Thursday, 25 June 2015

Dialogic education

The purpose of this post is to delineate why I prefer dialogic, not prescriptive, education. University, obviously, began in ancient antiquity as conversation. To learn was to enter into discussion, take into consideration the other person's viewpoint and thus synthesise a resulting argument. It was called 'dialecticism.' Yet dialogic education often seems very novel in the class room. Until not so long ago, you were prescribed Latin and Greek. If you were not of an academic disposition, you went off to learn metal work.

Education systems should foster individual learning. It is pointless to prepare you for the job market. You will hardly ever apply your studies to the workplace. Out of all the people who went to school, how many became lifelong learners? (Out of all the people who read Shakespeare at GCSE, how many read a novel? How would reading Shakespeare prepare you for stacking boxes? The disparity is palpable.) Education systems should just supply you with a set of tools, tell you how they work and tell you 'pursue what interests you.'

What is presented to the students should not be taken as sacred. The students should, if disposed, made to question what is being taught and thus enter into dialogue with it. As great as Shakespeare is, the problem with teaching him in a class room is that it often is heresy to ever question anything he ever did.

The class room should consists of an interplay of all the student's ideas. The teacher should not prescribe something as gospel. Rather, he should merely present an idea or a set of facts and open them up to discussion. Students should, in true dialectical manner, learn from each other's arguments and to accept or discard what's on offer.

It is often assumed that this pedagogic method is confined to the university seminar room. It is actually perfectly applicable to all stages of development. It is merely method; it does not presuppose difficulty. The teacher simply adopts the material from each key stage and uses these methods. Children mostly prefer to be taught this way. They are bored to tears when classes are rigid and prescriptive. To be more open-ended in this way encourages the child to be more creative, to express himself and provides an incentive to learn.

Yet, still, shockingly enough, some universities don't even teach in a dialogic way. I've been told that there are even some universities where students are meant to read facts in a textbook and regurgitate them in a test. Universities should help you to think critically and to present clear and cogent arguments. It should make you look beyond your comfort-zone by making you research thoroughly and to be selectively rigorous. Students who are not familiar with this are not learning in the proper sense.

Still, it is important to have a degree of classicism. It is important to cling onto the Greeks and to Shakespeare. The trouble with academia is that is became so revolutionary in the 1970s that it decided to do away with the canon and replace it with a extravagant kind of relativism. The intrinsic literary value of great works of literature are cast into doubt for the sake of confronting 'power' and 'truth.' A lot of chic post-modernist writers are taught (Derrida, Deleuze, Lacan, etc.). Students end up spending inordinate lengths of time studying what essentially amounts to fanciful piffle when they could be studying more important subjects. As an undergrad and a post-grad I remember the sense of frustration of having to plough through thinkers like Derrida and Deleuze. About 90% of both writers makes no sense to me. I remember feeling frustrated that I could be reading more history, political and economic theory and philosophical thinkers that I found fascinating but weren't taught. Instead I spent a portion of my time reading thinkers that essentially seemed meaningless and like a waste of time. Even when their core theses were teased out by the lecturers, I found them uninteresting.

So, essentially, I would advocate the kind of dialogic education outlined above. I would retain the canon and would not force-feed post-modernist relativism. (Forcing one thought system, which might well be relativistic, is in itself a form of absolutism.)  Instead, I would provide a variety of thought systems through which to engage with. Dialogism does not presuppose difficulty - it is simply a method through which to present given material. For that reason, it can be applied to all stages of development, starting from kindergarden.

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