Teaching Excellence Awards

 Year Awarded: 2005

Faculty Award winner

Barry Mauer

 College of Arts and Sciences


A university does not just teach salable skills. It should do that, but more importantly it teaches methods that lead to self-knowledge, critical thinking, citizenship--defined in its broadest sense as responsibility for one's locality, state, nation, and globe--and literacy, which is the ability to read and write at a disciplinary level. There are no shortcuts to achieving these goals, but Socratic dialogue is one of the primary methods the university uses for achieving them.

"The unexamined life is not worth living." That is one of the university's main tenets. Socrates' method for examining beliefs was dialogue, which is a mutual search for truth among lifelong friends who are willing to exchange views within a safe environment. The participants in a dialogue exchange beliefs the way initiates in the ancient Eleusinian Rites exchanged clothing; I wear your beliefs and you wear mine. Dialogue is not debate and it is not dialectics--the clash of ideas--in which you hold onto your "truth" with everything you have and try to defeat opposing views. The other participants can comment about the modeling of their beliefs, but in principle participants in a dialogue have to cede some control.

The classroom must be a safer place to exchange views than any other place. When someone enters the classroom and takes part in a dialogue, his or her beliefs dissolve into pieces and these pieces get reorganized in different ways. Everything in the space is allowed to become part of the dialogue, and thus the dialogue is very sensitive to the space.