When I ask teens what happened in their Bible class, I often hear about how the teacher was using the “Socratic Method” to teach the class. When I probe a little more, what I find is that the teacher asked a big important faith question and then let the teens shoot out lots of answers – some biblical, many not so much or not at all. Then the teacher ends class without commenting on the validity or lack thereof in the various answers. This leaves every teen believing their answer was indeed correct.
It’s vitally important to understand this is not the Socratic Method. At all. Even if it were, this is not the way to guide teens to learning godly truths from scripture. The Socratic Method was never meant for a teacher to ask a huge, important question, let their students spout all sorts of answers, then walk away without guiding them to the correct answer. If someone has encouraged you to teach that way or if someone is teaching your child that way – please stop or say something.
The Socratic Method was designed to teach students how to think rather than having them accept everything the teacher says as fact and then just memorizing those facts. There are several ways to approach it correctly. (You can read more details on their society’s website if you are interested in learning more.) In general though, a teacher would ask a “big” question. In a Christian Bible class, this might be something like “How does God want a Christian to live his or her life?”
It’s also fine to ask students to share their thoughts. Where most teachers depart from the method is stopping the process there. To continue properly, the teacher should start asking for evidences (from scripture in our case) and asking questions to make students really think about their answers and whether they accurately reflect what God has shared with us in the Bible. Through this process, the teacher guides the students to recognize some of the answers generated were incorrect, while others may need adjusting.
When in doubt, depart from Socrates. You are not teaching a philosophy class where the answers don’t matter. The answers in Christianity can have earthly and eternal consequences. Don’t ever let students leave your room without knowing the correct answers. For topics that have more than one correct answer (like “What are ways to serve God?”), at least eliminate any incorrect answers students may have given. Please don’t ever let a student leave your class believing some sin is acceptable to God or that they don’t need to become a Christian to go to Heaven or some other unscriptural and potentially spiritually dangerous belief. It’s better to state a few facts than use the Socratic Method improperly and allow students to leave believing bad information is Truth.