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The Socratic Method: Not for the 21st Century Student

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I usually avoid talking about specific tenure denial cases because they are usually more complicated than stories about them are made out to be. And you have to wonder about a professor who gives up a tenured position for a nontenured position at a lesser school. Still, this story of a business professor at Utah Valley University being denied tenure because he used a version of the Socratic method that included calling on students is quite disturbing. Who can tell how this guy used the method in the classroom, though his department raved about the quality of his teaching. But the idea that any university administration would fire someone because of student complaints that they were called on in class is outrageous.

Moreover, this goes to the problem of relying upon student evaluations in making tenure decisions. Students are not consumers. They are paying for the privilege of having high-quality teachers educate them. Their ability to judge whether they are receiving a quality education is limited by the fact that most don’t have enough knowledge to make that decision. This doesn’t mean there should be student evaluations–if the professor is being inappropriate, not showing up, saying terrible things to students, etc., students need an official mechanism to register complaints. But since so many university administrations today openly accept the consumer model of education, dissatisfied consumers mean there’s a problem. The ultimate goal isn’t to educate people, it’s to keep the consumers paying into the system. So if a professor fails too many students, they have to be eliminated. If a professor calls on students who don’t want to be called upon, they have to be eliminated.

I guess the real solution is to stop caring about teaching, make my classes easy and entertaining rather than stressing content and skill-buidling, and get good evaluations. That’s the model toward which we are moving, especially at public institutions.

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