Socratic Classroom in the 21st Education System

The essentials’ surrounding critical thinking is vital to a successful educational system.  The exploration of critical thinking has been a theoretical foundation in the process of education from Socrates to the 21st century classroom principles mandated by Congress.   Along the way, philosophers implement these theories through effective learning strategies that enhance students’ overall educational experience. 

Critical thinking provides the “blueprint” philosophical patterns that have now been adopted into our current educational system (Burgess 2008).  These pathways depict the fundamentals of learning as a mechanism seeking “truth” in matters, and it occurs when after questioning and interpreting the wisdom and knowledge of others, one comes to recognize their own ignorance (Burgess 2008).  Therefore, students use critical thinking to formulate their determinations an assessments on problematic standards set forth in curriculum-based coursework to achieve mastery regardless of an opposing view (Barry 1984). 

Critical thinking in the classroom aims to find “concrete” principles which are worth holding, thereby serving as a basis for further discussion and inquiry that, ideally, will lead the disputants to a better understanding of an issue and a high-order of thinking (Barry 1984).  An instrumental document which identifies that relevant of critical thinking in the strategic effectiveness of the classroom is “The Educational Theory of Socrates” (Burgess 2008).

So, what is critical thinking?  To learn what critical thinking is, we must first identify what critical thinking “is not” (Rusbult 2001).  We avoid misunderstanding aspects of “critical thinking”, by the knowledge that critical thinking is not necessarily being "critical" and negative (Rusbult 2001).  In fact, a more accurate term would be evaluative thinking (Rusbult 2001).  The result of evaluation can range from positive to negative, from acceptance to rejection or anything in-between (Rusbult 2001).

We; therefore, derive in productive problem solving a mechanism to generate ideas (by creativity) and evaluate ideas (by criticality) (Rusbult 2001).  Although creativity occurs first in the process, I think it`s best to begin with a foundation of critical thinking (Rusbult 2001).  Why?  Critical thinking is the art of taking charge of your own mind (Rusbult 2001).  Its value is simple:  if we can take charge of our own minds, we can take charge of our lives (Rusbult 2001).  This creates a domino-effect which translates into ownership of one’s educational experience and learning.  Does this sound familiar?

Critical thinking is not an isolated goal unrelated to other important goals in education (Rusbult 2001).  Critical thinking when integrated into the educational system promotes effective teaching strategies focused on the learners’ ability to excel in their cognitive processes.  Therefore, critical thinking is reasonably and reflectively deciding what to believe or do (Rusbult 2001).  Critical thinking means making reasoned judgments.  Basically, it is using criteria to judge the quality of something, from cooking to a conclusion of a research paper (Rusbult 2001).  In essence, critical thinking is a disciplined manner of thought that a person uses to assess the validity of something: a statement, news story, argument, research, etc (Rusbult 2001).  {Quotation from Robert Ennis and paraphrase of Barry Beyer}

“Why should we teach critical thinking?” Critical thinking is essential for effective functioning in the modern world (Rusbult 2001).  We understand critical thinking to be purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based (Rusbult 2001).  Since this includes almost all types of logical reasoning, critical thinking is essential as a tool of inquiry (Rusbult 2001). 

As such, critical thinking is a liberating force in education and a powerful resource in one`s personal and civic life (Rusbult 2001).   While not synonymous with good thinking, critical thinking is a pervasive and self-rectifying human phenomenon (Rusbult 2001).  The ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit (Rusbult 2001).  Thus, we must work towards our educational systems institutionalized curriculum to produce good critical thinkers in our future generations (Rusbult 2001). 

