Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 2/2.4.2

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Leaders in Educational Philosophy


In our society, we focus on education as the key to the future. As future educators, it is our duty to first look back upon the foundations of education and those philosophies. The philosophers of the past are so numerous that this can be a daunting adventure. However, in this article I've aligned the most discussed and perhaps most famous of all philosophers concerning education.

Learning Targets[edit]

•Readers should be able to describe philosophies of Socrates and Plato.

•Readers should be able to define Socratic Method.

•Readers should be able to describe Sophists and identify their methods.

•Readers should be able to identify applications of Socrates in the classroom.

Socrates(469-399 B.C.E)[edit]

There is very little known about Socrates’ life considering that he never wrote any works. What we know of Socrates come from those who chose to write about him. The most reliable of these are from his pupil, Plato (Socrates, 2009).

Socrates lived in Athens, Greece. He was married and had three sons, whom he abandoned. He served in the Athenian Army for three campaigns (Socrates, 2009).

Socrates was charged with "corrupting the minds of the youth" and indifference to the gods (Socrates, 2009). He was put to trial and when convicted he was asked what his punishment should be. His suggestion was "a wage paid by the government and free dinners for the rest of his life instead, to finance the time he spends as Athens' benefactor" (Socrates, 2009). Below is a painting by Jacques-Louis David of Socrates's Death.

David - The Death of Socrates.jpg


Socrates refused to be acknowledged as a teacher and received no payment for his services as opposed to the Sophists whom were popular at this time. He often uses an example by comparing his position to that of a midwife or matchmaker. Socrates believed in the teacher-student relationship and there had to be a mutual respect and connection (Mintz, 2007). For this reason he sent many students to other instructors instead of teaching them himself.

Socrates believed that knowledge was not eternally given, as Plato did, but was found through the journey of learning (Kiss, 2006). He compares finding knowledge to finding maturity from conception to birth (Kiss, 2006). Once a person has found knowledge he has, in a sense, been born to a mature man.

He was one of the first to offer a learner-centered education theory. He often said that you must “know thyself” (Henson, 2003). His belief that learning was personal led him to a learner-centered environment which you will see from his Socratic Method (Henson, 2003). Learner-centered was an abstract idea compared with the Sophists who saw education mainly as a profession of persuasion (Sophists, 2006). Socrates believed that knowledge could make people and the world improve.

"Wisdom Begins in Wonder"


Socratic Method[edit]

The Socratic Method is arguably Socrates’ most significant contribution. This method is a form of dialectic inquiry in which “the questioner explores the implications of others' positions, to stimulate rational thinking and illuminate ideas” (Socratic Method, 2009). The dialogue is the main focus when the Socratic Method is in play (Kubli, 2005). The basic format of this method is through question and answer. Instead of merely giving students answers and definitions, this method allows the students to use critical thinking and come up with their own answers. This facilitates their memory of the subject matter and gives them a chance to inject their own opinions as well as become involved in the learning process.

The Socratic Method is used most commonly in court situations and is therefore taught to law students. It’s also popular and effective in other classroom situations and has been recommended and used by educators ever since its development.


According to Fritz Kubli, there is an accepted practice of teachers that students need only to memorize and learn as they are told (Kubli, 2005). He says, “Students expect insights and not just mechanical memorization from their education” and that “frustration and resignation may result if they realize what a school normally expects of them. . .” (Kubli, 2005). Of course, Kubli’s view of a school is one what only requires regurgitation of facts that have been infused into the student. We have to acknowledge that it’s his opinion that the education system is like that today.

Kubli believes that the Socratic Method is a valuable tool, but it can become quite empty if put to the wrong use. He’s quoted Bahktin’s view that the Socratic Method can “degenerate into a senseless interplay between questions and ready-made answers” (Kubli, 2005). His advice is to “tread new paths in approaching . . . students” (Kubli, 2005). Students will welcome attempts by the teacher to engage them in meaningful discussion.


Michael Gose discusses the Socratic Method in regard to undergraduate seminars. He found that comprehension is a requirement for the Method to work because, “interpretive questions do not work if the text is misunderstood (Gose, 2009). He gives the following tips for keeping the dialogue in the interrogative case and increasing comprehension:

•“Asking students to find and read passages with which they had trouble.”

•“Asking students to find and read passages that they have neglected but that will help them sort out an issue.”

•"Asking students to read a passage aloud (while interrupting periodically for a summary of what has been read).”

•“Asking students to clarify a key term (usually with a few page references to study that term in context).”

•“Asking students to walk through the basic organization or logic of the text on a step by step basis.”

•“Asking students who have come to an early grasp of the material to summarize key points or understandings.”

•“Asking students to explain two passages that might seem in contradiction to one another.”

