Tag Archives: robert-kawashima

Not unlike Socrates, I find it necessary to begin by professing my ignorance. I know neither what a successful class is in itself, nor what its outward signs might be. If Plato is to be trusted, Socrates himself was a very great teacher. For this reason, many of us profess to employ his "method" in the classroom. But can we agree on what this method actually consists in? Are Plato's "Socratic" dialogues, for example—not actual (spoken) dialogues, but their literary (written) representation— properly Socratic? Is the ideal class, then, necessarily a discussion? Is it even legitimate to practice this method in the modern university? Which is to ask: Can and should the modern search for "knowledge" imitate the ancient search for "wisdom"? And since we know how the polis rewarded Socrates, we do well to distinguish carefully between the appearance of success and the "real" thing.

The success of a class should, I assume, be measured against its goal. Need I add that students, administrators, and instructors often have different goals in mind? My aim as an instructor is simply this: the transmission of knowledge. My teaching is thus structurally identical to my scholarship, adding only that the latter is in a reciprocal relationship with other scholars. Instruction thus presupposes the ongoing acquisition of knowledge, namely, research, which takes time. This "free" time may appear to be a mere luxury, but it is, in fact, absolutely necessary for acquiring and transmitting knowledge. I say "transmission," however, and not "reception." The receptiveness of one's audience—their inclination to agree, approve, etc.—is extrinsic to knowledge as such. The question is, then, whether one can and should employ instructional techniques that are unrelated to the specific knowledge being transmitted, as one can, for example, employ convincing rhetorical techniques that are unrelated to the particular thesis being argued.