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Discussion Learning to think out loud

I loved my time in Westminster Theological Seminary and had a deep respect for the positions my professors took theologically, however I found over and over again that the information that I remembered and that would later shape my thinking was not the notebooks filled with diligent lecture notes, but the raucous conversations I had in the student lounge.

What the seasoned professors spent their careers developing and expositing for us in lecture never proved as compelling as the wisdom found through the verbal wrestling matches with my fellow yahoo peers around the ping-pong table.

Though I know my professors would be better men if they played more ping-pong, I am even more convinced they would find their students far more convinced if their classroom environment resembled the platonic dialogues rather than political oratory.

Socratic education is built on dialectic- or simply the process of “talking things through”. I remember very little that I learned in lecture setting, but what I discussed with others in the vigorous interchange of ideas, rarely was forgotten.

Good teachers are not paid to listen to themselves talk , rather the real money should be reserved for those who can get their students talking intelligently. Though teachers should be able to explain a subject well, it can be a self-indulgent pleasure to simply explain in detail the knowledge that one has acquired before a group of captive students.

The importance of discussion seems all the more obvious in our day when inexpensive books and widely distributed video lectures on the Internet provides fine alternative to classroom lectures. For $120 a year, the www.thegreatcoursesplus.com will sell me 8000 very fine lectures- why I would use my classroom time to lecture to my students needs a careful justification. I have been glad to see how many good lecture videos are available on the internet now so that class time can focus more on discussion.

Though it is the goal of a good teacher to help students to the point where they are able to carry the discussion in class, it takes time to bring them to the maturity level to be able to do so profitably, particularly when class focus on ancient literature that is far outside of the students’ cultural understanding.

Before students are able to discuss the context, often they need to be familiar with the stories and history assumed in the literature itself. During this time the teacher lecturing may be more appropriate than trying to develop the concepts through Socratic dialogue.

Knowing how to balance the right mix of lecture and dialogue is often a matter that takes a good deal of experience for a teacher to master. Not only must one understand the capacity of students to grasp the various issues to be discussed, but it also involves knowing how the various topics are related to one another and in what order they are be presented.

Longing for communion with his Creator, man attempts to bridge the gulf between himself and God. But so often man is loathe to know himself, and acknowledge his sin problem. Instead, he finds anything to block sin from his view—he fills his life with things. Squeezing entertainment, education, work and religion into his life, man attempts to ignore his wretchedness and find happiness through his own means. He does not realize that the answer to his problems is not within himself, or the things around him, but in the God who created him. - Grace Marie Lambert- GBT V Essay

There is the important balance between understanding how much material can be presented in lecture while holding the students attention, and how much they must be taught through the more engaging medium of conversation.

It is in the context of discussion that the significance and weight of various questions is best understood. The heavy starch of answer crammed lectures is a tempting substitute for more agile diets that provide a heavy doze of questions prior. It is an easy temptation for teachers to provide answers to questions that the students have not yet asked.

Descartes marveled at the fact that he was capable of comprehending a principle more certain than his own existence, and he realized that, since he himself was a finite and variable being, his ability to comprehend an invariable and perfect truth must have originated from an external source, a being that was perfect in every respect and was the ultimate standard and source of truth. Descartes concluded that this being was God. - Jared Cochrane GBT V Essay

Answers provided without substantial question usually guarantee that the answers are neither remembered nor appreciated. Questions are best developed in the context of conversation and once understood, they provide good soil for the significance of answers to develop.

Lecturing can be a fine means of providing education, but may I show you a still more excellent way.

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