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Topic: [math-learn] Experiment by Argentinian Neuroscientists Suggests That
"Socratic" (Correction: "PLATONIC") Dialogue Is an Educational Failure

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Richard Hake

Posts: 1,251
From: Woodland Hills, CA 91367
Registered: 12/4/04
[math-learn] Experiment by Argentinian Neuroscientists Suggests That
"Socratic" (Correction: "PLATONIC") Dialogue Is an Educational Failure

Posted: Sep 30, 2012 1:57 PM
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Some subscribers to Math-Learn might be interested in a recent
discussion-list post
"Experiment by Argentinian Neuroscientists Suggests That 'Socratic'
(Correction: 'PLATONIC') Dialogue Is an Educational Failure" [Hake
(2012)]. The abstract reads:

ABSTRACT: Argentinian neuroscientists Andrea P. Goldin, Laura
Pezzatti, Antonio M. Battro, and Mariano Sigman, in an article titled
"From Ancient Greece to Modern Education: Universality and Lack of
Generalization of the Socratic Dialogue" at <>,
describe an experiment in which the questions posed by Plato's
"Socrates" in the Meno are put to contemporary students. Goldin et
al. found that most of their students made the same errors as did the
slave boy in the Meno. However, they conclude that the SOCRATIC
METHOD IS A FAILURE because, "after following every single question
including Socrates' 'diagonal argument,' almost 50% of the
participants failed to learn the simplest generalization when asked
to double the area of a square of different size."

But is it really the *Socratic* Method that fails? The late classics
scholar Gregory Vlastos (1991), wrote (my CAPS) : ". . . . throughout
this first phase of his writing Plato remains convinced of the
substantial truth of Socrates' teaching and of the soundness of his
method. . . . [but] when [Plato] finds compelling reason to strike
out along new paths, he sees no need to sever the personal bond with
Socrates and when these lead him to new, UNSOCRATIC AND ANTISOCRATIC
MENO, the dramatist's attachment to his protagonist, replicating the
man's love for the friend and teacher of his youth, survives the
ideological separation."

Therefore, in my opinion, Goldin et al. should have titled their
article "From Ancient Greece to Modern Education: Universality and
Lack of Generalization of the PLATONIC Dialogue." That the Platonic
Dialogue is the polar opposite of effective instruction is well known
to most physics education researchers. For example, Robert Morse
(1992) pointed out the pedagogical weakness of the Platonic Dialogue
in his insightful parody of the Meno in "The Classic Method of Mrs.
Socrates" at <>. I also question the assertions
by Golden et al. that their observations: (a) extend a broad
literature which has questioned the efficacy of unguided education,
and (b) question the efficacy of the modern educational system.

In my opinion, the dialogue of the *historical* Socrates as utilized
by the late Arnold Arons <>, in stark contrast to
that depicted in the Meno, has been demonstrated to be relatively
effective. See e.g.:(a) "Promoting Student Crossover to the Newtonian
World" [Hake (1987)] <>; (b) "Professors as
physics students: What can they teach us?" [Tobias & Hake (1988)]
<>; (c)"Socratic pedagogy in the introductory
physics lab" [Hake (1992)] <>; (d)
"Interactive-engagement vs traditional methods: A
six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory
physics courses" [Hake (1998a)] <>; (e)
"Interactive-engagement methods in introductory mechanics courses"
[Hake (1998b)] <>; (f)"Design-Based Research in
Physics Education Research: A Review" [Hake (2008a)]
<>; (f) "Helping Students to Think Like
Scientists in Socratic Dialogue Inducing Labs" [Hake (2012a)]

Will Goldin et al.'s (2011) demonstration of the educational failure
of the Platonic Method as depicted in the Meno deter law professors
from utilizing the Platonic Method as notoriously used in law schools
<>? Probably not
judging from the opinions of law professors Stephen Ellmann (2011) in
"The Socratic Method Tested" <> and Robert
Dinerstein in "Limitations to the Method" <>.
But don't abandon all hope. See e.g., Stephen Bainbridge (2008) in
"Reflections On Twenty Years Of Law Teaching"<>
and Brian Leiter in "The Socratic Method': The Scandal of American
Legal Education" <>.

