I’ve Got a Problem with Socrates

An opinion essay presented by The Olympian


Olympian Staff

Socratic. Seminars. This isn’t just a simple pet peeve, this is something that really irks me. I understand the fact that these open discussions are good for learning and processing whatever information we were talking about more deeply, but often I walk away feeling incompetent and exhausted. I know this is not the intention of most teachers, so why do we still have them?

I first started participating in Socratic seminars in my freshman year of high school. At this time, I was young and naive; I didn’t understand these group conversations for what they really were: the bane of my existence. As online learning became the new normal my sophomore year Socratic seminars were phased out, for the most part. Other than many weak attempts at getting blank screens to speak, teachers decided to go about their lesson plans in other ways. Then in my junior year, these seminars came rearing its ugly head back. Some – the very terrible ones – would last days. Sometimes you didn’t even know exactly which day you would speak, just living in suspense until that teacher called your name to go sit in the circle. The more tame ones – the ones that last just a day and you are given a note sheet to prepare – still suck. These became more common in my senior year. I don’t feel like I know what I’m talking about half the time, and half the class is making it up on the spot anyways, so I’m left feeling even more confused.

The Socratic seminars I’m forced to participate in are usually in my English classes. I get really frustrated with those. I can deal with the occasional elective-based seminar because I’m usually interested in that material. But Charles Dickens and Hamlet? I cannot connect with those pieces of literature in any way that seems beneficial to me, especially through a Socratic seminar. The build-up to these discussions is also not great. We’re often told a week or two in advance, maybe a month if we’re lucky, and we’re left to prepare from there. The material we’re learning from isn’t very relatable, and often the room is so tight with tension and nerves we only end up saying a couple things of value. We just bounce the same ideas off each other, and I don’t feel like it’s an effective way of learning.

From a teacher’s perspective, I can understand why they might view Socratic seminars as effective. At the end of the discussion, they are satisfied with what we talked about and don’t put a lot of thought into what it took to get there and how nervous we all were. Teenagers deserve to learn in a more creative way than just sitting in a circle and talking. Maybe then we would actually absorb and use some of the information we’re taught.