#mtt2k Proceduralism is Popular and Low Stress

The following presents a case for videos against the Socratic Method.  Whether the Socratic Method is the same as self discovery or constructivist teaching is another issue.

It is said that Cauchy’s engineering students rejected his concepts based calculus.  Just give us the rules.  The “Dean” had to talk to him about it?  Down with calculus concepts, just tell us the rules.

Law students dislike the Socratic method.   Only the professor wins is how Ralph Nader describes it.


Law students buy law prof tapes that are pure procedural rules.  No Socratics.  These are as popular with law students as Khan Academy videos.  Just the answers.  None of the overhead of the bullying professor.

Ralph Nader Socratic method only professor can win

At one blog or some place I saw the comment that engineering profs teach their own math courses because they don’t want to slow them down with proofs.

Sal Khan is the opposite of Professor Kingsfield.

The Socratic Method bullying method.

A student who is unsure of their prior knowledge can have their confidence and enthusiasm destroyed by bullying from a professor.  This can knock them out of science or engineering or law.


The Socratic Method is not used at Chicago to intimidate, nor to “break down” new law students,


Socratic method “University of Chicago”


Like Frodo on Weathertop, there are some wounds that never fully heal. Professor Kagan massacred me intellectually, and brutalized my pride. I got some form of a B in her class (I honestly don’t remember if there was a modifier — I’ve tried to suppress those memories). Kagan was a frightening professor for those who wanted to match wits with the brightest legal minds in the world. For people like me, people who just wanted to get through law school with minimal mental damage, Kagan was nothing short of terrifying.

Kagan v. Khan

Kagan the Merciless v Khan the Mistake Prone

You choose.   99 percent will choose one way.


Socratic method “University of Chicago” Kagan



BLITZER: Professor Stone, you were with her at the University of Chicago. What impressed you?

GEOFFREY STONE, WAS KAGAN’S DEAN AT UNIV. OF CHICAGO: Well, Elena is smart. She’s tough-minded. She’s independent. She was a spectacular teacher.

Right from the get-go when she begun as an assistant professor, she enlivened the students. She used Socratic methods in a very demanding way. She demonstrated real wit. And she was a terrific. I think Elena is a great lawyer and I think she’d be a terrific Supreme Court.






Wed, 05/12/2010 – 11:32am — bfleming

Colorado law prof Paul Campos continues to think Kagan is an awful selection. Quoting a long passage from Above the Law (from a former student), Campos argues her vigorous use of the Socratic method is especially problematic:

That method was (is) a horribly ineffective way to transmit substantive knowledge. If educational theorists agree on one thing it’s that pedagogical terrorism doesn’t work — assuming the point of the exercise is for people to actually learn what you’re claiming to teach them. But of course as critics have been pointing out for many decades now, that was never the real point. …

… Indeed that’s what the classic Socratic “method” is all about — it’s a performance designed to demonstrate that the performer is In Charge Here and a Very Serious Person who you had best defer to if you know what’s good for you. In short, it’s authoritarianism at its most straightforward and distasteful — and anyone who currently practices it in 180-proof form in an American law school at this late date should be viewed with suspicion: not merely as an educator, but in terms of that person’s fundamental orientation towards hierarchy, authority, and social power. Which is another way of saying, in terms of her politics.


There are real reasons that procedural videos are popular with students.  There is also real opposition to the Socratic Method’s use as a classroom method.  Ignoring this, ignores the debate.  Moreover, it is the job of college professors of math education to study this.  There has to be balance so that classrooms that are self discovery don’t turn into bullying zones.

If the Dean at the University of Chicago Law School will cover up for bullying parading as teaching, then that means students are not protected by administrators.  If a Supreme Court justice can’t be trusted in the classroom not to bully unmercifully, and deans cover it up, it shows students are at risk from it.  This is a real issue that both schools and college programs of education have a responsibility to address and study.  A profession policies its own.  That is the basis of being given deference.  Are teachers doing that in the constructivist and self discovery method?


