Socrates and his philosophy of education

While the Greek philosopher Socrates, an enigmatic man, lived centuries ago, his teachings continue to impact us even today. Socrates wrote no books, but his methods and ideas are used in modern law schools and other halls of learning. His philosophy of education rests on simple principles, self awareness and expectations. 

Who was Socrates?

Socrates was the son of a sculptor, who had contact with the intellectual elite of his day.  He studied philosophy and was possibly influenced by early Greek philosophers. Heraclitus and Parmenides, who may have been his teachers. 

During the Peloponnesian War, he served as a soldier, and received recognition for his valor.  Ultimately, he returned to his home where he began practicing his very unconventional teaching methods.

Ultimately, his actions challenged the ideas and status of the elite class.  He was charged with corrupting Athenian youth and charged with immoral behavior.  Rather than recant his statements to save his life, Socrates defended his views and lost.  He was sentenced to death.  The philosopher eventually carried out his own death sentence by drinking hemlock, a poison.

Socrates and His View on Education

Socrates influenced a number of later writers and philosophers, including Plato and Aristotle. From Plato’s writings, it is gleaned that Socrates believed that education was required by those in power and that without education, society would have no order or real justice.

Education, to Socrates, comes about when three things happen.  First, a person must accept what they do not know.  Second, the person must realize that self-knowledge or understanding was desirable.  And, lastly, truth, including self awareness, truth comes through questioning.

Socrates’ ideas about education included the development mind (soul) and body.  He separated the two types into groups, music and gymnastics.  Gymnastics, or sports, taught virtues such as perseverance and fairness as well as good and evil.

Socrates also believed that education should be provided to people regardless of gender.  While Socrates believed women to be physically weaker than men, he did not hold this belief about the intellectual potential of woman.

Socratic Method

Socrates taught through a process that is used in modern law schools and which bears his name, the Socratic Method.  Through this method, students are posed a question.  Once they answer, the questioner challenges them to prove or support their answer.  Hypothetical questions and additional facts are used to fine tune or clarify beliefs or statements. In the end, the student gains insight on their thoughts, the exceptions to their beliefs, and validation of their ability to defend their views.

Those who do not like confrontation are not likely to approve of the Socratic method. Many modern professors refuse to use the method as they believe it inhibits open discussion.

Every teacher and school has a basic philosophy of education.  This philosophy governs the role and expectations of students and teachers.  For Socrates, his philosophy extended to  fashioning the body and mind to create moral, just people and his method was to question until they could clearly defend their beliefs.  To this day, Socrates’ methods and philosophies continue to influence teachers and student.