The necessity of a strong bond of fellowship is particularly important in discussion-based education. Good discussion rarely happens among strangers; discussion needs honesty and intimacy. It is hard to truly discuss life with those whose motives in the conversation are neither known nor trusted.
Deep conversations require a context of trust and mutual respect. This certainly does not require that all students be close friends with one another; however, there does need to be a great deal of rapport as well as the ability to contribute to and learn from one another in conversation. Some might think this is just a curious accessory to academic learning; however, Socrates often referred to the context of friendship in his dialogues and was disconcerted when he suspected a dialogue was proceeding without the context of friendship and the honesty that it brings.
Learning the great ideas is like learning a new language—it is a language that is profoundly conversational, so you need others to practice speaking it. Not only are languages learned through conversation, but ideas are as well.
The process of learning intellectual vocabulary may seem abstract; however, it is easily seen as students work through the understanding of a particular subject such as geometry. They come gradually to be able to think in geometric patterns by speaking about them and learning to see their relationships to one another. It is easy to imagine that the clarity of geometric truths would mean that our minds are rigidly held to faithfully think along the paths of right reason. Surely we do not need guidance in thinking through these basic concepts. Yet, most any subject demands we gradually gain familiarity in order to properly think through it. Watching students repeatedly miss-state and misapply the most basic geometric concepts indelibly engraves the incompetence of the human mind onto a teacher’s frustrated and much abused consciousness. Just because a principle is logical and very clear, does not mean that the mind will easily grasp it. Logical principle must be practiced and repeated so that the mind gradually becomes accustomed to it.
Coming back to the more general world of ideas, the same necessity of practice is found. If you want to understand ideas you need to practice using them in conversation. This is why conversation with other students is so important. You are simply learning to speak another language that must be practiced.
Descartes pursued truth in isolation— he thought he would best pursue truth by secluding himself in a small cabin with just a wood stove and a long winter storm. Socrates on the other hand pursued truth in the midst of others with conversation and rarely ventured beyond the busy walls of the bustling Athens he loved. He did profess to be a lover of the countryside as well, but he did not bother going there very often. As much as we need isolation to collect and order our thoughts, we need the interaction with others to keep our thoughts fertile and vibrant.