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Coherence and Integration in the Development of the

By: Col Jim Benson, MSMC Ret.

The traditional military model of education is known for its emphasis on academic rigor, leadership skills, and character development. The academic rigor is well documented in the Academic Handbook, curriculum, course syllabi, and lesson plans. Leadership skills are developed and effectively documented in the JROTC program of instruction, the Corps of Cadets organization and rank structure, the military residence life program and activity schedule, and the Riverside Blue and White Books. The character development program is furthered through the bi-weekly Distinguished Speaker Program and Faculty-facilitated character development seminars, and the Honor Code.

It seems to me that our academic and leadership development programs are coherent, well-documented and effective. To ensure that the character development program possesses coherence and sufficient documentation to ensure we do what we say we do; I offer the following review of our Strategic Plan of June 28, 2010. I believe that repetition is important, and although I verbally reinforced the expectations outlined in the Strategic Plan and Academic Handbook to faculty recently, some were not present, and others who have an important role in cadet character development (TAC officers, cadet activity leaders, and coaches) may have never seen our plan and goals for character development.



Riverside Military Academy cadets receive a traditional American-style education where the personal values of selflessness, honor, and patriotism matter. Cadets respect the culture and religious beliefs of others and possess the poise and confidence to express their views with vigor and forethought. They understand history, literature, foreign language, science, mathematics, and communicate effectively in speech and writing. The faculty and staff realize that it is insufficient to educate the mind. They must also educate the heart, soul, and spirit.


The purpose of Riverside Military Academy (RMA) is to develop virtuous and competent young men who are prepared for success in college and positions of responsibility thereafter. The academic and military programs combine to produce young men of character, sound judgment, and commitment. Riverside graduates will embody the characteristics of an educated and engaged citizen – one who is critical to the governance of a free republic.


Riverside Military Academy will be a premier military college preparatory school that provides its graduates with the personal and intellectual attributes necessary for success in college and in life. The foundation of the RMA experience will be an integrated educational experience that develops the whole person.


The Mission of Riverside Military Academy is to prepare ethical young men of character for success in college and in life through the provision of a rigorous academic program, leadership opportunities, competitive athletics, extensive co-curricular activities, and the structure and discipline inherent in a military college preparatory school environment.


Goal 1.d. Graduating cadets will possess the ability to discuss and apply the characteristics of an effective and ethical leader.

Goal 1.h Graduating cadets will possess the ability to resolve moral and ethical issues through rational thought processes and enhanced moral reasoning skills.

Goal 2.g. The faculty will imbed instruction in character and ethical development enriching subject matter throughout the curriculum and co-curriculum.

Goal 4.b. In addition to contributing to the wholistic development of cadets…RMA (athletics) will inculcate the virtues of teamwork, sportsmanship, commitment, and wellness in all cadets.


Riverside purports to develop cadets in a wholistic way. Thus, the curriculum and co-curriculum should include material that leads to positive learning outcomes in the following dimensions: 1) integrity, 2) honesty, 3) ethical decision-making, 4) cultural appreciation, 5) social skills, 6) moral reasoning, 7) leadership skills, 8) sound judgment, and more. These outcomes should supplement those delivered, reviewed, and discussed in bi-weekly character development seminars. Thus, to the degree feasible, Riverside teachers will use case studies, examples of these dimensions, and more to teach these whole-person dimensions in a positive way. Course objectives should address whole-person outcomes/learnings, which should be imbedded in syllabi and lesson plans. Emphasis on the Honor Code is one way but is not the only way. Some courses (humanities mainly) lend themselves to this form of instruction.

It is not enough to talk the character development talk; we must walk the talk. Thus, it is important that our teachers, TACs, and coaches have access to the whole person dimensions that we proffer to develop in order to inculcate them into our academic, residence life, and athletic programs. Thus, the following whole person dimensions are offered to assist in their inclusion in our programs. Consistency in definitions is elusive in the whole person literature. However, for the purpose of our work, the following 15 dimensions with definitions are most frequently discovered in the literature.

