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Having returned from the turn of the Fourth Century B.C. to the turn of the Twenty-First A.D., Socrates has eagerly signed on as a Philosophy Now columnist so that he may continue to carry out his divinely-inspired dialogic mission.
Teaching a masters’ level course in marketing, I gave my students the assignment of reading a book I have written that uses dialogue and a story to teach marketing. The assignment was simply to read and discuss the book. The only criterion for successful completion of the assignment was to show me through conversation that they had read the book. My idea was that we could then have a spoken dialogue about what they had read and together arrive at insights about marketing. But many of my students had extreme difficulty reading a dialogue. I believe that as business students they were not equipped to accept that they could learn anything about marketing from a story in the form of a dialogue. Why do you think the educational system is so against learning through dialogue?
I sense that we are kindred souls! I love to engage in dialogue more than anything else in the world. That is probably why you chose to submit your question to me in particular, and I am delighted that you and I will be able to engage in a dialogue about dialogue. Clearly you understand the spirit of dialogue, for you see it as a means of mutual edification for the participants. Now why would these students of yours be so at sea in this medium? You seem to pin the blame on an educational system. That makes sense to me. When it comes to mass education, the simple way to proceed is to present material as a set of facts. But you and I know that facts are nothing more than answers to questions, or responses to prior remarks, which in turn invite further response. The educational system will frequently ignore this inconvenient fact (if I may so call it!) in the interests of efficiency. Or that is the pretext, at any rate. But I do not suggest a conspiracy ....
Don’t be disingenuous, Socrates. From what I know of your own history I think it is likely that there was a conspiracy against you and your application of dialogue as a method for gaining understanding. Why would you suppose that this has changed? Perhaps society and power are averse to any method that can open a challenge to the status quo. Why would the educators and students be any less functionaries of the dominant system than the political and business leaders?
Perhaps my students realize the personal dangers of gaining real knowledge about marketing and the punishments that go along with a different understanding. I am sure that this is true of my fellow marketing professors. For example: They won’t get published in prestigious journals if they write thoughts that do not conform to the current paradigm. Therefore it may be without general benefit to either the teacher or pupil to ask questions. There may be a particular benefit to a few who could be identified as the social elite, but the masses who constitute the bulk of our student population must be kept in mental check.
Well, I won’t speculate about conspiracies. But I can see that the state of affairs does serve the interests of certain persons. Shall we call them the ‘authorities’? The term is interesting because it combines the notions of knowledge and power. You might say that I, like you, was a professor of marketing, since my accustomed haunting ground was the marketplace – the agora of Athens. There I spent my ‘career’ dealing with these authorities. I discovered that their power was based not on real knowledge, but on the imputation of knowledge. This became apparent during our dialogues. ‘Facts’ go hand-in-hand with this kind of false authority. Neither bears questioning.
Note that I spoke also of stories. They, like dialogue, are equally subversive of facts. The authorities know this instinctively, since their own vaunted facts are based on a story. So the only way they can accommodate our stories is to relegate them to a different, and denigrated, realm, which they call ‘fiction.’ You yourself fell into that trap, Socrates, when you banished the dramatic poets from your republic. For once the people begin to see that everything is a story, they may disbelieve the official one of the authorities. Therefore I would rather be an author than an authority. But, while we can take partial ‘cover’ in presenting our questioning – our dialogues – within a story, eventually the authorities catch on to that ploy. (Yes, we are conspirators too!) That is when the poets join the philosophers for their last meal of hemlock. So to be a teacher using stories and dialogue is still a dangerous game.
I stand chastened by your remarks, Shanachie, but I for one have never claimed even to be a teacher.
I am just a simple storyteller myself.
And who pays attention to philosophers? It was no different in my ancient home. But now that I have returned, I have learned that all I really needed to make my mark was one interlocutor: Plato.
Yours as ever,