For those wishing to learn more about Socrates: (1)"Socrates" [Nails
(2010)] <>; (2) "Socrates, Ironist and Moral
Philosopher" [Vlastos (1991)] <>; (3) "Plato's
Meno" [Scott (2009)] <>;(4) YouTube videos: (a)
Bryan Magee (2008) <> discusses Plato with Miles
Burnyeat <>; online in 5 sections:
<>, <>, especially
<>, <>,
<>; (b) M.M. McCabe (2011) <>
on Socrates <>; (c) Bettany Hughes (2011a)
<> on Socrates and "The Hemlock Cup"

To access the complete 67 kB post please click on <>.

Richard Hake, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Indiana University
Links to Articles: <>
Links to SDI Labs: <>
Academia: <>
Blog: <>
GooglePlus: <>
Twitter: <>

"I am deeply convinced that a statistically significant improvement
would occur if more of us learned to listen to our students. . . .
.By listening to what they say in answer to carefully phrased,
leading questions, we can begin to understand what does and does not
happen in their minds, anticipate the hurdles they encounter, and
provide the kind of help needed to master a concept or line of
reasoning without simply 'telling them the answer.'. . . . . .
.Nothing is more ineffectually arrogant than the widely found teacher
attitude that 'all you have to do is say it my way, and no one within
hearing can fail to understand it.'. . . . Were more of us willing to
relearn our physics by the dialog and listening process I have
described, we would see a discontinuous upward shift in the quality
of physics teaching. I am satisfied that this is fully within the
competence of our colleagues; the question is one of humility and
- Arnold Arons (1974)

"If Confucius can serve as the Patron Saint of Chinese education, let
me propose Socrates as his equivalent in a Western educational
context - a Socrates who is never content with the initial
superficial response, but is always probing for finer distinctions,
clearer examples, a more profound form of knowing. Our concept of
knowledge has changed since classical times, but Socrates has
provided us with a timeless educational goal - ever deeper
- Howard Gardner (1989)

"We think the way we do because Socrates thought the way he did."
- Bettany Hughes (2011a,b)

"[I] am a sort of gadfly, given to the state by God; and the state is
a great and noble steed who is tardy in his motions owing to his very
size, and requires to be stirred into life. I am that gadfly which
God has attached to the state, and all day long and in all places am
always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching
- Socrates in "Apology" [Plato (399 BC?)]

REFERENCES [URL's shortened by <> and accessed on 29 Sept 2012.
Arons, A. 1974. "Addendum to 'Toward Wider Public Understanding of
Science', "Am. J. Phys. 42(2): 157; online to subscribers at

Gardner, H. 1989. "The Academic Community Must Not Shun the Debate
Over How to Set National Educational Goals," The Chronicle of Higher
Education, 8 November.

Hake, R.R. 2012. "Experiment by Argentinian Neuroscientists Suggests
That 'Socratic' (Correction: 'PLATONIC') Dialogue Is an Educational
Failure" online on the OPEN AERA-L archives at
<>. Post of 29 Sep 2012 14:00:28-0700 to AERA-L
and Net-Gold. The abstract and link to the complete post are being
transmitted to several discussion lists and are also on my blog
"Hake'sEdStuff" at <> with a provision for

Hughes, B. 2011a. YouTube talk "Bettany Hughes on Socrates and 'The
Hemlock Cup," online at <>. Hughes does not
mention the Meno in her explanation of Socratic questioning. As of 25
Sept. 2012 09:47-0700, this video had been viewed 13,448 times. I
thank Mike Klymkowsky <> for alerting
me to the work of Bettany Hughes

Hughes, B. 2011b. "The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search
for the Good Life." Random House, publisher's information at
<>. information at
<>, note the searchable "Look Inside" feature.
See also <>.

Plato. 399BC?\ "Apology," translated by Benjamin Jowett (2008),
online at <>, thanks to the Gutenberg Project.


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