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a building and in thinking. Therefore, maieutic teaching is equally necessary, and unfortu- nately, too many teachers have not been exposed to the best practices of teaching rhetoric, Socratic inquiry, and problem definition and solution or in eliciting creative and original thinking. Due to the unintended consequences of allowing technological limitations to drive our pedagogy, maieutic teaching has often disappeared from the classroom, even though it is a necessity for developing children’s intellectual skills, and in reality, is vital for survival.

As a framework for all of the so-called “soft skills,” team or collaborative learning is a great start. As Professors Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey (2008) of San Diego State University re- port in “Releasing Responsibility,” “Collaborative learning transfers more responsibility to students, yet provides them with peer support. In any content area, students learn more and retain information longer when they work in productive groups” (p. 36). And this method of teaching/learning should extend across all content areas; that way students become profi- cient thinkers because, as the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2008) correctly points out, we must redefine “rigor as mastery of both academic subjects and 21st century skills. This is not an either-or agenda.”

These “soft skills” are unfamiliar territory to most students and teachers because the skills deal with ambiguity, not certitude. They are the subjective ideas with no right or wrong answer. Which political party, car, house, or spouse is best for me? What career should I pur- sue? What is my place in society? Who am I? Who are you? What is my purpose in life? What do I want to accomplish? In what way can I help humanity? What does it mean to be human? These are “big ideas,” these are the value of the humanities, and their greatest value is that they provide a person with a context, and therefore his or her own unique reason – born out of self-conviction – for self-motivated learning, the real basis for life-long learning.

As Socrates taught us, a group with a skilled leader is the best setting to wrestle with subjective ideas and form opinions; intellectual midwifery as he called it. Not only does it hone the arts of persuasion, listening, leadership, social conduct, tolerance of other opinions and of ambiguity, but most especially the softest skill of all: being able to hold another’s opinion in one’s mind without necessarily agreeing with it. It is a skill that Aristotle said “made us human.” This is still true today; the only thing that has changed is the way we access information.

Conclusion

Framing the argument as hard facts plus soft skills, rather than hard facts versus soft skills will avoid an unnecessary schism among the leaders, researchers, and commentators who shape our schools. We should welcome and value the skills that have been in our intellectual tradi- tion for over two millennia and have recently been sorely missed. Thankfully, supplementing

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Virginia Educational Leadership

Vol. 7 No. 1

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