We encourage Conversations in four ways:

  1.   Conducting Socratic Conversations on the campus of  Columbia University (first item below).

  2. Speaking on "The Joy and Power of Conversation" and related topics - www.RonaldGross.com.

  3. Consulting and Training on using Conversation/Dialogue to improve performance in organizations, especially for  Strategic Planning, Creativity, Decision-Making, and Collaborative Action (www.RonaldGross.com).

  4. Conducting the longest-running conversation group in the U.S. (21 years) – the Socrates Salon at the public library in Great  Neck, New York.

For dates and topics of upcoming Conversations, please check the home page. Announcements appear in the right hand column.

at the Gottesman Libraries at Columbia University

The spirit of Socrates is alive and well at the Gottesman Library at Teachers College, Columbia University.   Socratic Conversations are held twice a month, conducted by Ronald Gross, author of Socrates Way which has been translated into 22 languages including Chinese, French, Japanese, Spanish.  He also co-chairs the University Seminar on Innovation in Education (www.columbiaseminar.org).   The Socratic Conversations program is directed by Jennnifer Govan,  assistant director of the Libraries.

The purposes of Socratic Conversations are to:
  1.  stimulate thinking about important ideas and issues,

  2. enrich the intellectual atmosphere on campus,

  3. strengthen the sense of community, and

  4. model dialogue and discussion as ways to learn collaboratively and “construct knowledge.
Topics of these Conversations have included Creativity, Home, Holidays, Happiness, Traveling, Leadership, Love, Truth, Money, Disabilities, Wisdom, Cheating, Katrina, Beauty, Patriotism, Friendship, God, Luck, Media, Status, Rationality, Consumerism, Food, Citizenship, and others.

Conversations have also been held concomitant with major events, conferences, and issues including:

  • the launching of the Spike Lee LEVEES Curriculum
  • Disabilities Awareness Week
  • The International Symposium on African and Diasporic
  • Languages and Education
  • the Principal’s Academy
  • the Noose incident
  • Patriot’s Day
  • Exam Week
  • Global Education Equity Conference
  • Homecoming Week
  • the Satya Graha Forum, a series of events held concomitant with Philip Glass’ opera about Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence
  • Commemorative events on campus on the 40th anniversary of the 1968 student protests
  • Global Conversation Week, joining hundreds of groups in 140 countries discussing 10 key questions

More than 1,000 persons have attended one or more sessions. Attendance has ranged from 6 to 36, averaging 16.

Evaluations completed by participants have averaged an overall rating of 4.87 (on a scale from 1 – 5) over 24 sessions, accompanied by highly enthusiastic comments.

"You are keeping Socrates alive at the Library," says Prof. Robert McClintock. Among other faculty and administrators who have attended sessions are Professors Hope Leichter, Janice Robinson, Megan Laverty, Margaret Crocco, Richard Keller, and Teachers College President Susan Fuhrman.

The Conversations have helped to re-define the Libraries as a place for intellectual and academic discussion, not just a study hall and research center. Students are continually aware of the Conversations via flyers, large posters, electronic bulletin board, participatory flip-chart, listings, coverage in TC publications, etc.

The Conversations have impacted on academic learning, as evidenced by several papers written by graduate students, either developing ideas generated in a session (such as on “Ableism”), or reflecting on the methodology (such as on “Connected Knowing”, a form of Transformative Learning).

Several participants have been impelled to convene conversations of fellow-students; as one of them wrote: “We seem to study so much theory and philosophy, and usually only discuss it within the academic structure of the class (except in limited conversations amongst friends). It is wonderful to have a larger conversation about some things we can’t really touch on in class.”

The impact of the Conversations already extends beyond Teachers College. The session on the Spike Lee curriculum was videotaped for use in training teachers nationwide in using discussion methods. Teachers and administrators from other institutions have visited the Conversations as possible models for adoption, including Adelphi University, New York City public schools, Hunter High School, Ramapo College, All Soul’s Church, and the community-based Café Philos in New York. The Conversations have been covered on ABOUT.com, the New York Times-owned internet portal which is one of the top ten such sites, and by the leading website on Conversation culture.

A qualitative evaluation of the Project conducted by Prof. Elizabeth Cohn, Assistant Professor of Nursing at Columbia, concluded that:

“These Socratic Conversations foster the intellectual growth of participants. They provoke fresh thinking about significant ideas and issues. They exemplify the potential of collaborative learning via dialogue. They enrich the cultural climate at TC.”