The students in our Socratic Classes for Grades 3-8 read many different kinds of texts. All of the readings are short, generally no more than a page or two. In the lower grades many of the readings are folk tales from around the world. These stories are always about one or more common human ideas or common human experience. For instance, in 3rd grade the students read a story from Latvia titled They Share the Work. What is it about? The story centers on the activities of planting, harvesting, watching. There is much else involved in those activities – responsibility, patience, industriousness, expectation, disappointment, anger, and how different people may have different ideas about what it means to share.
As the students progress into the higher grades there are more readings that are excerpts of great works about ancient history, civics, and the humanities. As an example, 8th grade students may read an excerpt from The Republic, by Plato; an excerpt of The Prince by Machiavelli; or a section of Augustine’s Confessions.
There is a single book for each grade that contains all of the readings for that grade. These books may be purchased at the Great Books Store. Once there just click on the appropriate grade level then scroll down to “Socratic Discussion” to find the book you need.
Here are of some of the authors from whom we derive the texts we read.
3rd Grade – In addition to the many folk tales the students read some of Homer, Aesop, Defoe, Montaigne, Augustine, and others.
4th Grade – Folk tales, a part of The Declaration of Independence, and some of Yeats, Muir, Zeno, Aesop, and others.
5th Grade – Folk tales, Chaucer, Plutarch, Pascal, Feynman, Cezanne, and others.
6th Grade – Folk tales and Homer, Frost, Augustine, Lucretius, and others.
7th Grade – Excerpts of The Federalist Papers, and texts by da Vinci, Frederick Douglas, Voltaire, Lincoln, and others.
8th Grade - Folk tales and Emerson, Madison, Hippocrates, Twain, and others.
All Classes are on Mondays - Classes begin in September
Length of classes
We ask that students arrive in the classroom about 10 minutes prior to class time to enable us to make sure that everyone can hear and be heard. This also gives the students some time to visit with one another prior to the start of class. So the students are together for longer than the official length of classes stated below. Also, at times the classes run a bit longer than the official time but students are of course free to leave whenever they must.
3rd grade and 4th grade classes are 30 minutes long.
5th and 6th grade classes are 45 minutes long.
7th and 8th grade classes are 60 minutes long.
Prior to each discussion the students receive an e-mail that gives them the reading/thinking assignment. The e-mail also contains some questions for the students to ponder and wonder about after having read the text. It is this reading and thinking that constitutes the students’ preparation for the discussions. Here is the text of an assignment sent to 7th grade students during the past academic year:
The reading for our next scheduled class on Monday, May 1, at 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time is titled To Emancipate the Mind, by Abraham Lincoln.
After reading the text please consider the following questions in preparation for our discussion:
1. Do you agree with Lincoln that writing is greater than speech? Why or why not?
2. If we lost all writing would we lose, as Lincoln suggests, ”all history, all science, all government, all commerce and nearly all social interaction”? Why or why not?
3. Do you agree with Lincoln that, prior to the development of the printing press, that the great mass of men “were utterly unconscious” that their minds were capable of improvement?
4. Do you think that, on balance, people’s minds have been improved as a result of the printing press?