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Thursday, November 07, 2019

Two thoughts on the Socratic method (or whatever we call Q&A teaching)

1) My colleague Stanley Fish appeared on FIRE's So to Speak podcast, discussing his new book, his old book that there is no such thing as free speech, and other topics. It is a wide-ranging hour-plus discussion.

At one point in the conversation, Fish explains why he does not want to hear student opinions or what they think/believe about some subject; interviewer Nico Perrino asks if that means Fish does not like the Socratic Method. But is there any connection between the Socratic Method and students offering their opinions and personal views? I believe I would be regarded as a highly and rigourous Socratic professor, in that I ask a lot of directed questions. But I give students no opportunity to espouse their opinions or to tell me what they think; I  use tight, specific questions to draw out specific answers tied to the material. There is little danger of a student going off on an unrelated tangent or saying something offensive. There are some professors who allow and welcome student pontificating through less-directed questions. But that is a matter of professorial style--it is not inherent in being Socratic.

2) Judge Jane Roth (3d Circuit and my former Judge) visited FIU this week as a Jurist-in-Residence and the lead judge for our intramural moot court final. As part of her visit, she spoke with students about oral argument, especially about the centrality of answering questions directly, slowly, and as specifically and precisely as possible. Judge Roth visited some classes and commented on how well the students had handled hard questions in those discussions. That reminded me of something I tell 1Ls on the eve of their first argument in legal writing--the Q&A teaching style imitates oral arguments. You should be prepared in your argument the way you are prepared in class. And if you can handle a Socratic class, you can handle moot court.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 7, 2019 at 07:05 AM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink

Comments

"I use tight, specific questions to draw out specific answers tied to the material"

Isn't that what police do? Is a police interrogation equal to the socratic method? Or is socratism more than questioning?

Posted by: Kavaughnatti | Nov 7, 2019 8:14:17 PM

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