One Way to Make a Huge Swing Factor in Education, and in Productivity and Human Well-Being

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
Winsights No. 40 (April 2000)

We’ve said much here about Socratic method and the value of getting people to examine their perceptions and to describe what they discover there:  “The Principle of Description” — anything you describe in detail while examining it closely, you discover more and more and more about. — and “The First Law of Psychology” — you get more of what you reinforce. Describing your own perceptions, in detail, reinforces:

  1. the particular perceptions being described;
  2. the behavior of being perceptive.

We’ve noted how having bright people hanging on your every nuance of thought, and relaying it to an eagerly awaiting world, not only produced genius in British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking but literally has kept him physically alive despite a disease from which he was supposed to have died decades ago; and how having your staff members listen effectively to each other and draw each other out will produce equivalent geniuses among your own employees.

In education (which itself is named after that drawing-out effect), we’ve always known that practice of Socratic method was historically associated with not only high-quality educational results but with a dramatically higher incidence of emergence of world-class geniuses among the students so educated. If you do the numbers, the count comes out somewhere between ten million to one and one hundred million to one times higher incidence of world-class genius among those who’ve been taught Socratically, as compared with those taught by current conventional classroom methods. This seems to this writer to be a fairly significant difference.

The problem in education, though, has also been a matter of numbers. Traditional Socratic method was where one instructor would draw out one, two, maybe four students at a time. If you had a classroom full of thirty or forty restless students, you could keep the rest in line only through sheer terror, as in some law schools which claim to practice Socratic method. “Next week, half of you won’t be here!”

Another problem with numbers was, even if you recognized that individuals learn far more from what they do and say than from what’s told to them, in a large group discussion or large class:  how can you get enough of that effect in? There are too many people competing for air time in the same limited span of time. Not only do you get speaking time sliced too thin to do much good; if the discussion gets hot you have everyone sitting there mentally rehearsing what they’re going to say when they get the chance, rather than listening to one another.

Both problems, happily, have been resoundingly solved. A complete set of specific instructions for modern Socratic method now is readily available, suitable to elicit genius from just about any group, on just about any topic, whether in a club meeting, a class room, a board (bored?) meeting, a staff or faculty meeting, even those people you have to work with! Under CPS Techniques in this website, see Dynamic Format and you’ll have that set of instructions for free.

A more involved set of instructions, with examples in different school subjects, is published by Project Renaissance in the book How To Be a Better Teacher, Today — While Reducing Your Workload. [Editor note: this book has been superseded by Dynamic Teaching, which is where the link will take you.] You don’t have to chase your recalcitrant crew around with homework, pop quizzes, drillwork and other paperwork:  your students will involve themselves and pull you along as they do nearly all the work for you.

During the 1960s there was indeed some recognition of the need of participation and involvement, and schools flirted with “interactive learning” only to end with disorder or even chaos. In contrast, the modern forms of Socratic technique, in “Dynamic Format” and in Better Teacher, allow you to have a much better focused, orderly, on-task classroom than you have now by current practices. Besides being Socratic, they are remarkably easy and efficient group management techniques.

These modern group focusing techniques enable any leader or teacher to give every member of the club, group or class extensive Socratic growth experience while maintaining the strongest possible focus on the topic being addressed or taught.

In recent work, we’ve taken Socratic principles a few steps further, working to instill more powerful skills-of-listening which enable your staff, your co-workers, your students or anyone to more effectively draw each other out to produce the wonderful Socratic “miracle” effects. In this very Winsights series, see Number 33, published in April 1999 — “Add Depth and Richness to Every Facet of Our Mutual Lives.” Both that article and the original “Dynamic Format,” cited above, are completely free on the World Wide Web for anyone with the gumption to make use of these truly remarkable resources.

Language Skills

We’ve already remarked on the higher quality of group-produced outcome and, indeed, on the rather higher incidence of genius produced by Socratic method, whose factors we understand well enough that many of Project Renaissance’s methods now even let you become Socratic to yourself, eliciting truly genius-level ideas, perceptions, awarenesses and breakthroughs from yourself.

It is now pretty obvious as well that much of one’s classroom experience is through focused buzz-grouping rather than through passively attending didactic lecture. It is not only one’s understanding of the subject that will improve, and not only one’s morale:  one’s language skills will improve.

And improve pretty substantially — even reading skills, if the language faculties behind them are getting pretty good exercise. A “well-buzzed” classroom hour will exercise students’ language and language-related faculties more, in that one hour, than they get in a whole month in ordinary classrooms. Student language quality and skills will advance a year or more each month when several of their courses are taught through these modern Socratic techniques. One of the quickest, easiest ways any school or school district could improve its achievement scores is to utilize these modern Socratic techniques.

The issue of language skills brings us to a related matter — the education of cultural minorities.

