Dialogue

I have been reading Mariana Funes wonderful post “Show don’t tell“. The title struck me as a link to my earlier post entitled Silence? and Frances Bell’s response to it! Bearing witness is a reponsibility and I have changed the tagline accordingly! This is a brief response to Mariana’s post, also posted as a comment there.

I have been working in online learning in collaborative contexts for some time, and the issue of co-presence, and the nature and value of silences has been a recurring challenge. I have found that in blended courses it is possible to maintain, in the online space, a “third ear” that has been first developed in a room, if and only if a good amount of the room time is dedicated to listening to the learners and getting to know them. Even in completely online courses there are ways, albeit imperfect, of developing the “third ear”. But they require interaction and close listening, in other words a preliminary non-silence. Deeper silence remains opaque. But I sense that there are ways into it to be discovered. Non-invasive ways.

While the irony of a discussion of the meaning of silence is not lost, what stands out to me from a reading of Megan Boler’s article is the need to explore the modes, contexts and dynamics of silences. Notions such as listening, reflection (not the reporting of reflection but the reflection itself) and the fear of silence seem to me to require exploration and understanding. I think there is also a need to explore the ways in which silence, speech and engagement intermesh, there is speech that is to all intents and purposes empty, and there are monosyllabic ways of being eloquent. There is perhaps dialogue between speech and silence and ways of engaging across silences and speech. These notions are inchoate right now and need exploring. But there seems to me to be a prior stage…

I worked for some time, about 7 years ago, on the idea of dialogue as a basic sine qua non of meaningful online learning. It seemed so clear that Bohmian dialogue could permit the kind of listening and deeper exchange that can facilitate deeper engagement and learning. We developed an approach and presented, and fell at the first hurdle. The mere concept of dialogue (as in Bohm) is simply not widely understood, and even when explained, the need for it is not recognised. I see this everywhere I go (for most dialogue seems to be simply a synonym for conversation) and I am seeing it in the #moocmooc conversations too. It seems to me that the first hurdle is to achieve recognition that dialogue is even necessary.

It is a challenge though, and it reminds me of the notion of the spiritual aspects of silence as being anathema to education and politics. In some of the discussions recently in the #moocmooc tweetchats, stemming out of reading bell hooks, the difficulty of finding a place for the spiritual in education was discussed. I have the sense that recognition of dialogue and recognition of the spiritual as dimensions of education form part of the same challenge.

The issues resonate particularly as I am currently working on the design of a secondary school that will be based on yoga philosophy and ethics, in which meditation and dialogue will play a central role. I would very much like to explore this challenge, and the ensuing exploration of the modes, contexts and dynamics of silences. Mariana’s list looks to me like a good place to start!

I am also fascinated by the notions of insight dialogue, and digital dialogue blogging. Both are new to me, and I am looking forward to exploring them. Thankyou!

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The elephant in the room

It was a joy to read the bell hooks text for last week on #moocmooc (Chapter 1 of Teaching to Transgress) and find Thich Nhat Hahn mentioned in bell hooks’ text. I highly recommend his work, True Love especially. bell hooks’ emphasis on the need for engaged pedagogy to address spiritual as well as intellectual development is very valuable.

Kris Shaffer wrote of that this week, and of the way academia seems to have expunged the spirit. Talk of the spirit, or the soul is viewed by many as “flaky”. But there seems to be an artificial dichotomy between a materialist and a spiritual view that leaves little room for any understanding between the two poles. But there is a sense, present in Kris’s post, that the spiritual infuses the material, though it can even be risky to mention it. For some the spiritual is the elephant in the room.

Thich Nhat Hahn has written eloquently about the value of meditation in learning. I am currently exploring how the introduction of yoga and meditation practices into teenagers’ lives can help to improve their well-being, and their learning. (Some call it mindfulness, perhaps to slip it under the materialist radar). There are strong indications form research and stronger indications from experience, that the practice of yoga, the physical work and the breathing and meditation techniques that form such an important part of it, tends to help people become more able to listen, more self-aware, and more autonomous. This autonomy is what makes it possible for them to be more present in and engage more fully with the different social spaces and groups they inhabit.

This weekend was an exciting weekend. A group of us (Charlotta, Becky, Alan, Jo, Cata, Candace , Tristessa) came together to start to discuss a new project: a secondary school informed by yoga, which can be understood as a science of well-being. Critical pedagogy was a strong clear thread that ran through the conversations, and as might be expected when a bunch of teachers come together, for some of the day we were sharing stories of the damage done by the banking approach. We also talked about how difficult it can be to use “dodgy” words like “joy”, “spirit” and “love” in pedagogical contexts, but more importantly about how using them can be transformative. We are working on structuring the vision that arose from the conversations.

Silence?

I was brought up to participate. My education taught me that it is important to contribute to discussions, and share my views. I was expected to have views, and I was given a voice by my teachers.
Last week we were asked in #moocmooc to create a feminist video/blogpost. I spent the week thinking about what a feminist blogpost, written by a white male, would look like. I wanted to share the outrage I felt as I read Anita Kardeeshian’s week of harrassment. I wanted to lament that a project such as Everyday Sexism should be necessary. I wanted to make intelligent comments about patriarchy and abuse….

I started writing a few times, and stopped. I was stumbling around the subject and I felt a strong sense that I was not contributing usefully so much as trying to alleviate my own discomfort.
I thought about all the episodes of Rebecca Solnit’s “mansplaining” I have heard recently, wondered if I had done that, felt I hadn’t, recognised that quite possibly I had. I thought of white males at conferences standing in Q and A to give their talk about the talk, and about the dynamics of male occupation of meetings. I thought about how it might be so refreshing if men just shut up for a while. So I shut up.
I want to speak, but I sense that to do so may not be helpful. I have a sense that for white males to give their considered “feminist” perspective, however reasonable it might sound, is simply unnecessary, and even to do so is to raise a whole series of assumptions about male and female voices, legitimacy etc. Silence is respect – listen and learn.
But silence can also be abdication of responsibility. Sexism is built on silence. The question becomes how to speak up.
Perhaps a white male perspective on feminism must necessarily be stumbling and clumsy. Without the lived experience, how can it be otherwise? But I believe it is possible to listen, and then listen some more, and it is possible to call sexism sexism where it appears, and bear witness…
Last week I read that a survey on gender violence of 2500 people between 15 and 29, carried out by the Spanish Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality found that physical gender violence was considered “unacceptable” by 92% of males. I wonder about the other 8%. In addition to that, 33% considered it “inevitable” or “acceptable” that they should monitor their partner’s schedule, prohibit them from seeing family or friends, not allow them to work, or study, or simply tell them what they can or can’t do. (Source: El Mundo)