“Then give it up, Crito, and let us follow this course, since God points out the way” (Crito 54 d-e).
As I prepare to discuss the final section of Plato’s dialogue, Crito, I notice four hands shoot up into the air. All four students have the same exact question. “Was Socrates a Christian?” It’s an impressive question. Even more impressive is that it was asked by four 7th graders.
I confess that I did not read Crito until I was in my freshman year of college’s history class. However, given the length and themes of the dialogue, I felt it would be a good example of how the great philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle spoke and thought. Short version: Crito is attempting to convince Socrates to escape Athens, where Socrates had been sentenced to death. Several students repeatedly asked the same questions that Crito asked of Socrates. Why is Socrates “ok” with dying? Why doesn’t he try to escape? And the classic 7th grade question: Did the poison taste good? All great questions…well, maybe not all great questions…
As we continued through the text, the students slowly shifted from Crito’s perspective to Socrates’ perspective. They realized that Socrates’ arguments, which were centered on standing on the ground of his principles and respect of the rule of law perfectly parried Crito’s more selfish appeals. This shift reflected Crito yielding control of the dialogue to Socrates. Socrates’ logic was flawless to the point where Crito gave up arguing and meekly agreed with the great philosopher. Crito’s simple agreements annoyed my students.
As I reflected on the themes of Crito and the discussions we had as a class over the course of three days, I discovered much. First, I was able to confirm that Biblical truths can be found in many places beyond the Bible. Just as Socrates gave up his opportunity to escape death in the name of God’s way, Jesus Christ gave up an opportunity to escape death to die for our sins that we may be saved. Secondly, I found that our students have a great capacity for understanding and discovery when given the opportunity. Finally, and most importantly, I can confidently expect more of my students. Too often, students will underestimate their capacity to truly grasp the things that they are learning. Sometimes, we as teachers and parents may lower the bar for them. That way, they will more easily hit the mark and not suffer failure. However, that sells our students short. They are capable. They can achieve excellence. It may take a longer amount of time to grasp a concept, but they can achieve a depth of understanding that would make anyone who knew them proud. Some of the best learning occurs through questions and conversations geared towards seeking understanding.
What have I learned? Ask questions. Take the time to engage in good fruitful conversations. Expect more from your students than they or you may think possible. As Socrates said, “let us follow this course, since God points out the way.” Let us help our students discover the way God has laid out for them in our expectation of excellence.