Socratic Method

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I have a peculiar style of teaching that I think makes class time interesting. I wish I could convince everyone to use it. It’s a little similar to the Socratic Method. My method works best for Sunday School, where most of the lesson consists of discussing principles rather than reporting facts. My method is based on the following rules for the teacher.

  1. Pick the subject matter that is the most interesting to you, preferably the part that you have the most questions on.
  2. Never ask a question that you know the answer to.
  3. Rephrase questions so the discussion will be constructive.

The goal is that both the teacher and the students will learn something together. When the teacher asks questions that don’t have a single “right” answer, then the students have the chance to help the teacher. I believe that the students learn more when they are talking than when they are listening. The students will also respond to how passionate the teacher is. If the teacher is talking about something personally interesting, and especially if the teacher is motivated by the opportunity to learn something new about the subject, then the energy level will be elevated.

Also, consider how the students feel pressured when the teacher asks the class an easy question. Game theory would say that the predicament carries a high risk and a low reward, leading to an environment where no one volunteers. If a student tries to answer the question and gets it wrong, then they will look foolish. And if a student gets it right, then no one is impressed, because it was easy. Questions like that discourage class participation. On the other hand, imagine a class where the teacher warns that they have a very hard question that they don’t know the answer to. That changes the game to one of low risk and high reward. A student does not need to feel embarrassed about giving an unsatisfactory answer, because the question was very difficult. And if the student gives a good answer, they will feel brilliant.

A teacher can write a typical lesson plan by just preparing some introductory material and then writing down three to five questions that they would like to have answered. Usually the questions need an introduction that engages the students so that they feel the teacher’s own curiosity. The teacher should research all the answers themselves, and then only submit to the class the questions that they couldn’t answer on their own.

Sometimes questions convey a negative tone, and those should be rephrased. For example, a question like, “Could Moses really perform those miracles?” sounds more like a doubt than a question. When a teacher feels like his or her testimony in a subject is weak, then it is important to find questions that will strengthen everyone’s faith. A constructive alternative sounds like, “How can we strengthen our faith in the miracles performed by Moses?”

It takes extra confidence in the students to run a class according to these rules. I’ve successfully taught this way to students as young as twelve, however. I think it would surprise most teachers how capable their students are, and how the teachers just needed to raise their expectations.

Move On

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Even though this denunciation is like beating a dead horse, I am giving the reasons that convinced me that George W. Bush has been our most damaging President in a century. Maybe at least our country will be able to learn from his mistakes.

The campaign in Iraq has created a death toll numbered in the hundreds of thousands. The high cost of the war demands rigorous justification. Before the war President Bush spelled out the reason for committing U.S. troops:

Our cause is just, the security of the nations we serve and the peace of the world. And our mission is clear, to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.

President Bush promised that he possessed classified information that confirmed these threats, including a nuclear threat. In his State of the Union address, he said:

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.

Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda.

Secretary of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraqi’s legal — Iraq’s illegal weapons programs, its attempt to hide those weapons from inspectors, and its links to terrorist groups.

In March 2003, U.N. inspectors reported that Iraq was cooperating and no evidence of a WMD program was found. But President Bush eschewed both diplomacy and multilateral cooperation, and pushed forward with military action. The United States’ admirable record of nonaggression was broken by a preventive war.

Soon investigators had to admit that there were no WMDs in Iraq. Even worse was that the President had cherry-picked the intelligence that best suited his agenda. Notes from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld revealed his eagerness to claim that Iraq was linked to the 9/11 attacks. The worst news was that the administration had deceived the nation. Specifically, an Iraqi nuclear threat was known at the time to be not credible. Finally last month President Bush publicly admitted that al-Qaeda was also not present in Iraq, adding, “So what?” He used false pretenses to entangle the U.S. in an indefensible war with appalling collateral damage. Putting oneself in our neighbor’s shoes, it is no wonder that the Arab world is disgusted with the conduct of the United States.

An evaluation of President Bush’s domestic policy is likewise bleak. Before President Bush, prisoners were guaranteed habeas corpus, meaning that they would be informed of their crimes and given a trial. But that right has been stripped from combatants in the war on terror, including American citizens. After the Supreme Court ruled that this treatment was unconstitutional, Bush tried again with legislation in 2005 and then again in 2006. Those expansions of executive power were a direct attack on the habeas corpus clause of the Constitution. They additionally violated rights set forth in the Geneva Convention. Fortunately the Supreme Court has again restored habeas corpus by rebuking Bush’s policies. Meanwhile, prisoners are still not guaranteed to receive humane treatment. In the worst cases, prisoners were tortured or else sent to foreign prisons where torture is commonplace. The prospect of an innocent person getting arrested and brutally treated without a chance to defend himself is normally associated with barbarian lands, and should never have been allowed in the United States.

A controversy that affects even more citizens is Bush’s secret surveillance program. Warrantless wiretapping was specifically forbidden by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Bush sought to protect the program by refusing to disclose its existence and then by coercing the Department of Justice. As soon as it was challenged in federal court it was ruled unconstitutional. The Bush administration promised to abide by the ruling. Unfortunately, they continued violating the law in secret. The power to eavesdrop on citizens without oversight is dangerous because it is so easy to abuse the power on innocent people that are not involved in the war on terror.

Even though there are other failures that this administration will be remembered for, I will forgo writing a laundry list of Bush’s sins. There are only four issues that I think are necessary to distinguish him from any other unsavory politician. The theme of this list is encroaching executive power.

  1. Invading a country under false pretenses,
  2. Attacking habeas corpus,
  3. Unchecked domestic spying, and
  4. Defying Supreme Court orders and acts of Congress

These offenses are already notable enough that they have smeared the nation’s honorable reputation. We will be repenting of the Bush administration’s actions long after he has moved along.