Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Socrates, Learning and Knowledge

The Socratic Legend

A young man approached Socrates and made the request, "I want to know everything you know."
Socrates responded by inviting the young man down to the river bank and said, "If this is your desire, kneel down at the river's edge. Gaze into the river and tell me what you see."
"I do not see anything," the young man said.
Bend near to the surface and take a closer look," replied Socrates.
As the man stared intently into the water, leaning as close to the surface as he could without falling in, Socrates grabbed the back of the young man's head and thrust it under the water. As the young man flailed and tried to escape Socrates kept a firm grip and held him under the surface of the water. As the man grew weaker and began to give up, Socrates pulled him from the water and laid him on the bank.
As the man gasped and coughed, he gathered himself and he yelled out, "What are you trying to do you crazy old man? Kill me!"
Socrates calmly asked, "As I held you under water, what did you want? what was most important to you?"
"I wanted to breathe. I wanted air!" he screamed at Socrates.
Socrates responded, "Don't ever make the mistake of believing that wisdom comes easily. When you want to fill your life with the knowledge you asked for as badly as you wanted the air to fill your lungs, then and only then should you come to me again."

Without, bringing the students to the brink of death, how can we instill in them a thirst for learning and knowledge?  How can we as educators get the students of today to understand that learning is a process? How do we get them to understand that everything comes with a price that must be paid? The price for knowledge is the experience of the process, putting in the time, developing understanding, asking questions and seeking solutions, while seeing the possible outcomes of the knowledge gained.

Too often our students misunderstand finding answers with learning. They have been led to believe that algorithmic problem solving is critical thinking.  And worst of all, have been brainwashed into believing that grades equal knowledge.

The process of learning must be returned to the forefront of education.  Students must be encouraged to understand that knowledge comes through time and effort.  But most importantly they must grow to appreciate the journey not the destination. To truly embrace learning as a skill to be utilized rather than simply a means of getting answers in order to receive a grade. 
The work however, does not fall solely on the students, but demands that teachers seek out new methods to encourage student learning, to evaluate students for the steps along the path rather than only the final product. We as educators must challenge ourselves to step away from the comfort of the algorithmic processes that are easy to evaluate and justify.  We too must embrace and value learning as the ultimate goal within our classroom.

The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.
                                          -   Socrates  - 

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