the Greeks.  I thought I would have a hard time understanding it.  I thought "what would I learn that I haven't read somewhere else?" 

If you have not read Plato, I implore you to take one hour and read, what I believe to be the most important piece he's written, as it pertains to our vocation as home educators.  You should read Plato's Apology.  What is stopping you? It is not an apology in our everyday understanding of the word.  It is apologetics, the defense of a belief.  This very brief writing is an account of the trial of Socrates in 399BC.

Plato’s account of the examination of Socrates have so influenced thought in the more than two thousand years since Socrates’s death, that Alfred North Whitehead said the entire history of western thought is nothing but a series of footnotes to Plato.  It is by this careful, questioning examination that we learn and influence our souls and minds. 

Socrates didn't write.  Any accounts we have of Socrates are from the writings from Plato.  From these writings, we learn the methods of Socrates and his main contention:

Men of Athens, I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy exhorting anyone whom I met after my manner, and convincing him, saying: O my friend, why do you who are a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens, care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all?  Are you not ashamed of this?  And if the person with whom I am arguing says: Yes, but I do care; I do not depart or let him go at once; I interrogate and examine and cross-examine him, and if I think that he has no virtue, but only says he has, I reproach him with undervaluing the greater and overvaluing the less.  -Plato, Apology

The Socratic method is Socrates' gentle way of respectful questioning to search for the truth and to achieve an improvement of the soul.  This method can be applied to any subject.  
“The unexamined life,” Socrates said, “is not worth living.” 
Mortimer Adler, in his "Paideia Proposal" (Paideia means "nurturing the whole child") suggests taking one entire day per week for nothing but Socratic Seminars.   A Socratic Seminar is dedicated time to ponder and question a particular subject, topic or literary work.  If you could employ one tactic to ensure your children learn to care about wisdom and truth and the improvement of their souls, take time for a Socratic Seminar.  I recently spoke to the headmaster of a prestigious, Catholic high school in our area.  He firmly believes the capstone of a Classical Education is the Socratic Seminar.  So you wonder, how do you, a homeschool mom pull it off?

Perhaps the possibility of getting a group of students together to discuss a topic or work of literature just doesn't exist for you.  That would be the ideal way to pull off a Socratic Seminar.   Maybe you could employ the Socratic Method within your regular school day instead.

If you are unfamiliar with this method, I would encourage you to take the time to read Plato's Apology.  Read it twice.  Read it three times.  It won't take you long.  It's only 30 pages in it's entirety.  You won't regret it and you will understand why it's imperative to use the Socratic Method with your child.  If I can't convince you, let Socrates.  The next time your child asks you a question about something they are working on, even a Math question, instead of giving the answer, take the time to ask questions and help the child find the answer on their own, with your gentle guidance.  Like Socrates.
 I hesitate to tell you the truth, but it must be told. - Plato, Apology
p.s.  If you would like to see the Socratic Method in action, watch the 1973 movie "The Paper Chase."
p.p.s.  A copy of the Apology is available on line here.

1 comment:

RealMom4Life said...

Thanks for the extra nudge :) My 16 year old has told me a few times I should read Plato. Guess I should have listened. Thanks for the link, that will make things easier for me :)