Twenty-five hundred years ago Socrates wrestled with the question: Can virtue be taught? He answered "yes" and "no." Moral education still evokes the Socratic reply. But is this a contradiction or a sample of Socratic irony? Or, is it a doorway to inquiry and pedagogy? Recall the Delphic Oracle: "There is no person wiser than Socrates." To which Socrates replied that what the Oracle must have meant is that he knows how little he knows. He lives/is the moral paradox. He knows that he knows nothing, but he also knows that "nothing" can be either empty or provocative.
I've been "provoked" by him for years. At the outset, Socrates announces that doing ethics is risky business. From his initial question, "What do you mean by...?," dialectic/dialogue unfolds. And we find that ethics and aesthetics are partners, that dialogue is theater, and theater shapes dialogue. Dialectic begins with "yes," goes on to "no," continues with "both." There is always the tension of opposites and the confession of ignorance. The play does not end. There is always a next question, always a challenge to culture/society/community/family values.
Thus, Socrates is a midwife of thinking, teaching that it is the process that is important, not the product. "Curriculum" emerges from the tension between teacher and student conceived as roles/functions and not as fixed positions, very much akin to modern progressive schooling. Learning occurs by doing and experiencing. And the inevitable question is "Who is the teacher; who is the student??"
Howard B. Radest
is Dean Emeritus of The Humanist Institute and a member of the National Council of Ethical Culture Leaders. He is a consulting member [Emeritus] of the SC Medical Association Bioethics Committee and a former member of the Board of the Association for Moral Education. He is a member of the Highlands Institute for American Religious and Philosophic Thought, serves on the Advisory Committee of the Kochhar Humanist Education Center (AHA) and is Board Chair of The Ethical Community Charter School in Jersey City. He was Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at The University of South Carolina-Beaufort, was Ethics Consultant to Hilton Head Hospital and Chair of its Biomedical Ethics Committee, served as Director (Headmaster) of The Ethical Culture Fieldston School in New York City, and was Professor of Philosophy and Director of the School of American Studies at Ramapo College of New Jersey.
Dr. Radest received his B.A. at Columbia College, his M.A. in Philosophy and Psychology at The New School For Social Research, and his Ph.D. in Philosophy at Columbia University. He is listed in Who's Who
and Who's Who in Education
Where: 305 Russell
The University Seminar on Innovation in Education
is co-chaired by Ronald Gross who also conducts the Socratic Conversations
at the Gottesman Libraries; and Robert McClintock, former John L. and Sue Ann Weinberg Professor in the Historical and Philosophical Foundations of Education at Teachers College.
Founded in 1970, the Seminar
explores the process of learning in individuals, organizations, and society, throughout the lifespan and via major institutions.
Last Updated: 10:31 am, Monday, Oct 10 , 2011