David R. Kahn retired in June from Sandy Springs Friends School in Sandy Springs.
Retired at last, after 36 years teaching at a private school just north of Washington, I’d like to offer some advice from “Mr. Chips.”
In June, when I taught Plato’s “Dialogues” to my last students in my last class, I told them that what Socrates said some 2,500 years ago is just as relevant today. Some of the definitions might have shifted a bit — what Socrates meant by “piety” is not quite what we mean today — but what lies behind the word choices is every bit as important.
Then it occurred to me that the old boy is probably better off dead.
What would happen, I wondered, if we hired Socrates to teach in a modern high school?
He probably would get in trouble with the counselors for beating up on the students’ self-esteem — never giving them an answer, just pointing out where their arguments failed.
“If Euthyphro never experiences success, how can he ever come to understand piety? You need to ease up there, Soc.”
Socrates did not run a student-centered classroom.
It’s clear that Socrates was capable of dealing with only one type of learner. The learning specialists would be all over him for that.
When Phaedo asked about the nature of the afterlife, weren’t Socrates’ “questions” a bit . . . constrictive? Had Phaedo been allowed to write a poem, create a mobile, or cut out and paste up the front page of an imaginary newspaper that one might read when one gets . . . wherever . . . Socrates could have appealed to Phaedo’s “multiple intelligences ” and Phaedo could have “experienced success.”
Crito found it difficult to accept Socrates’ definition of justice. It’s a strict one, all right. No problem, says today’s academic adviser: Drop the class. You don’t want it lowering your grade-point average, and you don’t need the dialogue to graduate.
Charmides and Socrates discussed the meaning of self-control. That’s easy, says the school nurse: There is no such thing. Everything is biologically determined. Charmides can’t be held responsible for most of what he does. As soon as we get his medications figured out, maybe then. The counselor agrees. As does the learning specialist.
Timaeus would have been glad to write his three-page paper on the nature of the physical world, due today, but he had another paper due for his creative writing class and he hadn’t felt inspired. And he has a test tomorrow. Plus, those pesky college essays are hanging over his head, so his parents have called him in sick today. He will be in this afternoon for the soccer game, though.
Meno has his college essays done, has no tests or papers coming soon, and is ready and eager to talk about the nature of virtue. But he has a field trip, so he’ll be gone all day. But it’s Tuesday, a “B day,” so Socrates’ class doesn’t meet anyhow. Maybe tomorrow? No — tomorrow Meno and all of the sophomores are meeting all day with the group from Spartans Are People Too! They’ll break up into small groups, form some affinity groups, paste some Post-it notes on the walls and publish their ideas online. Maybe we could ask Meno to come in after the game?
Nah. He’ll be tired. After all, he’s the goalie. The poor guy. All those balls coming at his head.