Just in from Siberia

Sometimes it's the small things you like about teaching.  I started a night course last Monday evening at the local Guard base.  Went through all the first night routine: course goals, grading standards, policies, pet peeves, due dates.  The room they assigned me is cavernous.  It must be twenty-five feet wide by sixty-feet deep.  You could hard whip a Frisbee to the back row.  

Okay, so the first night a guy walks in and makes a beeline for the seat farthest from me.  No surprise.  That's what some students do.  The dimensions of the room, of course, make his action seem a bit pointed, but I don't say anything. 

Then, Wednesday night, we start discussing The Apology.  I distribute four broad questions on the dialog and have the students do twenty-five minutes of in-class writing.  Afterwards, they break into four groups to discuss what they have written.  I make sure that the guy out on the Siberian rim of the classroom has to relocate to a group that's placed right down front. 

I let the groups talk it out for fifteen minutes before sticking my nose into their discussions.  I just stand around listening as they work through the material.  Then I go to group two (where my Siberian is).  I listen for a while and then ask them if people like Socrates are useful to society or just a royal pain in the neck   Right away, Mr. Siberia says, "I think they are useful.  They keep us from going off the moral deep end with their troublesome questions."

"Okay," I say, "but would you want to live in a society in which everyone acted like Socrates?" 

"Hmmm," he says.  "I don't know.  If people questioned everything, nothing would get done." 

"Maybe," I say.  "But let's frame the question another way.  Would you want to live in a society in which everybody thought deeply about the moral implications of their choices?"

Now he is leaning forward.  He's into this discussion all of a sudden.  He takes a long time to formulate his new idea:  "Well... maybe we just need a few people like Socrates, but not everybody."

"So it's okay for some people to be sheople?" I ask.

Mr. Siberia is now really thinking.  He doesn't say anything   He's not sure what to make of this discussion.  In three questions he's changed his mind three times.  I sense a thaw.


lover*of*lit said…
Hi Professor Quest, just curious, as you already know "The Apology" the dialogue can be divided into 3 parts,
The first part is Socrates' own defense of himself and includes the most famous parts of the text, namely his recounting of the Oracle at Delphi and his cross-examination of Meletus. The second part is the verdict, and the third part is the sentencing.
What part of the dialogue did you have your students discuss? Or were your four questions based on the modes of interpretation? Just curious, would love to know. By the way love your Blogg.
I'm on FaceBook, & u can e-mail me @: tmmontelongo3@gmail.com
My name is Tasha Marie Montelongo
Professor Quest said…
Hi Tasha,

Thanks fo the comment. I have students read the entire text (and the Crito) for a senior core capstone seminar in which they examine what it means to be a well-educated and what such people owe their society.

In class I have them write for about twenty minutes on the following prompts:

1. In the opening of The Apology, Socrates informs the jurors how he intends to address them, what they should pay attention to in his remarks, and what he sees as his greatest obstacle in gaining an acquittal (19-20). How does he intend to address the jury? What will be his strategy for persuading the jurors? Why does he fear the “older charges” more than the specific ones he is charged with (see his remark about fighting with shadows on page 20)? What are these older charges? Given what you know about how people make decisions, has Socrates adopted a wise strategy for winning over the jury? Why? Why not?

2. Socrates acknowledges that he has gained a bad reputation 22). How does he explain his unpopular reputation among various classes of Athenians (including the reputedly wise, the poets, and the artisans)? What was his motivation for questioning these people, and what did he discover about them and himself as a result of his questioning? How did this create ill-will toward him? What do you think it says about people that they often fear the exposure of their ignorance more than being ignorant?

3. Look carefully at the section of the text in which Socrates disproves the specific charges made against him by Meletus (25-29). How does he show them to be contradictory and illogical? Summarize your response and use a few examples to illustrate your points. How would you characterize his method? Is this a valuable and systematic method for evaluating claims? Why? Why not? Why do you think it failed to win over the jury?

4. Socrates anticipates that the jury might ask him if he is ashamed to find himself brought before the court for his philosophical activities (29). He responds with a defiant justification of the way he has chosen to live his life (30-32). Why does he not back down? Why does he say the “examined life” is proper for a human being? Indeed, why does he claim that he has actually performed a service for Athens? Has he? Does society need a Socrates? Or can it get along quite nicely without one? Why?

For the most part I am just trying to get them thinking and wrestling with issues in the text. Once they get talking I go from group to group stirring the pot.

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