We can attribute John Dewey as “one of many educational leaders who recognized that a curriculum aimed at building thinking skills would be a benefit not only to the individual learner, but to the community and to the entire democracy (Wiki Critical Thinking 2010).  How can we accentuate the benefits of critical thinking into our curriculum?  The key to seeing the significance of critical thinking in academics is in understanding the significance of critical thinking in learning (Wiki Critical Thinking 2010).  There are two meanings to the learning of this content (Wiki Critical Thinking 2010).  The first occurs when learners (for the first time) construct in their minds, the basic ideas, principles, and theories that are inherent in content (Wiki Critical Thinking 2010).  This is a process of internalization (Wiki Critical Thinking 2010).  The second occurs when learners effectively use those ideas, principles, and theories as they become relevant in learners’ lives (Wiki Critical Thinking 2010). This is a process of application.  Good teachers cultivate critical thinking (intellectually engaged thinking) at every stage of learning, including initial learning (Wiki Critical Thinking 2010).

Another “key is that the teacher who fosters critical thinking fosters reflectiveness in students by asking questions that stimulate thinking essential to the construction of knowledge (Wiki Critical Thinking 2010).  Therefore, “for students to learn content, intellectual engagement is crucial (Wiki Critical Thinking 2010).  All students must do their own thinking, their own construction of knowledge (Wiki Critical Thinking 2010).  Good teachers recognize this and therefore focus on the questions, readings, activities that stimulate the mind to take ownership of key concepts and principles underlying the subject (Wiki Critical Thinking 2010).

Examples that reflect the practicum of the theories surrounding critical thinking can be demonstrated through the Socratic Method used early in our educational history by Socrates and his young educators (Burgess 2008).  It is from these foundations of critical thinking that we can reflect the message of inference to a critical thinking learning process: Socrates does not believe that any one person or any one school of thought is authoritative or has the wisdom to teach “things” (Burgess 2008).  This appears to be a technique for engaging others and empowering the conversator to openly dialogue (Burgess 2008).

Through this open dialogue, Socrates is widely regarded as one of the great teachers of all time (Burgess 2008).  With the implementation of the Socratic Method, it invoked a discipline of teachers asking leading questions, eventually, guiding students to discovery (Burgess 2008). Thusly, Socrates devoted himself to a free-wheeling discussion with the aristocratic young citizens of Athens, insistently questioning their unwarranted confidence in the truth of popular opinions, even though he often offered them no clear alternative teaching (Burgess 2008). Therefore, Socrates exemplified the methodology of critical thinking to engage and bring his students to a higher order of thinking processes (Burgess 2008).

Another essential question to consider: Is critical thinking:  impossible in schools (Rose 2009)?   The process of critical thinking or teaching of these skills are possible in schools, but I think what is attempted should be called clearer thinking (Rose 2009).  I would leave critical thinking in the realms that call for challenging accepted knowledge (Rose 2009).  I don’t think this occurs often in schools (Rose 2009).    However, we refer to Socrates demonstrations of critical thinking theories in his educational quests regarding inquiry for the absolution of knowledge in his learning environment (Rose 2009).  Thus, this is an effective exemplication of reinforcement of the effectiveness of critical thinking as an essential teaching strategy for educators in utilization of an effective educational process in the learning of students to a certain extent (Rose 2009).  Now society, in some aspects, has revitalized the process that Socrates used under clairvoyant terminology which educators either refer to as critical thinking or better known as clearer thinking:  Critical=Evaluative (Rusbult 2001)?  Through critical thinking, we can now identify how it allows for some of our educational systems to now implement learning strategies reflective of students` to question by open dialogue established through factual and intellectual thoughts on specified subject matter in the classroom venues (Rusbult 2001).        

As more institutions allow students’ to use and apply the rubrics in correcting others’ papers, it becomes a valid teaching technique!  Negotiating and sharing power builds mutual trust and respect (Rose 2009).  Another example of this teaching technique has been adopted at Texas A&M University-Commerce (2010) in the Educational Leadership course “Theories of Adult Learning” curriculum.  The professor gives his graduate student’s ownership to “complete an assessment of a student presentation in electronic college environment known as Class Live Pro.  The student will be assigned a presentation to assess and will use the Rubric for Class Live Presentation.  In addition to completing the Rubric, the student will also write a one-two page critique identifying the parts of the presentation that were done well and why; the student will also identify the parts of the presentation that could be improved and how this could be accomplished (Lumadue 2010). Even though the professor has based their assignments on the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy: synthesis, evaluation, revision; to help adult students’ development their higher order of thinking skills, it is through the students’ practicum of the processes that critical thinking is exemplified (Lumadue 2010).  This identifies the symbiotic and cohesion of teaching strategies from Socrates to Benjamin Bloom to the 21st classroom environments integration of critical thinking as an essential factor in the learning environment for students.