– Esthetic appreciation – A sense of beauty in the arts, nature, etc.
– Character – Ethical behavior; honesty; integrity; or fortitude
– Citizenship, civic responsibility – Allegiance and support to one’s sovereign country; participation in local government and community activities; active and/or voting in local, state, and national elections.
– Identity – “Sense of self in a social, historical, and cultural context; self-acceptance; self-esteem.”
– Sound judgment – “The capacity to make reasonable decisions at home and in the workplace, especially those concerning the practical affairs of life; good sense, wisdom.” …the ability to combine hard data with questionable data and intuition to arrive at a conclusion that events prove to be correct.
– Leadership – …The ability to direct, influence, and motivate others to accomplish the mission and vision of an organization.
– Moral reasoning – The manner and process people use to decide and judge what is moral, immoral, ethical, and unethical.
– Social skills, etiquette, propriety, and decorum – “…codes governing correct behavior; consist of the prescribed forms of conduct in polite society.”
– Wellness, health – The sense of being in good physical or mental condition; evidence of energetic activity.
– Human understanding – compassion, empathy, and selflessness.
– Leisure interests and activities – the nature and time allotted to out of work activities.
– Sound family life – the attainment of family values.
– Lifelong learning – motivation for continuous learning post-college.
– Organizational skills and time management
– Cultural appreciation – appreciation for the various races, religions, and country/regions.

Note: A similarity exists between the dimensions of moral reasoning and sound judgment. For purpose of our work, judgment is considered more pragmatic and less tied to personal values than moral reasoning.

The list above is not all inclusive, and I invite you to add to the list as we walk our talk teaching and documenting as we provide an integrated and coherent educational experience at Riverside that truly develops the whole person.

Socratic leadership: Incorporating the Socratic Method in Leadership Development at Military Schools. By Dr. Frank Giuseffi (Former Academic Dean at Missouri Military Academy Adjunct Professor of Education at Lindenwood University – St. Charles, MO.

This is an exciting time in education. Educators must continually be aware of a global market that is demanding non-routine work and employees committed to a service sector that requires innovation, problem-solving and creativity in the work force (Kay, 2010). Associated with this reality, is a pivot in leadership that requires, as one military scholar noted, the qualities of a Lewis and Clark (Thomas, 2009) – the explorer, risk-taker and discoverer. School leaders, at the secondary and college level, must be ready to develop curricula that equips students with the necessary skills to become leaders for such current demands. The military school, whether at the high school, junior college, or four-year college level, is in a unique position to take advantage of the current educational landscape and workforce requirements. Military schools have always been identified as places for leadership training. Yet, while the concept of leadership remains constant in military schools, the methods and programs concerning leadership are changing. Successful professionals in this century must possess character, creativity, problem-solving, communication skills, teaming and leadership (Basset, 2009). Ironically, analyses of the ways we, as educators, can best lead our developing cadet leaders toward these skills of the future is by looking to the past, to the work of Socrates. As one scholar noted “If we harness them correctly, we can blend the best of our traditional intellectual linear culture – Socrates’ wisdom of the 5th century BCE – with the current digital culture, creating a new learning environment consistent with the cognitive and expressive demands of the 21st century” (Cookson, 2009). It behooves military school leaders to consider employing the Socratic method in order to prepare students to become productive leaders.

In this chapter I shall present a brief overview of the Socratic method. I will then offer practical information on conducting Socratic discussions. We will then look at a research study I conducted that investigated how sustained use of the Socratic method influenced cadet leadership skills. Lastly, I will present my findings and recommend future work military schools can do to improve cadet leadership skills through the Socratic method.

The Socratic Method

We obviously find early traces of this ancient technique in the teaching of Socrates. Socrates asked probing questions to his interlocutors and tested answers “against reason and fact in a continual and virtuous cycle of honest debate” (Cookson, 2009). As the facilitator of conversations, Socrates analyzed the relationship between ideas, played the devil’s advocate and was conscious of the feelings and dynamics of the group (Gose, 2009). This “virtuous cycle of honest debate” is also known as the elenctic method – questioning and answering through cross-examination (McPherran, 2011). In several dialogues Socrates’ elenctic method showed this consistent pattern: First, Socrates asked the interlocutor a question, for example from the dialogue, Meno “Can virtue be taught?” Once the interlocutor answered the question, several other questions were asked by Socrates that led the interlocutor (depending on which dialogue one reads) to modify his original answer, state a new answer, be unable to speak to what he actually knew, claim ignorance, was replaced with another interlocutor, or left in anger and bewilderment (Benson, 2011). We find examples of the above in the Euthyphro, Hippias Major, Charmides, and the Gorgias (Benson, 2011). Knowledge of these Platonic dialogues would be helpful to the serious Socratic practitioner.

