My Socratic Experience

I’m surrounded (virtually) by four graduates of St. John’s College. (St. John’s, with campuses in Annapolis and Santa Fe, is known for Socratic discussion, small classes and a Great Books-based program of study.) COO Robert is surrounded by palm trees in SoCal. Francisco, Expanse’s Lead Socratic Guide, is at home in Mexico, while Büşra, the new STEM Guide, joins from Turkey. Our assigned reading is “Why the Grammar of Schooling Exists,” a chapter in Tyack and Cuban’s Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform. Our guide is the man himself: founder Michael Strong, outside his home in Austin.

A few years ago, Michael and I met in New York to discuss his approach to creating schools. How, I wondered, was he able to persuade parents having so many options to pull their child and place them in a new environment? How did he deal with “creatives” who disliked traditional school but still craved to be accepted in an academic environment? What was his approach to standardized testing, increasingly downplayed? I liked what I heard.

Now, I find myself on Michael’s team, engaged in a Socratic discussion about education: the common interest that brought us all together to begin with. Michael introduces the reading, after which we exchange interpretations of the text while acknowledging each other’s points of view and varied experiences. Michael ends the session with a debrief; we take turns airing what has gone well and what we have found frustrating, either about the reading or the dynamic.

For me, Socratic is a welcome slot on my Google calendar, allowing me to get to know teammates and appreciate a fundamental part of each Expanse student’s day. If it works for adults, how can it not work for children, who by nature enjoy arguing with friends about topics of interest to them?

A few days later, Michael assigns another reading, an excerpt from Whitehead’s The Aims of Education. I am already motivated by next Socratic session, not to mention the Expanse venture ahead. 

Nina Berler is Expanse’s Chief Communications Officer and Head of College Counseling

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