Today we are sitting down with Michael Strong, husband to Tiossan founder Magatte Wade. Michael will be designing and implementing the academic program for Tiossan Academies in Senegal, to which 50% of our profits are dedicated. We thought the Tiossan community would be interested in learning more about details about our “Bottle of Ambition” project.
Hi Michael, thanks for joining us today. Can you tell us why the Tiossan Academy will feature Socratic dialogue?
I’d be happy to. The most important reason is to develop students’ abilities to be confident independent thinkers and creators. In traditional education, teachers lecture and students take notes. They are completely passive recipients of knowledge. In the dialogue sessions I’ve developed, students work through intellectually difficult materials on their own, learning to defend their own ideas while learning to read challenging texts and thereby become confident, articulate advocates of their own beliefs. I want to help the next generation of Senegalese to be confident and capable enough to stand their own ground against anyone on earth while developing their original visions.
How does Socratic dialogue fit with Montessori?
Montessori education is primarily an approach to pre-school and elementary education that does a brilliant job of developing capable independent learners. Several leading Montessorians regard Socratic dialogue as an appropriate secondary school sequel to Montessori elementary education because it continues to develop capable independent learners, but with regard to more abstract materials than are used in Montessori education, which is focused on the concrete. In addition, in Montessori elementary education, children are expected to work independently, whereas in Socratic dialogue we work in groups. This is developmentally appropriate because children become much more socially-oriented as they enter adolescence.
How does it integrate with Senegalese culture?
Socratic dialogue itself is culturally neutral – it is simply the art of asking questions to clarify the foundations of opinions. As a consequence, we can use texts from Senegalese cultural traditions along with texts from other global cultures. Our primary purpose will be to provide young minds with “The Habit of Thought” (the title of my book on Socratic dialogue). The content of what they think about will be very focused on how to remain true to their cultural roots while developing the ability to become global citizens in the 21st century.
How does it promote creativity and entrepreneurship?
The Senegalese are naturally creative and entrepreneurial – Dakar is the music capital of Africa and the Senegalese diaspora are entrepreneurs around the world. Our job is not to develop creativity and entrepreneurship – it is to provide a world-class education while not killing the naturally creative and entrepreneurial spirit of the Senegalese. Existing education in Senegal is too often a top-down neocolonial approach in which an antiquated French education is forced upon young Senegalese students. The result is that those who complete such an education are often removed from their Senegalese roots and trained in passivity and dependence rather than developed as entrepreneurial creators.
What is your background?
I spent fifteen years creating innovative K-12 schools in the U.S. based on Montessori, Socratic, and entrepreneurial principles. One of the private schools I created was the most academically advanced school in the U.S., a charter school I created was ranked the 36th best public high school in the U.S. I have consulted for schools and universities around the world. I especially love liberating young minds.
And, of course, I’m married to the fabulous Magatte Wade, the most beautiful and visionary woman on earth, with whom I’ve spent many months in Senegal. I feel very at home there and love the Senegalese culture. I look forward to spending even more time there creating the Tiossan schools.