+ Socratic Schooling in Cincinnati

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According to Ben Fischer in the Concinnati Enquirer, Paideia education is alive and well in his town.

Paideia schools, where the Socratic method (long discussions and classical debate as a form of learning), have declined in popularity for more than a decade. 

Paideia was born out of philosopher Mortimer Adler’s 1982 book “The Paideia Proposal,” and the hope has been to restore “classical” education to public schools by teaching children critical thinking, debating and synthesizing information. 

In its ideal form, it includes foreign languages and fine arts as part of the regular school day (those features haven’t survived budget cuts in many schools).

According to Terry Roberts, directory of the National Paideia Center in Chapel Hill NC,  Cincinnati is a rare holdout in keeping the programs.  Chicago and Chattanooga TN are the only other school districts in the US to still provide paideia education from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Elements of paideia instruction, such as Socratic dialogue, are informally used in many schools, says Roberts, but not as a formal curriculum focus.

In addition, he says, paideia is at odds with modern high-stakes standardized testing.

What Does It Look Like?

Writes Ben Fischer:

Sports fan and Shroder Paideia High School senior Brandon Ross thought departed Cincinnati Bearcats football coach Brian Kelly was a disloyal turncoat before a December 16th class with teacher Chad Flaig.

Then, with the desks arranged in a circle, Flaig asked tough questions:  What does loyalty require?  Can you be loyal to only one group at a time?  What about loyalty to yourself?  Is it possible that loyalty to his players led Kelly to downplay the Notre Dame job until after the crucial Pittsburgh game, avoiding distractions?  Or does being loyal require absolute honesty at all times?

The teens didn’t have all the answers.

But they debated Kelly’s departure for the entire class, moderating their opinions when Flaig made a good point and pushing back when they disagreed.

Afterward, Ross wasn’t so sure.

“At first I thought he was just turning his back on the team,” Ross said.  “But then I realized this was a dream job and to ask him to give it up would have been selfish.”

The Socratic method and heavy emphasis on verbal exchanges between teachers and students is undoubtedly not an efficient way to guide students to passing scores on the all-important Ohio Achievement and Ohio Graduation Tests, which are the basic standard  of measurement for school quality undier the No Child Left Behind Act, says Roberts.

“Many times that’s viewed as ‘slow learning,’ if you will.  To be honest, I think they’re right.  But not only is it slow, it’s much more long-lasting.”

Paideia education came to Cincinnati in the late 1980s when a group of Kennedy Heights residents asked for it to be installed at Shroder, which was then a junior high school.  Teachers are trained in the paideia method of instruction at Xavier University.

In a paideia school no more than ten percent of all instructional time should be spent in a traditional lecture mode.  Most of the time, teachers should be “coaching” students with a pattern of difficult questions, quiding them to the correct answer or a new revelation.

In addition, the seminars, such as Flaig’s session on the topic of Kelly, develop children’s critical thinking and verbal skills.

Says Flaig, who has taught at Shroder since 1987 when paideia was just gaining a foothold, 

That’s one of the things as a teacher in seminar, you are not the information provider.  You are just kind of the guide, and sometimes they’ll go down a different path.  You just kind of go with it, and the big thing is to make them think and get them out of their comfort zone.

Unlike a method such as Montessori, paideia is highly structured.  All students take the same classes.  Principal Yenetta Harper emphasizes that the school is a community of learners all working together.

Judged by the scores on Ohio’s standardized tests, Cincinnati’s four full-fledged paideia schools are only middle of the pack academically.  As a group, they are close to the Cincinnati Public School average.

But defenders say paideia learning will come back into vogue.   The current mode of content-based standardized tests, they feel, will give way to the so-called “21st century skills” advocated by certain educators: critical thinking, teamwork and creativity.

Harper and Flaig say they will continue to teach paideia method. 

Even in the hallways or at basketball games, that means, they say, “because” isn’t a reason.  You can’t just “feel” something.

Says Harper:  “You don’t ‘feel’ here.  If you have an opinion, or a feeling, you must have some reason and fact behind it.” 

Additional Facts

Paideia (n) [pronounced ‘pie-day-ya’]:  from the Greek pais or paidos, meaning the upbringing of a child.  In ancient Greek culture, it referred to the sum total of all experience and training a child needed to become a model citizen.

Paideia comes from the same Greek word that forms the second half of the word “Encyclopedia.”

Hallmarks of paideia education:  A uniform curriculum for all students at a school, with no electives,  including fine arts and foreign languages.  Regular “seminar” classes in which students discuss themes explored in an assigned reading passages, with teachers using the Socratic Method. 

No more than ten percent of all instructional time should be taken up by a teacher lecturing to students; most of a teacher’s time should be spent in a “coaching” mode, rather guiding students to new information.

sole source: Ben Fischer’s article in the Cincinnati Enquirer (www.news.cincinnati.com)  on 2/2/10.   For more information about the National Paideia Center in Chapel Hill, visit     http://www.paideia.org/content.php/system/index.htm

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021   or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

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