Education Pioneers Critical Thinking Exercise

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Dozens of well-worn armchairs and couches faced forward.

Tibetan flag streamers, portraits of students and original artworks, hockey sticks and other student memorabilia lined the room’s perimeter.

The Philosophy Club reminded me of my own longing in high school for something more meaningful than what the standard curriculum offered.

By 1996, the curriculum was completed for, what turned out to be, a standard introductory philosophy class and, under the guidance of my then principal Bob Galardi, I was able to pilot the first class.

“I wonder if we have ever asked ourselves what education means.

Why do we go to school, why do we learn various subjects, why do we pass examinations and compete with each other for better grades?Their charge, as a class and as a supportive community, would be to answer Socrates’ call to action: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”Inspired by his belief that “the search for an authentic self is one of the primary tasks of adolescence,” the curriculum fosters a supportive, trusting environment for seniors to navigate life’s philosophical questions together., or “the Council” for short, referring to the tradition of the tribal council.As of 2013, over 4,500 seniors have participated in the Council’s exploration of identity and purpose among small, confidential groups of seniors.Inspired by his belief that “the search for an authentic self is one of the primary tasks of adolescence,” his new curriculum would require a classroom model that fosters a supportive, trusting environment for seniors to navigate life’s philosophical questions together.His hope was that such a class could help students build compassion and strength of character — in his opinion, far better indicators of a senior’s success.I don’t remember the class or even what the assignment was, but I do remember doing this project on using “The Socratic Method” as a pedagogical practice, a modified version of the Socratic dialogue, the purpose of which is to help students think for themselves as they come to grips with whatever subject is being taught.The Socratic Method has become the signature pedagogy in every class I have ever taught.Helping students become self-aware, critical thinkers has been my central mission as an educator.It was clear early on in my career that a 53-minute history class period was not going to suffice for many of these students to quench their thirst for meaning and for delving deeper into the world of thoughts and ideas.Robert began to refine a disciplined dialectic approach in which the class would spend a few weeks establishing trust, and then begin what he calls the Council process.Each period, a different student would read a personal statement to the class and then spend the entire hour answering questions posed by the others to encourage that student’s “journey to the authentic self.” Homework would be to write a thoughtful, positive commentary to that period’s Council participant.

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