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Sententia XIII

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

“Education breeds knowledge. Knowledge can lead to critical thinking. Critical thinking is power.”

This Aristotle-styled syllogism is quite true. And that truth resonates strongly, especially with events of this past week. It was, in fact, written by Ms. Gemma Drinkall, founder of Headsphere (her company dedicated to well-being, particularly of teachers), my connection on LinkedIn, with whom I often exchange ideas about teaching. This statement opened a post she shared today.

I was struck by its similarity to themes explored relating to knowledge by ancient thinkers, in terms of what it is, and the importance of a critical approach to learning in achieving knowledge

The critical approach, of course, brings Socrates to mind. Socrates’ famous elenctic method of enquiry is one that very much shapes my own approach to teaching and is one that is increasingly shaping the learner centred approach to teaching. I should add that this does not rule out telling students certain things they need to know, for example, explaining a new grammar point in a language. But when they then practice, rather than giving them the answer, they are encouraged to think through how to answer for themselves.

The importance lies in the ability to question and to question effectively – what question or questions should one be asking? In the case of the grammar example, it might be, ‘where should one look to check for oneself?’ ‘What other clues do I have?’

In a bigger picture context this translates into the question: ‘do I have to accept this?’ ‘Why do I have to accept this?’ ‘Is it really right?’ I am not advocating any kind of law-breaking. But the ability to question, is the ability to recognise oppression or unfair circumstances and feel confident enough to challenge it, whether it is escaping a violent partner, or asserting a right you believe is being denied.

Socrates took a similar approach. What he wanted his fellow Athenians to do is question whether following the established cycle of ‘sophist education, political career, election, influence’ was really the same as taking care of who they were and their own well-being. The well-being of the citizen was the well-being of the community. Socrates did not equate it with achievement, crowns, and accolades.

The art of questioning was the art of asking what the just life truly is. All have a right to a part in this. Find out who you are and how you can realise this. Education is a massive instrument here.

This is the vehicle of change.

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