Educational Theory of Socrates

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The purpose of this essay is to give the reader an insight into the educational theories of Socrates. It is rather difficult to gain any information from first hand written accounts of Socrates work as he hardly ever took down notes and the only accounts that have stood the test of time are those that were documented by Plato, a student of Socrates. In actual fact most of what we know is from later people such as Aristophanes, Xenophen, Plato and Aristotle. These accounts are what have been formulated into Socrates theories. This poses some questions as to whether the theories that have been accredited to the man himself were actually his or rather a second hand interpretation from those that came after.

Born in Athens in 469 B.C and thought to have born into a working class family. It is not documented what his father did for a living but the general opinion is that he was a stonemason and his mother was believed to have been a midwife. Socrates fought for Athens in the Peloponnesian war sometimes participating in the politics that ensued after the war had finished. He married and raised one child with his wife but it is thought that he had another two children with his second wife. It was after this that he started to develop his thoughts and theories. He began to question what knowledge was, how it was acquired and what made humans different from animals in their learning and education (see appendix 1). Socrates believed in the individual learning capabilities of his students. By asking them continual questions he would never lead them to an answer but rather enable them to find the answer that they sought themselves. Only by clearing the mind of prior formed ideas could the student have the space and depth to examine the question and find an answer. He “felt that life is not worth living unless you examine your life to know whom you are, what you believe, and what you want to become. To know yourself should be a major undertaking in your life. If a person is happy simply to exist, then what is the point of life?” (Love to know Corporation 2011) This can be considered similar to the Humanistic approach to learning and the works of Rogers self-initiated learning and Maslow with his theory of self-actualisation where the emphasis on learning is laid with the individual and those directly around them. Likewise the work of Magaluzzi and his Reggio Emilia schools who believe that “Instead of us teaching the children using a slow and boring step-by-step process, we try to let them begin and solve complex problems on their own” (Achtner, W. 1994) can be seen as similar to the theories of Socrates. Socrates accepted that he knew little and only by accepting what an individual didn’t know could they then be educated “The goals of education are to know what you can; and, even more importantly, to know what you do not know” (Burgess, B 2008) He despised those who sought out knowledge just to appear more intelligent than others. To him becoming a good and truthful person was a product of learning and fed the soul. Lies and evil occurred through ignorance and would prevent one from becoming a good and wise individual. Education was a fluid process for Socrates and he would teach at any given opportunity or when a student would ask a question but never laid a charge on them. This could be in a field or on an open street. He believed that open spaces with plants and beautiful buildings were more conducive to learning and that being close to nature enabled clearer thinking of his students. This is very similar to the beliefs of Maria Montessori and that “The environment has to be ready and beautiful for the child that it invites them to work. Their play is their work and they are still enjoying it. The adult’s role then is to construct their environment in which they will learn. The development of the child is dependent therefore on the environment he is in, and the environment includes the parents” (Daily...
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