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When The Socratic Method Is Not Enough

If…the [students] require to be roused rather than instructed, in order that they may be diligent to do what they already know, and to bring their feelings into harmony with the truths they admit, greater vigor of speech is needed. Here entreaties and reproaches, exhortations and upbraidings, and all the other means of rousing the emotions are necessary.

-St. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine (Book 4, Chapter 4)

Some teaching must be instructive, and some teaching must be rousing. Little children need only instruction, for innocence is energetic. Guilt is sluggish. These two kinds of teaching— instruction and rousing— are not contradictory, though, and any good teacher may deliver both at once. If a teacher is ignorant of his subject then he cannot speak the truth about it, and if a teacher is too mild in temperament he cannot rouse his students to see the pressing moral demands of the truth.

The average child will witness eight thousand murders on television before finishing elementary school. The average American child first encounters internet pornography during fifth grade. The senses of our students are, by the time they are reading Augustine and Dickens in high school, already dangerously close to being completely blown out. The teacher who sits to teach, who cannot raise his voice, who cannot profess warning stories about his own failure and the failure of his peers… such a teacher will not rouse. His students will know, but not care. His students will comprehend, but disdain.

Socratic teaching assumes students who need no rousing, but only instruction. If the students need to be roused, though, the purely Socratic teacher merely shows his students delicious foods, but does not give them the means to eat. They need not only forks and spoons, but appetites— appetites which result from work.

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