Future Gadflies of America

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates

One of the greatest philosophers to walk the face of the earth was Socrates. He was inquisitive, patient, curious, and wise. He attacked the dogmatic assumptions and beliefs of his culture and encouraged citizens of Athens to truly think about what they believed and what they did. My favorite example of this is the great story of Euthyphro, who was prosecuting his father, and whom Socrates asked to define what is virtuous and good. Socrates, merely by asking Euthyphro a series of probing questions, was able to show Euthyphro that he had no idea what he was talking about.

Two thoughts cross my mind as I think about this. First, as an educator, it is my role to be the gadfly in my classroom – to fly around and bite at students’ assumptions and dogmatic ideas and get them to think independently and critically about their ideas and beliefs. If that’s my role, however, I can’t help but think I’ve been failing.

The other thought that crosses my mind as I think about this is that I should be encouraging this sort of “gadfly” behavior in my students. I shouldn’t let them just sit here and be “armchair” philosophers. Instead, they should be going out into the world and encouraging others to go and do likewise. Students should be poking and prodding at the assumptions and dogmatic beliefs of American society and encouraging those around them to think about those things as well. Each student should be a little Socrates: thinking about big topics and irritating the status quo.

As I look around my classroom, I don’t see this. I see a room full of students who are the status quo. I see students who are happy with their own unquestioned beliefs and shallow thinking processes. I see students who have no idea that there is an enormous world of ideas they have yet to be exposed to. I see students who are so into their own little world that they don’t even see the the other little worlds in this one classroom. And when I see all of this in my class, I can’t help but feel like I’ve let them down – like I have failed them.

Fortunately, there are still several weeks left before the end of this school year. Hope, as they say, springs eternal, and I still have a chance to get the students to begin examining their lives, their ideas, and their beliefs. I still have a chance to help them become the future gadflies of America. The question is simply, how badly do I want that?

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