Give me Socrates any day. Especially when it comes to school in the traditional sense.
As an 18 year old -- terribly naive and unfamiliar with what it took to engage a conversation beyond one or two superficial comments -- I ended up in a freshman seminar with a wild ex-Dept. Chair named James West at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. The focus? Communism and Facism in literature. Not what I wanted (the Vietnam War was my top choice, I recall), but it was a life changer for me. No, not because I was a fan of either totalitarian system, but because this frighteningly intellectual professor had a way of enacting a Socractic dead-grip on each of us in the class until one by one we began to truly analyze each text before us.
I still recall almost every discussion we had and its been over 15 years, while 90% of the rest of my college courses I can barely recall other than a few random facts. And I can say that what he did intutively and intentionally, asking each student to be prepared to speak for 90 minutes on a text each time they walked into a class (without apologizing to them) and rigorously using Socratic questioning tactics to challenge their arguments, stayed with me each day I taught for many years ahead.
All of this came back to mind recently in a blog post where Bill Belew recently offered up a quick reflection upon the "Top 10 Talking Schools" here in the US. I'm thinking that a list like this -- far more than the many lists that pre-college students often memorize -- would serve a kid very well when it came to applying to schools. Here's are the schools he lists from the Princeton Review list-happy folks:
10. Sweet Briar College - www.sbc.edu
9. Bard College www.bard.edu
8. College of the Atlantic - www.soa.edu
7. Reed College www.reed.edu
6. Hampshire College www.hampshire.edu
5. Bennington College www.bennington.edu
4. Simon's Rock College of Bard - www.simons-rock.edu
3. Wesleyan College www.wesleyan.edu
2. Sarah Lawrence College www.sarahlawrence.edu
1. Eugene Lang College - The New School for Liberal Arts www.lang.edu