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Socrates in Preschool: What would Socrates say about Snapchat?

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Here at the learning-to-communicate onramp, preschool teachers Maureen and Sunday are asking good questions of their young charges. “Can the children communicate effectively with others?” they ask in their Friday e-mail to parents. “Can they recognize conflict, let alone try to resolve conflict? In order to do the above, one must first notice that others count too, as much as oneself. But can children manage their own thoughts? Can they make sense of the constant bombardment of stimulus (noise, etc.)?” They continue, “We think that these are some of the areas that need addressing with children in today’s world? Therefore, we have begun to incorporate the following practices into our classroom time: Silence. What did you notice, what did you hear? Was it easy (comfortable) or challenging? Why? Breaking down communication into specific steps: Slowing down to give time to consider how and what you want to communicate.” Like saving those rubber bands…. or an explanation of the big red squares colored into the rocket blueprint with crayon.   

Consider the ancient wisdom at work in these questions and observations. Socrates said the following: “Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” “To find yourself, think for yourself.” “I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.” 

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”   

Examination can be complicated. There’s trouble ahead. Other forces have set in, thanks to their visit to my office. In the larger cultural context, conversations aren’t what they used to be. In fact, we seem to be retreating from some standard received wisdom of the Western intellectual tradition.    

A recent commentary by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Sherry Turkle suggests we are enamored of connection, but not always the depth of the kind of communication we are heir to. “We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection,” she writes. “Technology, she says, “is taking us places we don’t want to go.” Though hyper-connected through our digital devices, we may in fact hide our real selves from one another. We are too busy on our email! We can’t get enough of each other — if we can have each other at a distance, in amounts they can control. Think Facebook and texting and tweeting…. just right. How about face to face? Sounds like a job made for preschool to me! It’s messy, noisy, exuberant, chaotic…. just like enriched learning. This is not to condescend to preschool, but to elevate the skills taught there to their proper level: the soft and hard skills of the workplace and life of the future.     

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