About New Math Done Right

Author of Pre-Algebra New Math Done Right Peano Axioms. A below college level self study book on the Peano Axioms and proofs of the associative and commutative laws of addition. President of Mathematical Finance Company. Provides economic scenario generators to financial institutions.
This entry was posted in Elena Kagan brutal on students Socratic Method, Professor Kingsfield, Ralph Nader on Socratic Method, Socratic Method, Socratic Method Bullying. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to #mtt2k Proceduralism is Popular and Low Stress

  1. Michael Paul Goldenberg says:

    This strikes me as a horrific butchering of the choices for mathematical pedagogy. Khan v. Kagan? Are you kidding me? I’ve not seen K-12 teachers use any sort of inquiry-oriented math instruction like fascistic, sadistic Harvard or Chicago law prof on intellectual steroids. You suggest here that to ask students to actually solve real math problems, to think, to do proofs at an appropriate level of mathematical maturity is to become Kingsfield or Kagan? Two words for that: “bull” and “shit.”. That’s one of the most absurdly misleading and false dichotomies I’ve read in this field over the past 23 years, and includes the long tons of manure spread by the folks from Mathematically Correct and HOLD.

    • Would you say your comment falls into Socratic or Lecture?

      • Michael Paul Goldenberg says:

        Would you say that Ralph Nader is more an asshole or a jerk-off?

        Two can play the double question, false-dichotomy game. I have been following your stuff for a while. This is the first thing I’ve seen you post that’s made me wonder if I’ve been wasting my time, or if today was just an intentional case of loading the dice to ultimately reveal how silly the dichotomy is. If the latter, then clearly I agree. If you’re SERIOUSLY suggesting that the particular examples of Socratic method you offer are both typical of that method as used in math classes (or what progressive math teachers are pushing for) AND representative of what is meant by alternatives to Khan and 99% of US math teaching, then I’ve already weighed-in on how outlandish that is. But unless anyone is actually reading this who is inclined to believe what you’ve laid out here, it doesn’t matter. What I worry about, if you’re playing a game, is that someone who doesn’t know better will find this one post when looking for ideas about how to analyze non-lecture-driven math teaching in K-12 and will conclude that the goal those of us who want to change the game and re-balance methods in US classrooms is to beat kids up intellectually. I’ve actually had arguments, though not lately, with people who teach or have taught h.s. math who believe, apparently, that expecting K-12 students to actually THINK in class is cruel and unusual teaching. I don’t think we need more fuel put on that fire.

    • “The following presents a case for videos against the Socratic Method. Whether the Socratic Method is the same as self discovery or constructivist teaching is another issue.”

      This was the first sentence of my post.

      The Khan critics have not persuaded one Khan user to their side as far as I know. So evidently, the Khan critics are not engaging the users in a meaningful way.

      I have seen Khan users say that they don’t feel comfortable admitting they don’t know something in class.

      By the way, it is conceivable that below adult age persons read this blog. So at some point, I will edit your language if you don’t mind. Also if you could use expressions that don’t require such editing I would appreciate it.

      As to wasting your time. I think there is very little engagement on the two sides.

      I do give you credit for expressing strong views that are useful to advance the discussion.

      Khan is the dominant player in videos so he is not a straw man. Elena Kagan is what came up in the searches of actual people complaining about a specific person. K-12 teachers are not as obviously public persons as are Kagan who worked at DOJ, White House and Supreme Court. She is a public person so people feel free to criticize her. Thus she becomes an actual person with actual people complaining about.

  2. xiousgeonz says:

    While you may not know of any people who’ve spoken up to say critiquers have changed minds, perhaps yoiu need to listen a little more closely.

    I *have* heard people say things like “oh, I thought everybody loved the videos until I heard about that… ” Some of them even went so far as to see that yes, now they could see that this was a real case of Marketing over Content.

  3. xiousgeonz says:

    These were comments on email groups I’m on (at least the ones I’m remembering) — specifically recognizing that they had assumed that at least some editing had happened when the videos were being made and that there were some educational standards being applied, and that once they saw a few of ’em they realized that wasn’t true.
    Yes, honestly. Why would I make it up?

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