top of page

Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

Revisiting the Idea of Admissions as Midwife

This is a fragment of an idea that began several years ago. In reality, though, this story goes much further back.

Let's recap.

The ancient philosopher Socrates once confessed that he modelled his own career on his midwife mother. As an educator, he considered that his own life's work was rooted in what he described as epistemological midwifery or maieutics. Literally, by asking the right questions, he believed that he was able to "bring to birth" ideas and understanding in those around him.

And so the Socratic Method was born.

A photograph of a sculpture of socrates sitting against a blue sky
Socrates: the founder of modern admissions?

At a time when we are thinking more and more about admissions as a learning opportunity for families, I continue to be convinced that this ancient philosopher brings our craft into sharper relief.

If you are willing to wrestle a little (which in something Socrates always wanted his protagonists to do), here are three clues that this ancient sage may have left along the way.

  1. Socrates taught us that the role of the educator was much less about imparting knowledge and much more about asking questions that would lead people to a moment of insight or decision. Surely most of us, by now, have realised that the age of an admissions office as information bureau is over.

  2. Socrates also taught us that in almost every case the truth is already there or tacit - waiting to be remembered or made explicit. In modern times, writers such as Malcolm Gladwell have put this in a different way: often the decision we have to make, the choices we have to take, occur in the blink of an eye – and the complex business of justifying those decisions takes place after this fact. Again, let’s consider the possibility that many parents make their decision before we ever utter a word and that all our words, brochures and walks around the campus are simply ways of reinforcing an already-taken decision.

  3. Finally, Socrates taught us at the end of the maieutic relationship, the midwife disappears into the background; just as when a child is born, the focus is entirely upon the mother and child. Here again, parallels are plentiful. At a certain point, the admissions team is central to the school-family relationship. The reality is, however, it won’t last and perhaps, in the end, the significance of the admissions "moment" will vanish altogether.

In the end, Socrates knew that the key to understanding what he did was to look into his past. All I am suggesting here is that, every now and again, we remember to do the same.



bottom of page