All of which made me think of the pimping that goes on in medical school.
Both techniques are controversial in the same way: are they effective teaching tools, or merely an effective means of selective humiliation? Both have their critics and defenders, and neither seems likely to be resolved within my lifetime.
That essentially the same debate about the same technique takes place in both law and medicine leads me to ask if there's anything common to the two professions that could explain why these debates matter. Remember that an outsider might well wonder what's the big deal; you're in school, a teacher asks you questions, so what? Why are law students and medical students so obsessed with this?
Law students share with medical students one characteristic that is virtually guaranteed to make the public, interrogative teaching techniques of both professions controversial: they both are gripped with the desire to "know the right answer." Much of their self-esteem is built on their long track records of succeeding in school, of answering the teacher's questions correctly. Whatever their other insecurities or failings, most law or medical students can at least be proud of their high grades, their high test scores, and their hard-earned knowledge.
When a medical student on rounds is barraged with obscure and seemingly random questions to which he doesn't know the answer, he often feels humiliated, regardless of the conscious intention of the attending or resident asking the questions. Why? "Because I didn't know the answers!" The mere proof of ignorance, displayed in front of others, is enough to make him feel humiliated. "What am I if I don't know? A loser!"
Same thing with law students. If they can't give the "right" responses in class in front of everyone, they feel like failures at the one thing they've always been good at: pleasing the teacher and mastering the material. Even without any intention on the part of the professor to humiliate anyone, these law students will feel humiliated.
So the "controversy" surrounding the Socratic method is a lot like that surrounding "pimping." And no matter how respectful the attending is, no matter how encouraging the professor is, there will be many medical students and law students who feel humiliated every time they're publicly asked a question to which they don't immediately know the answer.Posted by Carey at October 30, 2003 08:03 AM