Although educators may have knowledge about Socrates and his method, it is nonetheless essential that instructors who wish to be Socratic practitioners have, at their disposal, working definitions of the technique. Ultimately, the Socratic method is “a shared dialogue between teacher and students in which both are responsible for pushing the dialogue forward through questioning” (Reich, 2003). The facilitator of the discussion, whether that be the instructor or student, uses a variety of techniques in order to ensure that he or she is advancing (pushing) the discussion. In my experience, these techniques have included:

* Opening the discussion with an overriding, essential question
* Asking several other questions that supports the overriding question
* Including “real-world” examples in the supporting questions
* Paying attention to the body language of students; ensuring they are not always looking at the facilitator when speaking
* Caring for the dynamics of the group; helping develop mutual respect and civility
* Starting with a shorter, relevant text before assigning lengthy readings
* Including spontaneous questions when appropriate in the dialogue

As someone who regularly used the Socratic method in his classes, it dawned on me that along with improvement in critical thinking, thoughtful questioning, civility and intellectual confidence, this same method may be able to enhance leadership. This led me to a dissertation topic that asked if the Socratic method could influence the leadership skills of JROTC cadet leaders. The following is a description of my research study. Research Study on the Socratic Method and Leadership In the Spring of 2012 and the Fall and Spring of 2013, I, as the action researcher, set out to discover if the Socratic method influenced five of my students in my Western Intellectual History course. All cadet participants were JROTC leaders. As the action researcher, I collected data in the following ways: 1) a pre- and posttest using The Student Leadership Practice Inventory developed by Kouzes and Posner (2013); 2) weekly journal entries based on writing prompts; 3) a videography; 4) a Socratic method observation instrument, and 5) end of the year interviews. The Student Leadership Practice Inventory, a leadership instrument I would recommend military school educators consider using, is comprised of five “leadership practices.” These practices are Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act and Encourage the Heart. Each one of the leadership practices was further defined by six characteristics. This inventory was the pre- and post- test each cadet participant took in order to reflect on their leadership skills. The intention was to see if the emerging themes discovered through the other data collecting mechanisms (journal entries, videography, Socratic method observation instrument, and the end of the year interviews) aligned with the five leadership practices.

Journal entries were assigned every Friday. The prompts usually dealt with the philosopher’s thoughts being studied and its relationship to leadership. An example of a writing prompt was “How could Aristotle’s concept of the “mean” help leaders make informed decisions?” The videography consisted of video-recording four class sessions. The intention was to see if there were any emerging leadership themes that could be recognized. The Socratic Method Observation instrument consisted of “Socratic educational themes” the researcher deemed important; they were: critical thinking, listening skills, respectful behavior, probing questions, encourages thinking and participation in others, ethical behavior, and values and principles. Every Friday I would grade each cadet participant on each of these skills, giving them a grade of 1 (No evidence), a 2 (Some evidence) or a 3 (Full evidence). Lastly, the End of the Year interviews consisted of nineteen questions that included biographical data, experiences as a cadet leader, the relationship between ethical decision-making and class discussions, and the influence, if any, of the class discussions on their personal leadership development.

Readings in the Western Intellectual History course consisted of a survey of Western Philosophy, beginning with the works of Plato and ending with the thoughts of Hannah Arendt and Leo Strauss. Students were assigned nightly readings and had to discuss those readings the next day in class. As mentioned, I exclusively conducted the class using the Socratic method, and usually was the facilitator, though, at times, I gave opportunities for students to lead the class discussions.

