Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Suggestion for a Blogging Strategy

I normally read the most recent posts and comments on each student's blog at the end of each week. Thus, a good strategy if you find yourself moved to comment on an earlier post is to start a new thread on that topic on your own blog, perhaps with a comment on the original post referring folks to the new thread. The same strategy would also work if you find yourself moved to reply at some length to a current post.


The author of this article seems to read at the dialogic level only, whereas as we have seen at the dramatic level Plato seems to understand very well the playfulness inherent in the process of teaching and learning. Then of course we must struggle at the dialectical level to grasp what Plato really wants us to think, in light of the apparent contradiction. Nonetheless, the article has some useful things to say about the educational importance of play. http://chronicle.com/article/Platos-War-on-Play/148987/

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Slippery Socrates

There's another example of Socrates' apparent slipperyness at 485c, where (as explained in Bloom's footnote) he evidently expects Glaucon to interpret an ambiguous sentence in one way, while pretty clearly intending the other possible meaning himself. Subtle as this may be, there seems no avoiding the observation that Socrates can be as verbally slippery as any sophist when he chooses -- and he seems so to choose often. Is there, then, such a thing as responsible sophistry, and is that what we should expect of a teacher?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Blogging our way to an education

The several discussion threads on the blog this week were pertinent and thoughtful. One could practically build an entire curriculum from the themes broached -- lying and truth-telling, playing devil's advocate, the role of deliberate confusion and error correction in teaching, religious belief and the ability to question, the significance (or not) of age in learning. Some of you will no doubt build on these issues as you research and write the first paper for the course, which we should discuss Tuesday.

The only problem with this incredibly rich and collegial conversation, however, is that only about half of you participated in it. This is a big loss for the non-participants, but (if my theory of learning communities is correct) it's actually an even bigger loss for all of us. I think this course has the potential to be really exciting and informative, but I need you all on board for the ride.

Age and Learning

Here's an article from yesterday's Times that might be relevant to the thread about age and learning.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Educating Glaucon

Mary’s question Thursday about Glaucon’s equating value with effort got me thinking. We have witnessed Socrates gently poking at the Athenian habit of answering a moral question by remembering a line of poetry – e.g. his critical analysis of Simonides in Book I. One reason the Athenian jury was not crazy to condemn Socrates for corrupting the youth is that he radically called into question what most people thought was the right procedure for deliberating about things. Critical thinking did not supplant appeal to (poetic) authority without a fight.

But as we will see, Socrates also challenges the central content of Athenian morality by questioning the signal aspiration of the Homeric ethos: to accomplish something so great as to be worthy of acclaim and commemoration. The Greek term for this is kleos, meaning ‘glory’ and ‘fame,’ but also the song that tells of one’s accomplishments. So someone who has kleos is extraordinary, singably memorable and praisworthy, to a degree sufficient to make him godlike (that is, immortal. Indeed, to be remembered forever for one’s extraordinary accomplishments is the only sort of immortality the Greeks took seriously.). 

Interestingly, Socrates does not completely reject this ethos of the extraordinary, but he redefines it dramatically. Instead of the blustering, self-absorbed heroism of an Achilles or Odysseus, the Socratic hero is a critical thinker. “The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being,” Socrates says at his trial, at a moment in the proceedings calculated to give maximum offense to his judges’ deepest sensibilities.

So we might say that one thing Socrates hopes to teach Glaucon is to turn his ambition in a radically different direction – not to challenge the proposition that great accomplishment takes great effort, or even the assumption that he should aspire to greatness, but deeply to problematize the forms of greatness that attract him..

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Levels of Analysis

I attempted in class yesterday, haltingly, to articulate the sense in which Plato is dealing with pedagogical issues simultaneously on several levels. At the least, it seems to me, he is having his characters explicitly discuss matters of teaching and learning, and evaluate arguments for one or another view. We might call this the explicit DIALOGIC level.

It also happens that the characters in the dialogue instantiate in their relationships and interactions a theory or theories of teaching and learning. We could call this the DRAMATIC level.

A third level emerges when we consider the ways the dialogic and dramatic levels interact, sometimes underscoring and sometimes undermining each other, in a complicated and fluid process. We might call this the DIALECTICAL level. (I acknowledge the possible confusion between 'dialogic' and ‘dialectical,’ and would welcome a more felicitous suggestion).

Friday, September 5, 2014

Targeted examples

I indicated various ways in which Socrates' behavior in the opening scene of Republic maps onto Glaucon's response to the circumstances (it is Glaucon, not Socrates, who a) agrees to wait when Polemarchus' slave orders them to, b) concedes that you can't persuade someone who refuses to listen, and c) is intrigued by his brother Adeimantus' description of the spectacle they intend to watch). Keep an eye out for Socrates' responsiveness to the particular concerns of other characters, as when he uses weaponry as an example with Cephalus, then changes the example after the discussion shifts to Polemarchus.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Welcome, Philosophy of Education Bloggers!

I will link your URLs to the left of this post, so you'll have one-stop shopping to see what everyone else is posting.