Bilingual classrooms and courses where English is a second language

Whether in public classrooms in areas heavily impacted by recent immigration waves from Southeast Asia or from Hispanic sources, or in schools on Native American reservations, we see many schooling situations where American English is decidedly at best a second language among a majority of local students. This is seen as a major difficulty, when it should be a major advantage instead —

  1. Other parts of the same schools and school systems are busily trying to teach Spanish or other second languages to native English-speaking students;
  2. To learn given lessons or concepts in two cultural contexts, instead of one, would be a huge advantage. Lessons so learned would be retained far longer, and far easier for students to transfer from initial to subsequent contexts. Instead,
  3. Far from reaching to meet the obvious needs of a majority of their own students, schools and teachers in many quarters are under orders to abandon these children, to go ahead and teach in English and English only; actually forbidden by state law in many instances to speak to their own students in their own language!
  4. Abandoned until they finally manage to stumble along in English, a high proportion of such students end up burdening our welfare rolls and our penal system, instead of becoming the major contributors and cultural leaders their situation made possible — a huge swing-factor in scores of billion$ in costs to our society instead of contributors by like or greater scale. (To say nothing of the human costs involved!)

These easily and quickly learned, modern Socratic methods offer a strong and attractive alternative. During the partnered and team “buzz-groups,” for example, students can experience the relief of processing the course elements in their own language. After that they report back to the teacher, in English, the results of their processing. Students thereby automatically broaden the linguistic and cultural context of what they’ve just learned onto two distinctive bases. This renders what they’ve learned (1) virtually unforgettable; and (2) easily transferred from initial learning context to subsequent contexts — both of these outcomes being highly desired educational goals.

Both of these powerful educative goals are obtainable with almost ridiculous ease through the easy methods cited above and free to anyone on the Net. They are not at all so obtainable through any other current classroom method or practice.

Thus, these easy modern Socratic methods not only greatly benefit students generally where such modern Socratic technique is applied, but comprise a uniquely effective solution to the problems of any classroom where American English is not the mother tongue.

Nothing said here is to be construed as weakening the case for English continuing to be the language of the U.S.A., nor for students in the U.S.A. to learn the English language as quickly and as well as possible. Indeed, instead of becoming discouraged through neglect and failure and dropping out to become part of the welfare load, students taught by this bi-cultural buzz method will become motivated, involved, learn actively, and become better speakers of English sooner, among other benefits.

No special training for teachers is needed for this simple effective cure of this hugely expensive problem, nor material costs other than circulating a few copies of these instructions among teachers of such students. Perhaps the lack of significant costs means that this approach will have no advocates -— if advocates for any reform or improvement are to be drawn only from the ranks of would-be empire-builders. If anyone has a more generous motivation than that of costly empire-building, for advocating an educational improvement, let him or her speak now!

As of this writing: there is no legitimate case for abandoning non-English-speaking children for precious, crucial years until they are hopelessly behind, to become a huge burden on our welfare and penal systems. There is no legitimate case for the situation not only prevailing in so many classrooms but actually mandated by state law in many instances — not when there is such a simple, easily learned, easily used “buzz-grouping” procedure, at low or even no cost, and when essentially the same procedure is so easily used to improve both the learning and the language skills of our native, English-speaking children as well.

This Shoe Fits Some Other Feet As Well

  1. The foregoing comments, applied to classrooms where American English is not the mother tongue, also apply just as forcefully to multi-ethnic classrooms and schools, whatever the local mother tongue. One example is all those localities in the Spanish-speaking Americas where local Indios cultures and languages are being suppressed just as is the Hispanic here in the United States.
  2. This interactive Socratic format makes it far easier and more effective to induce students themselves to translate, in terms of their own cultural insights and values. No lecturer — certainly not a Western-derived lecturer and not even a lecturer schooled in the West but drawn from the local culture — can hope to transform scientific and technical content nearly so well as the students themselves could during the very process of their assimilating those contents a la buzz-group. Also, to have those students themselves work consciously from the very context, of seeking such intercultural translation, of necessary scientific, technical and economic content for a viable future in which their culture was to be very much alive — that context itself would be far more positive, productive and motivating!


In this new century’s global economy, we can’t afford to leave anyone behind. Especially we can’t afford to leave hopelessly behind major swathes of our own society because their first language wasn’t the same as the one we happen to speak.

Of nearly two million Americans behind bars today in our “correctional” institutions (and nearly double that number “needing” to be behind bars!), a disproportionately high segment, indeed a majority, are members of cultural minorities who could have been schooled in the way we propose here, but instead were handicapped by our current practices. A similar disproportion prevails in our welfare rolls as well. Even if we are so foolish as to maintain practices for which no legitimate case exists and so handicap our own society, we simply do not have the right to inflict such needless handicaps on other human beings, especially human children, through our own careless disregard.

Nothing here says that English — the world’s richest and most productive, wonderful language — should not continue to be our mainstream language here in the States. Nothing here says that newcomers being assimilated into our society should not become well-versed in English and in the mainstream culture’s ways. Indeed, we submit that the proposed bi-cultural buzz-grouping will accomplish those twin goals far more, infinitely more effectively and thoroughly than do today’s practices of not-so-benign neglect of our minority children.

Lastly, to bring focused, interactive, Socratic practices like “Dynamic Format” into education generally will hugely benefit all our children, not only the “bilingual buzz” minority children. Just so it will benefit the productivity and achievement of your own office, your own staff. You simply can’t afford to continue to do without this simple, easy, productive way of eliciting understanding and genius from others, and from yourself. Nor can our society so afford. Nor our schools.

Please pass this information on to any educators whom you know, and to any community leaders whom you know, including ethnic community leaders. Thank you.