The Socratic Thinking Method Applied To Snowden

Using the news to teach critical thinking

Today's Question: What should an average citizen do when faced with wrongdoing?

Here's an editorial from the New York Times about Snowden. The article "tried to avoid the usual hero/traitor dichotomy" but if you take a look at the 550 comments, few take the middle ground.

Now, that reveals something.

First, the number of comments reveal that people have formed opinions; second, they are serious enough about those opinions to take time to write.

Note: There is a guideline that pollsters use that for every person who takes the time to write his/he opinion, there are at least 10 others who think the same thing, but didn't write. Members of Congress use this guideline too.

So my question to you, parents,

  • is how does one teach children the truth? 
  • How do we teach them to think?
  • How do children arrive at their own truth? 
  • Do they simple fall in line with what their parents believe? 
  • Why do some people believe he is a traitor? 
  • What criteria do they use to draw this conclusion? 
  • Why does a whistleblower law exist? 
  • When was it created? 
  • Why was it created? 
  • What would you want your child to do when faced with wrongdoing? 

Reading this article with your children and perhaps discussing truth and opinions at the dinner table (so long as it stays open and not didactic), can help children to reason and think more clearly.

  • How do parents create children who are involved in their country's events?
  • Should parents teach their children to be involved in making this world a better place to live?

I encourage your opinions on this post. Or continue below to read more about Socratic questioning. 

What would Socrates have thought about the Snowden saga? How could the Socratic thinking method get to the truth about Edward Snowden?

Answer: By using the same method of questioning, we, as parents, can teach our children to think critically about all subjects. Just as Socrates believed that the only valid method of discovering truth is by questioning, parents can help their children improve their thinking skills by using  common sense and common speech. 

Since I homeschool high school for my three teenage sons, part of every learning day involves reviewing and discussing the news from the United States, but when they began their days asking the questions,

  • So what's going on with Snowden today?
  • Has he gotten asylum from Ecuador?
  • "Mom, is this guy a traitor or a hero?"

I knew I had their interest, but with all the conflicting commentary out there, one of my sons finally asked the $64,000 question. How do we know what the truth is?

 And with that, I could see that here was an excellent educational opportunity, not only for developing their critical thinking skills and identifying fallacious thinking errors, but also specifically the Socratic thinking techniques.

Six Socratic Thinking Categories

Socratic thinking involves discovering the truth by asking questions, usually in these six categories:

  • clarification,
  • examining preconceived ideas or assumptions,
  • questioning evidence,
  • examining alternative points of view,
  • determining the consequences of one's position, and
  • questioning the motives of the questioner's questions

Rarely do homeschooling parents get such an opportunity to teach their children about critical thinking on such a controversial topic!  So here´s a group of questions and topics on the Snowden affair and how we discussed it in order to enhance our Socratic thinking.

First, we watched Snowden´s video interview in Hong Kong and noted that it was conducted by reporter Glenn Greenwald with The Guardian, the same newspaper that also interviewed Julian Assange when he published leaked documents.

  • Why did Snowden interview with The Guardian and not a US newspaper? (evidence)
  • What information has been leaked? (clarification)
  •  What conclusion can one make about the US government? (evidence)
  •  Snowden? (alternative perspective)
  •  and the American people about this leaked information?
  • What part of the Constitution is allegedly violated by this NSA activity? (clarification)

Another part of our Socratic thinking lesson was clarifying the terms: whistleblower and traitor. At, the definition of a whistleblower is a person who informs on another or makes public disclosure of corruption or wrongdoing. Generally, when that wrong doing is something sanctioned by the US government, then, it´s difficult for the whistleblower to protect his life if a grand, public disclosure is not made.

  •  Does Snowden fit this definition of whistleblower? (Clarification)
  • Who benefited most from the disclosure of his information? (viewpoint)
  • Who was damaged most from these disclosures? (An alternative viewpoint)

       A traitor, on the other hand, which is what former vice president Dick Cheney and others have called Snowden, is one who divulges secrets about his country that endanger its security. We also learned from our readings that traditionally a traitor betrays to another country or for payment. That doesn't seem to have happened in this case, however.

 Here's a funny, yet serious too, recent interview with John Oliver. It will allow us to see the "fallout" from Snowden's actions. 

  • Has Snowden received payment from any person or country? (evidence)
  •  If he´s received payment, why isn´t he living in that country under its protection? (viewpoint)
  • What will Snowden do for money? (consequences)        

As a result, the boys have concluded to this point that Snowden´s information admittedly discloses that the government, via the NSA  (this time) is spying on millions of unsuspecting Americans through their cell phones and emails, but they remain unconvinced  that it will topple the government.

Socratic Thinking and the Bill of Rights

I showed my sons a copy of the Preamble to the Constitution , and the Fourth amendment in the Bill of Rights. Then, we brainstormed these ideas: 

  • What do you think insures domestic Tranquility? (Clarification )
  • What does  secure the Blessings of Liberty mean? (Clarification)
  • List the  protections that are guaranteed to citizens in the 4th amendment?

4th Amendment in The Bill of Rights

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall be issued, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Are the Columns Crumbling at the "Fourth Estate"?

Following words like whistleblower in news articles and editorials indicate what side the author or reporter is on in this story. Words like ¨so called whistleblower¨ also note a writer´s slant. While it is impossible for a reporter to not have an opinion, in Socratic thinking, one must be able to note slant and bias in reporting in order to understand.

Then, we read about the New York Times Andrew Ross Sorkin´s comments on CNBC Monday morning: ¨ I feel like, A, we’ve screwed this up to even let him get to Russia. Then, he added, “I’d almost arrest Glenn Greenwald,” New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin said.

Whoa! My journalism is showing. I tell my sons that this is the same New York Times  that 42 years ago published the Pentagon Papers, and today a reporter is saying : ¨We screwed this up.

I also showed my sons a copy of the first amendment and had them read it. 

  •  Mom, what was the point of that question? (Questions about the question.) 
  •  Why do you think I asked that question?  (perspective)
  •  “Sons, from what perspective do you think I asked that question?” (Question about viewpoints and perspectives)
  •  ¨Who´s the WE? (The fourth estate and the federal government?)
  • Why do you think freedom of the press is listed in the 1st amendment? (What was the perspective/viewpoint of the writers of the US Constitution?)
  •  What is the fourth estate? (Clarification) 
  •   [Here is an excellent essay on the importance of the Fourth estate and its responsibilities to monitor the three other estates, or branches of government. ]
  • What are the consequences for a country that doesn’t exercise or protect its “Fourth estate” or its freedom of the press?      

Then, we watched the reporter back pedal or ¨spin¨ the next day. Below is the video. 


  •   Which is more believeable, what is said on scheduled live TV broadcast or the explanation the next day after it´s been criticized? (evidence)    

Part Two: Is This Just An Old-Fashioned Cat Fight?

Since the Snowden saga plays out over many weeks, I’ve divided this article into several parts.  Next installment in Socratic thinking:  A Different Perspective: Is this a cat fight between the CIA and the NSA? 

I invite you to keep up to date with each new page, as well as the upcoming installments of this three-part series on Socratic thinking and the Snowden saga. Please leave your comments below. 

To read the next installment about who Edward Snowden is, click on this link now. 

For suggestions on how to improve your reading skills, visit this page now. 

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