Clyde Grubbs

I have used the socratic method as a teacher, and found that how one asks the probing question makes a difference in how the student responds. Many men and most women get nervous when directly confronted.

I am considered a pretty tough debater, and I once was reduced to tears by a Professor (of Histories) cross examination of my thesis in a seminar. Later as a preacher I have seen the same reaction from students in a homeltics class.

I met Loni on a few occassions when she was in Law School (through my visits to her Father), and have read the law review published some years after (time flies). i think you are right about her intent.


Maybe sometimes women are more intimidated by being grilled in front of everyone than men are. But I doubt it, and I also doubt that feeling intimidated means they'll be crappy lawyers. Just like if you don't instantly "get it" or are intimidated in Chemistry or Physics, it doesn't mean that you are inherantly bad at either of them.

I once had a Physics professor tell me that he liked having me in his class because I would answer questions he asked to the group, and would ask questions myself in the smaller discussion sessions that we had -- but not in lecture. My participation encouraged other students, in particular the women, to participate more themselves, and I think they probably got more out of the class because they did. I was older, and didn't care what the other students thought anymore, and I felt that I was in class to learn rather than to impress the teacher, both of which likely contributed to my willingness to stick my neck out.

So maybe you're on to something with the whole small group thing.

h sofia

I am a big fan of the Socratic method; it was instrumental in me rethinking my religious assumptions. I used it on myself and other Muslims when I was trying to figure out why we held a large number of beliefs.

I'm glad you distinguish between contempt and belittling; this is definitely a distortion of the Socratic method. One thing I learned is that it's best to use this in an environment that is loving (or at least caring) and cooperative. Trying to use it with a classroom or group of people who do not feel safe to explore their ideas often leads to really nasty dynamics. There has to be some measure of good faith there, otherwise people are tempted to see it (or use it) as another form of verbal trickery.

h sofia

Correction: Meant to say, "I'm glad you distinguish between it [socratic method] and contempt/belittling."


Overall, I agree with more of what you say than I disagree. Agreement first:

I would, however, like to see the Socratic method used more rather than less in our educational system -- in high schools and in colleges as well as law schools.

Absolutely. I frequently link to Garlikov's post on how he taught BINARY MATH ! to 3rd graders by using the Socratic Method. It is a very informative post and I encourage people to read it, especially those who know jack about binary math and would like to learn a bit about it via an informative pedagogy.

There was some discussion as to whether the Socratic method is "inherently sexist." . . I was appalled.

I would have been too. This whole disparate impact notion in the law needs to be done away with and buried.

I also think that the great contribution of Socrates to western thought -- the notion of identifying and questioning one's own assumptions -- cannot possibly be seen as sexist.



"Would it be defamation if I were to call you a DIRTY WHORE?" . . . But this kind of professorial thuggishness is not inherent to the Socratic method. It is actually an abuse of the Socratic method

The assumption here seems to be that the entirety of the dialogue was in support of furthering a lesson via the Socratic Method. It's quite likely that the provocative question was thrown out to see whether the embarassment or discomfort affected the quality of the response. This is a very effective debating tactic - watch what happens to the quality of most responses when the losing side pulls out the "racist" "sexist" "homophobic" etc cards - they effectively silence the debate and the loser manages to save themselves from total defeat.

If you can shame, embarass or fluster your opponent then points to you.

Guinier is correct that a lot of people (and not just women) find the tough, public questioning in law school classrooms daunting, intimidating, and alienating.

Too bad. There are lots of practices in life which are designed to winnow out the milquetoasts.

It is unrealistic to expect a diffident person who has never had to do a lot of public speaking to suddenly spar masterfully with a leading intellect in a room of a hundred people.

The purpose of law school is to produce lawyers, not to prepare them to become law students. They should have been emotionally and intellectually prepared before they arrived.

Why risk permanently turning off students who have an initial dislike for the Socratic approach when such students might have much to add to the legal profession?

Similarly, why risk turning off medical students who don't like the sight of blood when they too could add much to the medical profession by simply working on tasks where they would never see any blood?

Women, more than any class of people, have historically been subject to all sorts of unfounded and unquestioned assumptions about our inherent nature, our proper role in society, and how we should relate to men.

Don't overlook the founded and questioned assumptions.



Part of graduate school, at least as it seems to me, is TO PREPARE you for life as a lawyer, doctor, CEO, whatever. So you feel intimidated when you start by being put on the spot when you start out, I disagree with the assumption that it means you are emotionally and intellectually unprepared. It takes some people more time to find their footing and gain confidence than others, and professional school is a good time to gain it. In fact, it strikes me that part of the point of professional school is to prepare you in these ways.

Although I will say that if you are a quiet doormouse who breaks out in hives when put on the spot, then perhaps being a lawyer isn't the right field. Or maybe I'm wrong about that too. Are there lawyer jobs in which being shy is not a liability? Please enlighten me.


Part of graduate school, at least as it seems to me, is TO PREPARE you for life as a lawyer,

Yes, but in that sense all the students are in the same boat, and it's likely that we'll see a distribution of strengths and weaknesses across the students, so that one student may be very comfortable with engaging in public debate but the shy student might be better prepared with writing lengthy, well researched, briefs.

So, to make the journey easier for every student, should the process of education make allowances for slipshod writing and research skills too? Or is the strategy here to shift the process so that the areas that women are weaker in are de-emphasized but no similar accomodation should be made for men's corresponding weaknesses (let's, for the sake of argument, say that that is in the area of cooperative class projects.)

The Happy Feminist

I reject the notion of viewing these issues in terms of what "men" are better at versus what "women" are better at. I don't think it's useful because, even if there is a bell curve, or an average disparity, plenty of women (like me) do thrive in a Socratic environment, and plenty of men are good at nurturing, empathy, cooperaton etc. etc.

I think MOST people experience some discomfort with public speaking and debating because these skills and experiences are not stressed in colleges or high schools. My proposal isn't meant to coddle milquetoasts but rather to help people who might end up NOT being milquetoasts if introduced to the Socratic method in a different way. How do we know if someone's discomfort with full-on Socratic dialogue in a packed classroom is due to being a wimp or simply due to the unfamiliarity of the technique? How do we know that winnowing these people out a good thing?

Professional schools should teach people the skills that are important to the profession rather than merely expecting people to be proficient when they enter school. This does not apply ONLY to traditionally "masculine" aptitudes. I think medical and law students also should be taught how to counsel and communicate with patients and clients more effectively -- a skill that is not considered "masculine."

The Happy Feminist

And students taught proper research and writing rather painstakingly in law school.


And students taught proper research and writing rather painstakingly in law school.

I don't doubt that they are, but the question is whether they are taught these skills in a warm and supportive environment which enhances their feelings of self-worth and completely avoids any personal discomfort and where they bear no consequence for their own poor performance during their learning process.

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