Socratic Backfire and Banking Method of Education (2011)

So this article about a Professor being denied tenure because students did not like the style of his pedagogy and seems to be related to an increase to route learning being preferred.

Maranville followed the Socratic teaching style and described his way of teaching as “engaged learning,” according to court documents. Those records describe teaching approaches designed to go beyond lectures. He would ask questions to stimulate discussion. He divided his students into teams and gave them assignments outside class.

The Socratic style of teaching that Maranville used is hardly novel. But experts say that while it remains popular in law schools, there are reasons many faculty members have never used it extensively with the current generation of students.

“When done well, you simply do not impose the teacher’s idea, and try to come up with a solution through dialogue,” said Michael Apple, a professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “In general, it is a guided dialogue.”

Supporters of the method see it as “a process by which you try to make the best logical argument and you focus on process as much as content,” Apple said. But he added that not that many faculty members use it these days. “The reason for its unpopularity sometimes is because we are in a test-based education system. Students can be increasingly impatient where the answer is not clear and when the professor is not giving it to them immediately.”

A lot also depends, Apple said, on who the students are. “It is controversial to some people, for example, students who are deeply concerned that they have to learn a certain amount of content and then take a test at the end,” he said. Students may also think that they are being treated as if they were not very smart.

Walter Parker, a professor of education at the University of Washington, said he teaches using the “Socratic seminar” method. He cautioned against stereotypes of the Socratic method, namely the depiction in the 1973 movie “The Paper Chase,” which shows a professor giving harsh evaluations to a student, leaving the students embarrassed.

“That is not the Socratic method,” he said.

“It is an interpretive discussion of a piece of text during which the professor says very little,” Parker said. “The professor chooses a rich piece of text and plans an interpretive question as he opens the discussion.”

This kind of teaching is more common in the humanities and social sciences, he said.

The advantage of this kind of teaching is that students learn how to think on their feet, said Patricia King, a professor of education at the University of Michigan.

“But it requires hard intellectual work,” she said.

In Maranville’s case, students did not see the value of his approach, the court records suggest. “Some students were quite vocal in their demands that he change his teaching style, which style had already been observed and approved by his peer faculty and administrative superiors,” according to the lawsuit. Students did not want to work in teams and did not want Maranville to ask questions. “They wanted him to lecture.” They also complained, according to the suit, that he did not know how to teach because he is blind.

The department chair – Scott Hammond, who is named in the lawsuit – apparently agreed with how Maranville taught his courses and called him a “master teacher,” according to court documents. Hammond visited his class, and so did an associate dean.

What I have to say here is entirely anecdotal, but I experienced this in Korea where standardized testing has been part of the culture since the advent of Confucianism in the Joseon dynasty. I started noticing the above when I was teaching college and that thinking was declining. To use Paulo Freire concepts for a minute, standardized tests can only test easily banked knowledge given to the pupil. It is a model based on knowledge/power viewed primarily as a commodity. This changes the demands on Professors but also leads to a decline in both knowledge acquisition and process-based thinking. Furthermore, when combined with a consumer service model of evaluating Professors, you have something positively corrosive to education.

So I’ll leave you with a relevant quote:

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

 

For the all the talk of the accountability: accountability doesn’t seem to be do the student ultimately since the student does not know what is necessary for knowledge formation. Instead it is accountability to capital to which the student’s uniformed opinion merely serves as a function.

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