Socrates, a great teacher, philosopher, and thinker, noted that you cannot teach people anything. You can only lead them to think for themselves. They cannot parrot back your words, if you are not answering. They cannot answer with what they don’t know but only what they have. Teachers are charged with the task of helping students open their eyes and realize that they can go as far as they want.
Socrates taught by questioning everything. He taught his students to learn by questioning. He would ask questions of his students and expect them to question back. This is the oldest and most powerful method of teaching critical thinking. Focus on the questions, not the answers. Probe the mind by asking questions. When questioning students, a good educator will direct students to the answers; never answering the questions, but allowing them to find the answers for themselves.
Socrates brought to teaching, his method of training that applied to moral concepts of good and justice. To solve a problem, the problem needed to be broken down into a series of questions. The answers gradually become known by identifying and eliminating the answers that are really contradictions. In other words, examine your own beliefs and validate those beliefs.
Socratic questioning is a disciplined process. The questioner acts as the inner voice, and the answers that come from students are not rote, but different, out of the box and carefully thought out before a discussion. If you are asking the right questions, you will not get the same answers. Teaching directs students to look for the correct answers, trace out the consequences and implications and consider alternative points of view.
Keep the discussion focused and students intellectually responsible. Stimulate the discussion with probing questions and make your students think. Periodically summarize what has been discussed and dealt with and draw in as many students as possible into the discussion.
Socrates often told his students, “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” He also said the true meaning of knowledge is to know that you know nothing. These phrases are to stimulate thinking to find the answers to questions asked.
Socrates taught his students that nothing changes until you do. “Remember that there is nothing stable in human affairs; therefore avoid undue elation in prosperity or undue depression in adversity.” Socrates also thought that you could spend time in improving yourself by reading intellectual writings. By reading and questioning, you can gain “easily what others have labored hard for.” This is an interesting concept that could be used by teachers in higher education courses or upper levels of high school.