At the end of the research time period, these themes emerged from the cadet participants:

Emerging themes – Journal entries

* Self-interest
* Connection as a leader to people’s interests
* Understanding of “self” and others
* Everyone working together
* Being a just leader
* Respect for subordinates Emerging themes – End of Year interviews
* Helping and caring for subordinates
* Improved confidence
* Intellect preceding will (thinking before acting) While both the videography and Socratic Method observation sheet helped me reflect on my pedagogy, neither data collecting instrument indicated enough consistent, thematic information to articulate any coherent findings. Although a small sample, the findings were no less significant. Three out of the five cadet participants in this research study felt, after the pre- and posttest, that they had improved their leadership skills as defined by the five leadership practices. The emerging themes found from the journal entries and end of the year interviews aligned with the five leadership practices which was the question I, as the researcher, initially wanted to know.

Along with these results, there were other unexpected findings that should be noted. First, the importance of journaling. Based on my experience, students master information and reflect on their own thinking and actions when they write down their thoughts. This keeps students focused on the material and connected to what is being covered in the course. Interestingly, the philosophers’ ideas – specifically those from Aristotle and Machiavelli made a direct impact on the cadet participants’ ideas on leadership. Indeed, the cadet participants seemed to appreciate Aristotle’s ideas on the “mean” in ethical behavior and Machiavelli’s analogy of the prince depending on the situation, act as either a lion or a fox. A question for military school leaders and educators to ask when developing a leadership curriculum is: Can Western philosophy assist in leadership formation? Based on this study, the answer would be yes.

This essay looked at Socrates’ teaching style that has come to be called the Socratic method. It also offered a practical working definition of the teaching method along with detailed information on implementing the method in class. Lastly, a specific research study that saw improvement in leadership skills through the Socratic method was presented. Although this was just one study, it would be beneficial for military school leaders, educators and instructors to begin research on how the Socratic method could influence leadership development among cadets. Military schools, through their JROTC and/or leadership departments, can use the Kouzes and Posner leadership inventory to gauge cadet self- perceptions of leadership while participating in Socratic dialogue. The action researchers can also inquire as to whether actual cadet leadership behavior based on real-world scenarios changed in any way after regular participation with the Socratic method. Military school Deans, Curriculum Directors and Instructional Designers can encourage classroom teachers to be action researchers, investigating the impact their use of the Socratic method can have on their cadets’ leadership skills.

I began this essay with the assertion that it is an exciting time in education. Military school leaders can benefit from this excitement by turning their schools into learning laboratories where teachers and administrators become researchers and inculcate in their cadets a desire to participate in deep, thoughtful Socratic discussion. The experience can enhance their leadership in a world that is calling for intelligent, productive leadership.


Bassett, P. F. (2009). Demonstrations of Learning for 21st Century Skills. Independent School Magazine. Retrieved from Learning-for-21st-Century-Schools.aspx

Benson, H.H. (2011). Socratic Method. In D.R. Morrison (Ed.), The Cambridge companion to Socrates (pp. 179-201). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Chafee, J. (2012). Thinking critically (10th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. Cookson, P.W. (2009, September). What would Socrates say? Educational Leadership, 67(1), 8-14.

Gose, M. (2009). When Socratic dialogue is flagging: questions and strategies for engaging students. College Teaching, (57)1, 45-49.

Kay, K. (2010). 21st century skills: rethinking how students learn. In J. Bellanca & R. Brandt (Eds.), 21st century skills: Why they matter, what they are, and how we get there (pp. xiii-xxxi). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Kouzes, J.M. & Posner, B.Z. (2013). Student leadership practices inventory. San Francisco, CA: Jossey- Bass.

McPherran, M.L. (2010). Socrates, Plato, Eros and liberal education. Oxford Review of Education, 36(5), 527-541. doi: 10.1080/03054985.2010.514433

Reich, R. (2003, Fall). The Socratic Method: What it is and how to use it in the classroom. Speaking of Teaching, 13(1), 1-4.

Thomas, J.J. (2009, October). Leader development in the U. S. Department of Defense: a brief historical review and assessment for the future. Paper presented at the International Military Psychology Conference, Tel Aviv, Israel.


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