•“Asking students for their best question about the text.”

•“Asking students for their best remaining question about the text.”

(Gose, 2009)

Plato(428-378 B.C.E.)[edit]

Plato was born to an aristocratic family in Athens, Greece. His first aspirations were for politics and carrying on the family heritage. He soon became disheartened with politics and found himself a student of Socrates. As opposed to the Sophists at the time, Socrates did not charge for his services or use rhetoric in his education methods. Plato witnessed Socrates’ trial and execution and to this day is the most reliable source of Socrates’ life and beliefs. In 387 B.C.E., Plato established the Academy, which was the first university and source of higher education in Europe (Plato, 2009).


"Education and admonition commence in the first years of childhood, and last to the very end of life."


Plato disagreed with some aspects of Socrates’ philosophies. Plato believed that knowledge could not be produced through learning (Kiss, 2006). His belief was that it could only be cultivated where it already existed. This could have a lot to do with his aristocratic heritage. Plato seems to agree with a Sophist standpoint that knowledge is given passively. However, Plato was a strong advocate, developer and administrator of dialectic methods, such as the Socratic Method.


In the 5th century there was such a growing demand for teachers that a class of teaching professionals known as the Sophists emerged. Instead of being congregated in a school, this professional class was scattered across Europe (Sophists, 2006). They were the first teachers in Greece to ever charge fees for their services (Sophists, 2006). Wise men had never thought to charge fees for sharing their knowledge. These men, such as Socrates, saw their knowledge as a benefit for the world.

Sophists were more politically charged and used persuasion and rhetoric in their instruction. They didn’t place any high priority on finding the truth, for their belief was that they could persuade anyone to believe what they wanted them to (Sophists, 2006). Another main focus of their professions was rivalry among them and with non-sophist teachers (Sophists, 2006). Socrates was opposed to the Sophists and resented to be insinuated as one of them.

During Plato’s time the Sophists began to decline and by Aristotle’s time the name “sophist” had a contemptuous meaning (Sophists, 2006).


Today we find that most of our classrooms have become like the Sophists. Students are expected to memorize and take the teacher’s word as law. The government has become dictator of what we teach and do not teach. With standard focused teaching and the constant plague of high-stakes tests, our students see their education as a bore and repression.

There is some hope. If we, as future educators, take applications of Socrates and Plato into our classrooms, get students interested in their education, and make the learning about the student and not just the material then the future could be brighter than today. Let’s bring the focus back to a learner-centered environment.


1. To what did Socrates compare his “profession”?





2. What was Plato’s view on knowledge?

a.Knowledge was the end of the pathway of learning.

b.Knowledge couldn’t be produced, only cultivated.

c.Knowledge is virtue.

d.Knowledge doesn’t exist.

3. Which of these would be an example of Socratic Method?

a.The answer is 3.

b.The answer is not 4.

c.What could we do to find the answer?

d.There is no answer.

4. Which of these examples is most like Socrates?

a.A teacher who simply corrects students’ wrong answers.

b.A teacher who persuades students to take his answer as fact.

c.A teacher who leads students to the answers through a series of questions and answers.

d.None of the above

  • answers*

1. c 2. b 3. c 4. c


Gose, M. (2009, Winter2009). When Socratic Dialogue is Flagging: Questions and Strategies for Engaging Students. College Teaching, 57(1), 45-50. Retrieved February 22, 2009, from Education Research Complete database.

Henson, K. (2003). Foundations for Learner-Centered Education: A Knowledge Base. Education (Chula Vista, Calif.), 124(1), 5-16. Retrieved February 8, 2009, from Education Full Text database. <

Kiss, E. (2006). The Triptych of Liberal Education. Philosophy of Education Yearbook, 165-72. Retrieved February 8, 2009, from Education Full Text database.

Kubli, F (2005, August). Science Teaching as a Dialogue – Bakhtin, Vygotsky and some Applications in the Classroom . Science & Education, 14, Retrieved February 21, 2009, from

Mintz, A. (2007). The Midwife as Matchmaker: Socrates and Relational Pedagogy. Philosophy of Education Yearbook, 91-9. Retrieved February 8, 2009, from Education Full Text database. <

Socrates. (2009, January 23). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:17, February 8, 2009, from Plato. (2009, February 6). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:18, February 8, 2009, from

Socratic method. (2009, February 8). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:19, February 8, 2009, from

Sophists. (2006). In The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy [Web]. Retrieved February 6, 2009, from

Reader ResponseTbandy001 (talk) 21:08, 13 April 2009 (UTC)

I really liked this article you focused on my favorite phillosopher, Socartes. Wisdom begans with wonder is one of my favorite lines. The picture was a good prop to the article.

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