Waldorf Education and the Socratic Method

The Socratic Method, in teaching, aims to increase understanding and critical thinking skills through inquiry. Memorized facts are soon forgotten. Children learn best by asking questions spawned from genuine interest.

This goes against an assumption some have about the purpose of schooling. Waldorf educators believe that the purpose of education is NOT to instruct students.

Surprised? Consider this except from the whitepaper: Assessment without High-Stakes Testing: Protecting Childhood and the Purpose of School.

“The teachers’ task is not to convey what they know to their unknowing students, then confirm the efficacy of this transaction by testing the students’ ability to remember––or at least recognize–– what they have received. … A teacher’s task is … to draw out students’ nascent capacities.

Herein lies the fundamental difference between in-struction,  which in its etymological origins means to pour stones (Latin structus) into an empty vessel, and e-ducation, which in its origins means to lead or draw (Latin ducere) forth or out (Latin e-). When they instruct, teachers insert what they know into the empty vessel of the student who knows not. By contrast, when they educate, teachers draw forth from a student what he or she in some sense already knows, whether implicitly or explicitly. Like Socrates in Plato’s dialogue Meno, the teacher coaxes from the students––with the help of skillful leading questions–– responses that help them figure out the lesson for themselves, instead of waiting for the teacher to supply it.”

What would using the Socratic method look like in the classroom? Here’s one example.

During a science lesson, the teacher blows up a balloon by combining baking soda and vinegar. Instead of telling the class that an endothermic reaction produced CO2, the teacher asks them: What happened here? Who has an idea? The teacher can then lead the inquires and debates between students. Then the teacher might have a few students hold the balloon and ask: What do you notice about it? Then the teacher can guide students inquiries about the implications of its temperature and weight.

In this way, together as a class, they take the time to truly learn the why and how of this experiential science.


2 thoughts on “Waldorf Education and the Socratic Method

  1. As a Toronto Waldorf and former Halton Waldorf parent you are preaching to the choir, however, I must say it was well said. One always struggles to describe Waldorf to puzzled neighbours and friends who wonder why we car pool to a school 1oo kms away (60 Miles). Carry on with the good work!

  2. Hi, excellent paper, we need more of this pedagogy for help to world!

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