A friend asks: ""I just read Habit of Thought and am inspired to start and guide a Socratic Practice group with approx 9 year old kids. We unschool our 6 & 9 year olds and I'd like to start adding something more intellectually rigorous with them - especially our older son. Can you suggest any initial texts to use?"
I always recommend finding texts that are appropriate for the interests and abilities of the group. Not knowing much about their interests and abilities, a general direction that you may find valuable is the idea of "concept teaching." For instance, with students of that age, I've used short encyclopedia definitions of all sorts of concepts, such as "number," "proof," "shape," "science," "history," "power," "justice," "love," etc.
Whatever the concept, you can think of asking the students several layers of questions, starting with:
- "What is this text saying? How does it define the concept?" Get them to be as clear as possible in their explanation.
- It is usually possible to move onto questions such as, "According to this definition, what are some examples of concept X? What are some examples of something that is not concept X? What are some boundary cases?" It is best if you can think of some tricky boundary cases yourself based on the specific elements of the definition at hand. The ideal is for you to get them to think about a case in which something is in some ways science, in some ways not science; or in some ways just, in some ways unjust; or in some ways an act of power, in some ways not. Much of the juice of early discussions consists of young people applying definitions in their own ways, disagreeing about how a definition should be applied, or coming up with interesting interpretations or boundary cases.
- Once you as a leader are adept at asking these kinds of conceptual questions, then it may be easier to apply this style of questioning to literature. Is Achilles heroic? Is Odysseus heroic? Does the concept of hero apply today? What pop culture today is heroic? Is it heroic in the Greek sense or in a different, more contemporary sense? And so forth.
With some groups of students it may be easier to start with literature. But sometimes students do not really see the point of talking about stories per se, and it can feel contrived. But once they begin to learn that every concept can be understood in different ways, and that there are concrete implications for interpreting concepts in various ways, then their minds can more easily engage literature in this manner.
Hope this very brief introduction helps. Let me know if you have specific follow-up questions,