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K-20 U.S. Education Pedagogy Beginning to Rust



Ok! These are important words and are at the heart of both the problem and the solution to our failing schools. Significantly, all three words are derived from Greek. Didactic comes from the word to instruct: Maieutic from the word for midwife: Pedagogy from the word for teaching and learning.

Today we call didactic teaching ‘lecture-style’ or ‘instructor-led’- the so-called sage on the stage. And today we should describe the maieutic method as ‘Socratic Inquiry’ – a method of eliciting knowledge or opinion from a person or persons by questioning, and an insistence on close and logical reasoning: with a guide on the side.

Here’s where the big problem comes in: society needs to use both methods to educate our citizenry. And we are not. And we have not for several generations. And we have forgotten how.

Our schools overwhelmingly use the didactic method. A teacher lectures using visual aids, the students refers to or reads books and online resources, the student is mostly passive, the teacher is mostly active, and then the student’s assignment is to memorize objective facts, and then prove mastery of these facts through multiple choice tests. But there is a final oppressive step: the state measures the schools and fines them or funds them based on this very flawed pedagogical model. Fifty percent of all teachers quit after five years citing lack of autonomy!

Imagine instead watching a classroom with round tables, instead of rows of desks, and students animatedly interrogating data and facts and questioning one another’s ideas, and systematically mining or synthesizing their discoveries into new knowledge. You might think you had wandered into an alien environment. And that sadly would be true. If you were an enlightened CEO, however, and you walked into that same room and saw the students around the tables discussing, debating and questioning a subjective issue – one to which there is no provable, right or wrong answer – you would want to hire them.

Why? Because the students practicing the Socratic Inquiry method around those tables are honing the skills demanded by the Fourth Industrial Revolution namely: Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Problem-Solving and Communications. Memorization and test taking are not skills needed for participation in our new age, they are a given.   

An essential ingredient of any effort to reform education is active participation by students in their own education. And participation increases in direct proportion to the desire of the participants. And this desire can only come about with buy-in by the student. And student buy-in can only occur with input and ownership.

In a democracy where people have input on outcomes via the ballot box they buy-in to a consensus. People in totalitarian states where they are told what to do and what to think do not buy-in.

Isolation, a feeling of not being involved, low self-esteem, low expectations all are a direct result of being lectured to for 13 years. How do I know this? In 2013 Pew Research surveyed 600,000 American students. 67% scored low on all success factors: Hope, Engagement and Well-being. It does not take a genius to make a direct connection between the emphasis on didactic lecturing, rote memorization and test-taking and the fact that two thirds of our students are not buying-in to their own education. That’s two thirds folks! If you have three children in school –well you can do the arithmetic.

So, let me illustrate the value of a complementary program: the Socratic Inquiry method.

If a classroom of eighth graders are told they now must learn algebra, and the rote lectures, memorization and test-taking promptly begins with a command – open your text books at page six – the students have not been given any time, or information or a reason to buy-in to why they must learn algebra. They have not been given the chance to make meaning, which is the purpose of education.

In a Socratic setting, the students would first be guided or prompted to query the nature of algebra by asking and answering as many questions as possible beginning with these words: who, what, why, where, when and how. Who invented algebra? What is the purpose of Algebra? Why should we learn algebra? Where is algebra used? When has algebra been of great use? How is algebra used in daily life? You can think of many more.

If the students follow the rules they will quickly be able to come up with a consensus statement as to why algebra is important, and by definition they will have bought-in to the necessity of learning algebra: they were involved in, and agreed to, the decision. Now they have a very personal stake in their own learning, and each student probably will have been sparked to learn algebra for very different reasons than their teammates. Now, that’s pedagogy.

And that brings me to the enormous leverage that comes from teamwork. But that is the title of another opinion piece.


Alex Terego  After 40 successful years in the hi-tech business, during which he participated in all phases of computing, beginning with IBM and culminating in selling his voice mail company, Alex became an early thought-leader in 21st Century skills development. He developed his Terego  Method™ when teaching Critical Thinking at the Thunderbird School of Global Management and the Eller Graduate School of Business at the University of Arizona.

The program is now available at no cost for schools. Click to see this narrated video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnumpVhywfs It is an investment of seven minutes of your time to discover how you can teach students to think for themselves and in teams. Follow me on Twitter @alex_terego

The opinions expressed here are solely those of Alex Terego and do not represent the opinions of edCircuit and/or its parent companyMindRocket Media Group.

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