• Charles Farrugia

6. Students Resemble Exotic Plants

I admire my green-fingered friends. They bury seeds deep into a pot, and with the appropriate amount of light, water and tender-loving-care, the seeds emerge and eventually bloom into splendid flowering plants.

Their hobby also reminds me of those teachers who believe that the word ‘education’ derives from the Latin word EDUCERE meaning ‘to emerge, to lead out or to blossom’. These maintain that people possess many talents and it is the teachers’ task to help their students bring out, develop, refine and use these gifts.

Teachers and parents can achieve this aim by asking the right questions, engaging students in project work or group work. They can conduct age-related research, report-writing, discussions and other activities where the students actively participate in their own learning. It is essential for parents to understand this educational principle.

Let us return to the sculpture analogy used in the previous blog to consider an alternative sculpturing approach. Here, artists do not build up the sculpture bit by bit. They mentally visualise a statue in a block of granite or marble, and chips away until the whole effigy ‘emerges’. The story is told of Michelangelo, on seeing the block of marble from which he was about to sculpture David, exclaimed: “David, come out!”.

The Socratic Method

The following example explains the value of the Educere approach. Consider two youngsters, Jane and John, having great fun playing two different board games. Jane plays Snakes & Ladders: she is conditioned by the throw of the dice, moving her chip on the board according to the number that comes up. She goes up ladders or is swallowed by snakes. Jane reacts to the situation over which she has no control. Similarly, students in class can be fed data to become simply a recipient of knowledge which, later they may or may not remember.

John grapples with a jigsaw puzzle, considering the unattached pieces’ shapes, colours and incomplete drawings with the set ones. He interacts with the game: observing, analysing, making some choices and rejecting others. Jane is engaged in a passive mental activity, John in a dynamic one and is practicing a learning version of the Socratic Method.

The classic practitioner of this teaching/learning technique was the Greek Philosopher Socrates (300 BC). He did not provide his students with information or knowledge or ready-made answers. Instead, Socrates presented them with a series of questions, which ultimately helped them consider various options to reach the correct answers.

For example, he did not give his students a definition of ‘justice’ to learn by heart. Instead he asked them to provide examples of justice and injustices they observed in the community around them. Through insightful questions, he helped them understand the difference between the two and which is of greater value to society. For his troubles, the Greek rulers accused Socrates of ‘corrupting youths’ because he encouraged his students to question the status quo and criticise the City Elders’ corrupt or undemocratic practices.

Many tutors use the Socratic Method with great success at all levels of the educational system. They use exploratory questioning techniques, project work, research assignments, laboratory and field-work sessions. Students are not just recipients of information or observers of skills or absorbers of other people’s ideas and beliefs. They become active participants, explorers in their learning process. Here, teachers apply the Indian educator Jiddu Krishnamurti’s advice that “in teaching it is far more important to ask the right questions than to give the right answers.”

You may consider all this all very theoretical and does not reflect your real concern about the education your children are experiencing. Think again. In my view, it matters greatly, more so in an age when learners possess endless amounts of attractively presented, instant sources of knowledge through the internet and the mass media. They can follow detailed skills and techniques on YouTube. They need to distinguish between valid and false or fake information.

Furthermore, we need to remember that in today’s world information and computer technology demand and, at the same time, facilitate the educere approach. In these circumstances, we shall do well to recall the Chinese adage: “Do not feed me fish, but teach me how to fish.”

Next Wednesday’s blog: Corporal Punishment

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