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The Socratic Experience is a virtual school grades 3-12 that works in part by providing an immersion experience in intellectual activity. But what exactly does that mean?

First, let’s look at a concrete outcome, the increase in the complexity of a 9th grade student’s writing. This is a paragraph from her 1st quarter essay,

Education is really prioritized by the state and the country is sponsoring schools, elementary, middle and high school also higher education. It helps people become better citizens, get a better-paid job, shows the difference between good and bad. Education shows us the importance of hard work and, at the same time, helps us grow and develop. Thus, we are able to shape a better society to live in by knowing and respecting rights, laws, and regulations. Dadooland encourages its citizens to continue education after high school.

The Flesch-Kincaid readability index rates this as written at a 7th grade reading level. This is a paragraph from her 2nd quarter essay,

Media has had a major influence on nations, on the people and the government. Media is a linkage institution; it’s a structure within a society that connects the people to the government or centralized authority. It acts like a watchdog agency and informs the public of all actions taken that are necessary for the public to know. It in some cases has even helped to hold leaders or parties accountable for their actions and in some cases has helped by providing a different perspective, like it did in the Vietnam War when all officials were saying how great it was going and reporters showed the public what was actually happening.

The Flesch-Kincaid readability index rates this as written at a 14th grade reading level (college sophomore).

Beyond the complexity of prose style (which is largely based on the length of words and sentences), in her second quarter essay she is beginning to analyze how societal institutions work in a much deeper manner. In her first essay she is largely repeating platitudes about education. In her second essay she is analyzing the relationship between media and government.

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While she still needs to develop as a writer, the level of analysis in her second essay shows a student who is ready to perform well in an Advanced Placement (AP) Literature or History course, where much of the score is based on written analytical essays. Given the level of her writing as of the first quarter, she did not appear sufficiently developed as a thinker to do well on an AP exam. Given the level of her writing as of second quarter quarter, she now appears sufficiently developed as a thinker to do well on an AP exam.

So how do students develop their complexity of thought at The Socratic Experience?

First, we don’t “teach” it at all. Instead, students are immersed in daily intellectual activity, group conversations on ideas based on sophisticated texts. For instance, this student’s second essay was written in response to reading James Madison’s Federalist X, which is rated grade 19 by the Flesh-Kincaid readability index (advanced graduate school). The guides do not explain the texts, but instead ask students questions to guide them through analyzing the texts as a class.

Crucially, the bulk of the dialogue is student to student. This results in students being immersed in a peer environment in which the social norm becomes sophisticated intellectual analysis. Judith Rich Harris famously documented the fact that peer influences are much stronger than any adult influences are on teens. Teens will spontaneously pick up whatever social and linguistic norms which are exhibited by their peers. The language of peers is the primary language of communication for teens, regardless of the language used by parents and teachers. If peers smoke, then teens are more likely to smoke regardless of any anti-smoking lessons and regardless of whether parents smoke. Teens are designed by nature to imitate other teens. This is the most powerful force influencing other teens. It is much more powerful than any “lessons” given by adults.

Thus our educational strategy is not to “teach” (for the most part). Instead, it is to design an immersion experience in which it becomes socially normal for teens to discuss complex ideas with each other. This immersion experience then leads to greater intellectual sophistication, higher SAT scores, and greater AP success. Previous implementations include a charter high school ranked the 36th best public high school in the U.S. based on AP exams taken, with a passing rate double the national average. We’ve also seen SAT verbal score gains that are dramatically higher than average (in some years 10x).

Of course, we also provide high touch coaching of writing structure and organization from our guides along with peer feedback. With small ratios of 15:1 per class, a total teaching load of 30 students per guide, the guides are able to provide far more feedback than is possible for a public school English teacher with 120 students to respond to. In this respect, we are similar to other high touch expensive private schools, providing highly personalized attention from our guides.

But beyond the elite school experience, our secret sauce is creating an intellectually rich peer environment where teens learn to love discussing ideas and reading complex texts. That is how The Socratic Experience works.