published on January 18, 2017
Critical Thinking in Higher Education, and Following the Arguments with Plato's Socrates
In spite of his reputations as an impractical skeptic or dogmatic idealist, Plato’s Socrates is often an impressive example of a critical thinker, and we can use Plato’s dialogues to promote such skills in the college classroom. This essay summarizes recent institutional motivations for promoting critical thinking in a student-centered, active-learning pedagogy; compares Plato’s core model of education and fundamental rationale for it; shares an essay–presentation–discussion assignment that serves those modern and ancient goals; and discusses how this flexible type of assignment is especially well suited for Plato’s dialogues, serving students and teachers in a Socratic manner. The first two sections thus situate Plato’s dialogues in relation to the heart of critical thinking in higher education generally. The later sections and Appendix explain a way to “follow the arguments” with Socrates that’s informed both by recent best practices and by much of what we see in Plato’s dialogues.