Socratic Questioning was the preferred method of discussion in the Philadelphia Junto. While it does not comport with today’s ‘in your face’ method of debate it does lead to better exposition of ideas. Below is a brief overview of Socratic questioning. Here is an example of Socratic Questioning involving a contemporary issue, to wit, the minimum wage.

Socratic questioning (or Socratic maieutics)[1] was named after Socrates, who is thought to have lived c. 470 BCE–c. 399 BCE[2]. Socrates utilized an educational method that focused on discovering answers by asking questions from his students. According to Plato, Socrates believed that “the disciplined practice of thoughtful questioning enables the scholar/student to examine ideas and be able to determine the validity of those ideas” [3]. Plato, a student of Socrates, described this rigorous method of teaching to explain that the teacher assumes an ignorant mindset in order to compel the student to assume the highest level of knowledge [4]. Thus, a student has the ability to acknowledge contradictions, recreate inaccurate or unfinished ideas and critically determine necessary thought.

Socratic questioning is a form of disciplined questioning that can be used to pursue thought in many directions and for many purposes, including: to explore complex ideas, to get to the truth of things, to open up issues and problems, to uncover assumptions, to analyze concepts, to distinguish what we know from what we do not know, to follow out logical consequences of thought or to control discussions. Socratic questioning is based on the foundation that thinking has structured logic, and allows underlying thoughts to be questioned.[5] The key to distinguishing Socratic questioning from questioning per se is that Socratic questioning is systematic, disciplined, deep and usually focuses on fundamental concepts, principles, theories, issues or problems.

Socratic questioning is referred to in teaching, and has gained currency as a concept in education, particularly in the past two decades.[citation needed] Teachers, students, or anyone interested in probing thinking at a deep level can construct Socratic questions and engage in these questions.[6] Socratic questioning and its variants have also been extensively used in psychotherapy.

The art of Socratic questioning is intimately connected with critical thinking because the art of questioning is important to excellence of thought. Socrates argued for the necessity of probing individual knowledge, and acknowledging what one may not know or understand. Critical thinking has the goal of reflective thinking that focuses on what should be believed or done about a topic.[8] Socratic questioning adds another level of thought to critical thinking, by focusing on extracting depth, interest and assessing the truth or plausibility of thought. Socrates argued that a lack of knowledge is not bad, but students must strive to make known what they don’t know through the means of a form of critical thinking.[9]

Critical thinking and Socratic questioning both seek meaning and truth. Critical thinking provides the rational tools to monitor, assess, and perhaps reconstitute or re-direct our thinking and action. This is what educational reformer John Dewey described as reflective inquiry: “in which the thinker turns a subject over in the mind, giving it serious and consecutive consideration.”[10] Socratic questioning is an explicit focus on framing self-directed, disciplined questions to achieve that goal.

The technique of questioning or leading discussion is spontaneous, exploratory, and issue-specific.[11] The Socratic educator listens to the viewpoints of the student and considers the alternative points of view.[11] It is necessary to teach students to sift through all the information, form a connection to prior knowledge, and transform the data to new knowledge in a thoughtful way.[11]

It has been proposed in different studies that the “level of thinking that occurs is influenced by the level of questions asked”.[12] Thus, utilizing the knowledge that students don’t know stimulates their ability to ask more complex questions. This requires educators to create active learning environments that promote and value the role of critical thinking, mobilizing their ability to form complex thoughts and questions


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