For 23 years, the Athens Institute of Education and Research has never approved a presentation by an undergraduate student for its annual International Conference on Education. That changes this May, when KWU senior Alexander Botz takes his paper, “The Discipline of Dialogue: Discovering Student Empowerment through Conversation,” to Athens, Greece to be presented by himself and Dr. Meredith (Trexler) Drees, chair of Kansas Wesleyan’s Religion and Philosophy department.
“During his time as a student at KWU, Alexander has been instrumental in promoting the Socrates Café, both within and beyond the Religion and Philosophy Department,” said Dr. Drees. “The work he has done shows how recovering the discipline of dialogue in an inclusive and creative way, through a reinvigoration of ancient Greek Philosophical ideas, empowers students. It has been my privilege to support him in this important work.”
Botz, who will graduate from Kansas Wesleyan University this May, majors in Philosophy.
“[Philosophy] provided a way to ask questions that are important, but nobody seems willing to talk about,” he said. “Why is it that someone believes what they believe? Why do we do the things we do? They all sound like very abstract concepts, but knowing why is the foundation of understanding.”
As he moved through his Philosophy studies, Botz was repeatedly inspired by the Socrates Café discussions held as part of the KWU curriculum. Though the cafés become longer and more in-depth as students take upper-level Philosophy courses, they begin as informal discussions that teach students how to converse with each other respectfully.
“We seek to build a community within the classroom of people willing to speak openly and answer big questions,” he said. “You can learn a lot from a lecture, but when you talk with each other student-to-student, and you’re like, ‘Hey, what do you think this means?,’ it creates a powerful experience.”
Over the years, Botz watched how the Socrates Café meetings created a comfortable environment for students to share their beliefs. In turn, he decided to apply it to the Salina community through his current internship at First United Methodist Church.
Working as the research assistant for the Rev. Richard Fitzgerald, Botz prepares reports on subjects presented each month through sermons.
“We apply the Socrates Café method of discussion after these sermons,” he said. “I’ve learned so much with that. It’s not just college students — I’m seeing how it works with people two generations my senior. It’s just as inclusive and powerful there as it is within the classroom.
“The goal is: How can we, together, understand this topic better? Just sitting down with that shared goal in mind, it stops the meaningless debate. You build this community that shares openly with one another.”
With his upcoming presentation, Botz takes the idea of the Socrates Café a step further. After co-authoring an abstract about his paper, Botz and Dr. Drees submitted it to the Athens Journal for Education, where it was then accepted for a presentation.
“We’re going to talk a lot about how is it that these cafes work so well — how they help shape discourse in the future,” Botz said. “It doesn’t take much to teach people to be able to converse on these taboo, hot-button topics in a way that’s inclusive and respectful; these cafes do that, and they train you to ask the more important questions. It’s not just about you — it’s about you, what you think, what the person sitting across from you thinks and how both of you act.”
Topics discussed during past Socrates Café conversations include religion, gender and culture.
Being invited to present at the 24th Annual International Conference on Education is an honor all its own, but Botz sees his participating as a door to not only his future, but to the future of other students.
“I get to speak for undergraduate students everywhere at this conference,” he said. “I get to bring Kansas Wesleyan’s name to Athens. I’m a senior, this is a great opportunity for me, but I’m just so excited that I get to go out there for KWU, and I get to see what opportunities can be set up for the people after me.
“Kansas Wesleyan has more opportunities out there for astounding success, like the one I’ve been privileged to experience. You just need to go out there and look for it, and you will find it.”
The conference, which will take place from May 16-22, is only one step towards the future that Botz plans to create for himself. He intends to continue his education until he receives his Ph.D. in Philosophy.
“I want to teach,” he said. “That, more than anything else, is what excites me about philosophy. It’s not just a way for me to learn, a set of concepts for me to explore, it’s something that I can share with others.
“I want to make the world a better place, and philosophy is a good way to question: Am I doing good with my actions? Am I helping or am I hurting?”