Ancient Greek Philosophers, such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, were among the greatest thinkers ever known. They laid the foundation for Western thought and continue to influence our world today. One of Socrates’ most valuable contributions — the Socratic method of teaching — didn’t drill information into students’ heads, but rather asked question after question until they arrived at their own understanding. In other words, Socrates taught his students how to think rather than what to think. Are we developing critical thinkers and problem solvers today? Finding the right answer begins with the right question.
What is the effect of:
- Teaching students what to think rather than how to think?
- Emphasizing career preparation over developing critical thinking skills, instilling moral character, and teaching students how to live a meaningful life?
We teach children to color inside the lines, and then expect adults to think outside the box.
Does Our Current Teaching Approach Make the Grade?
Students spend 13+ years in school where they are shaped and molded for life as adults. Does our current teaching approach pass the test?
- A student can do well by memorizing information and regurgitating it. In contrast, when you stretch a student’s mind it enables them to diagnose problems, read in between the lines, connect the dots, and determine possibilities.
- Passive learning teaches students to accept information as gospel — without questioning it. This teaching method discourages students from challenging conventional thinking, distinguishing fact from fiction, or questioning the rationale of an argument.
- Many tests today are given in a multiple-choice format. In the real world, how often do you receive three possibilities to choose from when pondering a problem?
Are Our Priorities in Order?
The great philosophers also believed that instilling moral character was instrumental in helping youth achieve a good life. In general, how much emphasis do we place on instilling moral character — being a good person and leading a meaningful life — versus career development and achieving success?
- From the time you’re a child, folks ask you what you want to be when you grow up. That’s reinforced in college, where coursework focuses primarily on achieving success in a profession. When do we encourage our youth to focus on who they want to be rather than what they want to accomplish?
- Family mealtime is an excellent opportunity to share experiences, reinforce values, and bond as a family. Unfortunately, family mealtime has changed. Despite the importance of family mealtime for promoting personal values, “only about 30% of families manage to eat together regularly,” according to Harvard Graduate School of Education.
- One of the teachings of religious faith is believing in something greater than yourself. Unfortunately, according to a study, “29% of Americans now identify as having no religion, up from 26% in 2019 and 16% in 2007, when Pew Research Center first began tracking religious identity.”
- Great parents are never too tired after work to spend quality time with their kids, never too busy with their own social life to give their kids the time of day, and never outsource their parental responsibility to others. According to the Pew Research Center, “For both dads and moms who say they spend too little time with their kids, work obligations are cited most often as the main reason: 62% of dads and 54% of moms say this is the case. However, a sizable share of fathers (20%) say the main reason they spend too little time with their children is that they don’t live with them full-time.”
When you say, “I don’t have the time,”
what you’re really saying is “I won’t make the time.”
- We get so caught up in daily activities that it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. That happens because day-to-day deadlines loom large, whereas nobody is pressuring you to step back and put things in perspective. Should we encourage people to spend more time on to-be lists rather than to-do lists?
Imagine the Possibilities
The great philosophers made how to think and moral character a priority. If you believe they should be our prime focus today, ask yourself: Was the shift in emphasis a conscious decision? If we continue along the current path, how will individuals and society be impacted? What do I intend to do about it? Our future is dependent on our kids. And the future of your children is dependent on you. Finding the right answer begins with the right question.
Check out Frank’s new book, The Path to a Meaningful Life.
Are You Asking the Right Question?
Please leave a comment and tell us what you think or share it with someone who can benefit from the information.
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sarah hiner says
Absolutely spot on. It all starts with asking a question.. and not being afraid to ask questions. We have taken thinking out of education.
Frank Sonnenberg says
Thanks Sarah. I’m glad you like it.
Learning is less about memorizing facts and more about the ability to think.
Thanks for taking the time to write.
Jessan Dunn Otis says
This is so spot on in many ways. Let’s begin with the right answer/right question. When I taught, at the college level (mostly freshmen), I often said: “If you don’t ask the right question there’s little hope of finding the right answer.” And, indeed, peppering my students with question after question kept driving them back upon themselves (like peeling their own, internal onion). Right in line with Socrates.
In terms of parenting, I *always* made time when they were young ones, unless I was completely inside-out tired. Even now, as they’re chronological adults, they continue to be #1 priorites.
Again and as always, thanks, Frank. Stay safe. Cheers! ~ Jessan
Frank Sonnenberg says
That says a lot about you, Jessan. Bravo!!!
Thanks for taking the time to write.