It is safe to assume that every day at Wheatstone is exciting – for various reasons. Tuesday is noteworthy because it's when students have their first three-hour discussion. It’s a time where they take everything they’ve learned about each other from the previous day’s challenges and apply it to a group discussion of our text: Meno.
At Wheatstone we have four rules for discussion:
- Be who you are - not who you perceive you should be
- Say what you think - disagreement is fine, curiosity is welcome, push into confusion
- Talk about the same thing - stick with the text: keep discussion a shared experience
- Love one another - we are a community and we care for each other
The mentor offers a starting question, the group arranges in a circle with discussion gradually weaving through the text. I had the privilege of sitting in with one of our alumni groups this morning. Here is what it is like:
The question: What does Meno want?
Student 1: “Answers to multiple questions.”
Student 2: “He wants to know if virtue can be taught, more specifically he wants to be right on his own idea.”
Student 3: “I see where you’re coming from, but isn’t Meno more uncertain than wanting to be right?
Student 2: “I disagree, Meno’s tone throughout the text is combative and insulting.”
Student 4: “I think Meno thinks he knows what virtue is, but just wants Socrates to validate his own thoughts with an answer.
At this point, we’ve had our first disagreement: is Meno uncertain or does he just want to be right? Can the text tell us?
The following passage is a dialogue between Meno (who is quite confused at this point) and a persistent Socrates. He asks a question and Meno responds by drawing an amusing comparison between Socrates and a torpedo fish.
Socrates: Answer me again from the beginning: What do you and your friend say that virtue is?
Meno: Socrates, before I even met you I used to hear that you are always in a stage of perplexity and that you bring others to the same state, and now I think you are bewitching me and beguiling me, simply putting me under a spell, so that I am quite perplexed.
Indeed, if a joke is in order, you seem, in appearance and in every other way, to be like the broad torpedo fish, for it too makes anyone who comes close and touches it feel numb, and now you seem to have had the effect on me, for both my mind and my tongue are numb, and I have no answer to give you.”
Is Meno confused? Or is he trying to compensate for his lack of expertise by comparing Socrates to an electric ray?
How do you respond to a question you don't know the answer to?
Honing in on a particular passage allows students to slow down their brains and pay attention to smaller details that can link their thoughts to the wider discussion. Their discussion on the above section generated these questions:
Why are we assuming that Socrates is deliberately confusing Meno?
Why is Meno surprised he is surprised given what he knew about Socrates?
Does Socrates really know what virtue is?
Why is Meno responding in this way?
The students then externalized their thoughts on a whiteboard. Organization was accompanied by specific students summarizing where the group had been and what main concepts were still on the table. All questions are constructed purposefully to empower students to think for themselves.
Like fill in the blank response: “Socrates is trying to show Meno that giving a ______________ kind of answer is wrong."
Our options included: well-researched, inaccessible, convoluted, impressive, “smart-sounding”
Which then means: what kind of answer is acceptable? Socrates gives an example of such an answer in the text. So did the group reach a conclusion?
"Answer in a manner more gentle and more proper to discussion"
Socrates, Meno, 76
In truth, discussions never really end. They only continue. That last question is pinned for ongoing discussion and the group closed with a debrief session where they discussed observations, discussion dynamics and how to make sure they all were on the same page.
I hope this gives you a good idea of what your student will have spent over 10 hours doing this week. Discussion is another beautiful thing which we can do together.
Continue to pray for the students as they take an hour of silence and solitude, pray, hear a talk on beauty and watch a film today. Peace to you.
Photos by Ken Dong