Therefore, the teachers which use these teaching strategies in the classroom are derived from a minority to a certain extent to allow for the inclusive of critical thinking applications (Rose 2009). They are sharing responsibility for outcomes (Rose 2009). Without sharing of power they cannot teach students to think critically (Rose, 2009).   Even a higher education institution successful implementation of critical thinking, this process can only take place where there is a hierarchical power base that does not punish thinking that differs from the status quo.  For that reason I repeat we can teach the process and skills of clearer thinking, but we can’t teach them to think critically and apply those skills to the real worlds they live in.  This can be accomplished through our educators providing the necessary tools and then, the students’ implementation of those processes.

Ultimately, “the essence of critical thinking is logic, and logical evaluation—by using reality checks and quality checks (Rusbult 2001).   Therefore, we are now seeing to some degree critical thinking processes implemented by “college students and teachers, but with suitable adjustments for K-12.  Why are there discrepant levels of implementation?  It could be based on the fact, educators do not recognize the fact that logic is logic, for the young and old (Rusbult 2001).   Therefore, critical thinking across the curriculum aims for “an application of logical concepts to the analysis of everyday reasoning and problem-solving (Rusbult 2001).

So for students to excel at critical thinking, especially on a higher order of thought process, they must be taught not how to know the answer, but how to ask the question.    These aspects of the research for the effectiveness of critical thinking in education are forward-looking for colleges/universities, even reflected by the cooperative learning techniques used at Texas A&M University-Commerce, TX.  These aspects are essential to successful learning:  maintain a focus on learning; study the learning process; and plan curriculum, instruction, and assessment that take into account the five critical aspects of learning ( 2010).

In conclusion, the exploration of how critical thinking has evolved in our educational system for effectiveness in the learning is continuing to make strides in every educational arena.  However, it can only be accomplished through identification of definitive aspects of critical thinking.  In the past history of educational reform regarding the depth of the learning environment inclusive of critical thinking teaching strategies, students and teachers take a fundamental role in which both are responsible and accountable for the ultimate educational process. “Until teachers have the freedom to teach using the best of their abilities without fear of jobs loss or constant harassment and students have the freedom to honestly, civilly disagree there cannot be critical thinking (Rose 2009).  For example, as students learn to think more critically, they become more proficient at historical, scientific, and mathematical thinking.  Finally, they develop skills, abilities, and values crucial to success in everyday scholastic as well as life (Rusbult 2001). Therefore, recent research suggests that critical thinking is not typically an intrinsic part of instruction at any level.  Students come without training in it, while faculty tends to take it for granted as an automatic by-product of their teaching.  Yet without critical thinking systematically designed into instruction, learning is transitory and superficial (Rusbult 2001).



Barry, Vincent E. (1984). Critical Thinking and Educational Reform August 6-9, 1989: 

Invitation to Critical Thinking.  New York:  Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, page 6.

Burgess, Bob (Analyst). (Website last edited 01/04/2008). The Educational Theory of


Critical Thinking. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (This page was last modified on 30 October 2010

            at 12:21).

Lumadue, Rick (PhD). (Fall Semester, 2010). Texas A&M University-Commerce, TX:

            Assessment Project: TDEV 497/554: Theories of Adult Learning.

Rose, Robert. (Posted: July 1, 2009 10:45PM). Critical Thinking:  Impossible in Schools? The

Huffington Post.

Rusbult, Craig. (2001). Critical Thinking in Education and Life.


What is Dimensions of Learning and How is it Used? (2010).


Posted by: Rhonda R. Canady, Masters of Science, Training and Development, MS, Training and Development, United States (05-Aug-2012)
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