11 votes

Socratic Grilling

2 comments

  1. skybrian
    Link
    From the blog post:

    From the blog post:

    [T]o a hostile observer, it would sound like the student was challenging the teacher. Every time the teacher tried to explain germ theory, the student “pounced” on a supposed inconsistency. When the teacher tried to explain the inconsistency, the student challenged her explanations. At times he almost seems to be mocking the teacher. Without contextual clues – and without an appreciation for how confused young kids can be sometimes – it could sound like this kid is an arrogant know-it-all who thinks he’s checkmated biologists and proven that germ theory can’t possibly be true. Or that he thinks that he, a mere schoolchild, can come up with a novel way to end all sickness forever that nobody else ever thought of.

    And the thesis of this post is that you must never, ever say that. Saying that is so bad. Smack down that student once, say “I think I know more about germ theory than you do”, make him feel like he challenged your authority and that’s bad – and the best case scenario is he will never ask questions to resolve his confusion again. The worst case scenario is that he stops feeling the confusion entirely, or stops thinking of forcing things to fit together and make sense as a desirable goal to have.

    One of the most important rationalist skills is “noticing your confusion”. But that depends on an even more important proto-skill of wanting things to make sense. If you lose that skill – if it stops bothering you and seeming like a problem when things don’t make sense to you – you will never notice your confusion and you will never become a good scientist or a good anything-else-that-requires-independent-thought. And interpreting an attempt to explore dissonance as a status grab that needs to be knocked down is absolutely fatal for that skill. Instead, you need to think of it as Socratic grilling – like Socratic questioning, but a little harsher and more confrontational in order to get to the point more quickly.

    3 votes
  2. ryanatkn
    Link
    I love this. I've noticed the misunderstanding depicted here happen a lot on the web between good faith actors where the questioner is not a native English speaker. Questions can come across as...

    I love this. I've noticed the misunderstanding depicted here happen a lot on the web between good faith actors where the questioner is not a native English speaker. Questions can come across as aggressive or smug without any intent. Of course that happens regardless of language skills too. This is especially bad in social spaces where you're on guard against concern trolling or with emotionally charged subjects. Always assuming the best from the student is probably good advice in person but I see it leading to unwanted emotional labor in the wrong context, like public social media.

    3 votes