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Socrates in Preschool: What would Socrates say about Snapchat?

Would Socrates believe that the same level of critical inspection, communication of ideas, and tolerance of ambiguity that he considered a cornerstone of societal dialogue can be upheld by advances in technology focused more on connection than communication? 

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What would Socrates, the father of Western dialogue, discourse, and critical thinking, say about the current state of communication, conversation, probing argument, comfort level with disparate points of view, and tolerance levels of ambiguity? He would probably agree with Ms. Turkle about the larger culture, and feel pretty comfortable with the kind of talking, listening, and eye contact embedded in an elementary school education. He would enjoy asking Caleb and Ethan questions about their rocket ship — whatever that is. He would see that we are giving our students something that they will need, and that they may not be getting anywhere else. Won’t the future have a great need of critical thinkers and communicators, not just connectors? What happens to these engineers in middle school and high school? Does tweeting take over?     

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Todd R. Nelson is head of school at The School in Rose Valley outside Philadelphia. He has been a Monitor contributor of Home Forum essays, poems, Op-Ed commentaries and feature articles since 1989. He writes a monthly column for He and his wife, Lesley, have three adult children.

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Back to the blueprint. One of my questions has posed a problem. “What if you used tin foil to make it look metallic?”    

It’s a curve ball. Not in the plans. How will they adapt their drawings and materials list? Time to wonder, think, and examine their options.   

“Ethan! I know! We can have a conversation about this,” says Caleb, rocket ship engineer and conversation starter. He and his engineering partner analyze the situation. I have recommended an external part to their ship. The problem is, it’s a late-entry building material and causing consternation for their partnership. But a very precise, rational dialogue ensues and a new plan is ratified based on sound management and aeronautical engineering principles (Preschool division). The project is still on track for an on-time, on-budget delivery. I get out the special stamp and and my Very Big Deal signing pen. 

The rubber bands go back on the carefully rolled blueprint. The rocket men go back to their factory. Socrates exhales.

I’ve always loved the point of view of an old friend of mind, a former school head. Jonathan Slater told his faculty, one September, “Watching and listening are the greatest of the teaching skills — the most difficult to master truly, the most demanding to sustain over time…. By and large, children go about as far as the adults in their lives invite them to go, and truth to tell, most children are not invited to go very far. They are not invited to be curious, to be informed, to discriminate — except in the best of homes and in the best of schools.” But my school is not a box. It’s a school. Permission to rocket to the moon?

Granted. Signed and sealed. Fasten your seatbelts for take-off. Vertical lift. Warp factor nine, Mr. Socrates.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Todd R. Nelson is head of school at The School in Rose Valley. He and Joan Blanusa ( presented at the recent National Association of Independent Schools convention in Philadelphia: If Socrates were on Facebook, would he friend you?


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