What’s Happened To Meaningful, Instructive, Constructive, Respectful Discussion?

I have been a contributor to a discussion about the role of teachers, styles of teaching and accountability on another blogger’s blog this past week. It is unfortunate that the discussion became just another example of how discourse has become contentious and too often therefore meaningless and non-productive.

In this case a few that contributed comments late in the discussion misrepresented themselves as just wanting clarification on sentiments that were voiced. These contributors never identified themselves as having an agenda or the fact that they support a specific program for teaching. The comments they posted became condescending and shrill. Eventually the blogger was fed up with their use of his blog to push their agenda and attitudes and he attempted to cut them off. Next they used their blog to name call, bully and smear – and encouraged others to do the same.

This so obviously mirrors what is going on, mainly in politics, but increasingly also into daily discourse on many subjects these days about not having real discussion – but instead a tendency to attack and bully if someone doesn’t agree or shift their opinion to yours. This has dark implications in my opinion for fruitful discussion about important topics – for me as a teacher of course, discussion that could lead to meaningful changes and attitudes about what it means to teach and learn.

This brings me back to Stephen Downes post – Sameness – that I posted about awhile back.

“It seems to me that one thing educational theory has been unable to address is the possibility of multiple theoretical perspectives, the possibility that there is no one taxonomy, set of standards, methodology, etc., that will define The Way to do education.

Certainly, any approach to learning theory that suggests that an experiment can be conducted in (say) a double-blind model in order to test hypotheses in terms of (say) achievement of learning outcomes in my view demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the enquiry.

We need to move beyond consensus, beyond sameness.”

Learning is messy.

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6 thoughts on “What’s Happened To Meaningful, Instructive, Constructive, Respectful Discussion?

  1. Brian,
    It was interesting to read your analysis of where a blog discussion goes astray with adults and to use this to identify the trigger issues that might sidetrack discussion when when working with students.

    My best learning has come from dialogue – and although Adam Lefstein has identified that classroom discourse is still dominated by the non-dialogical IRE patterns of initiation (teacher) > response (student) > evaluation (teachers), and showed how the structural conditions of classrooms and schools make “dialogue on any general scale ….. simply impracticable” – he presented a pretty convincing keynote at ULearn06 in Christchurch New Zealand last month on ways in which Robin Alexander’s work on dialogic teaching helps deal with the realities of doing this in the classroom. Adam’s research paper is a great read and can be downloaded here

  2. Artichoke – Thanks for the link and the thoughts about the tie-in to class discussion. I’m still working on getting my fourth graders to work together to have meaningful discussion – so this is very timely.

  3. Learning’s not the only thing that is messy, so is arguing.

    Having a position is not the same as having a bias or an agenda. What matters is how well the position is supported. It is not a persuasive argument to merely point out that someone holding the opposite view is biased without providing a substantive refutation of their position. If the biases were in fact real, as opposed to imagined, this should be an easy matter. Running away from the argument is not intellectually honest. (And your use of over-heated rhetoric (“bullying.” “smearing,” “name calling”) is no different than the argument style you criticise.) Calling a debate a discussion is merely a way for the a party without substantive support for their position to maintain that position in the absence of proof. The predicate of having a fruitful debate is both party’s willingness to support their own position when challenged. If you can’t support your own position, why would the other party care what you have to say?

  4. Hi….I know essentially this discussion on the other site, was a place I took my concerns and some experiences from my teaching and simply was responding to a piece in a form I thought …maybe…provided a kind of real life example or …perhaps almost a kind of written response to what a first read in my context of living lead me to think about.

    So it was a kind of thinking aloud with a kind of audience piece I suppose. I didn’t really consider a comment to be an argument per se or a kind of factual, scientifically validated piece for the perusal of a judge or deconstructive writer, nor of course at the time I initially wrote in had I yet to learn about individuals who spend inordinate amounts of time sledgehammering others from their own child’s classroom teacher to other teachers/ed. writers/bloggers in general as a kind of anger management problem or personality disorder couched in highly developed dialectic “style” and hoping to engage in a playground kind of punching match and get into a long argument about who started it and whether it’s okay, really, to punch like this so long as Mom or Dad told you to defend yourself and you “had a good reason”.

    But actually, from this I learned a few things. Some “sides” in educational groups draw the lines in different ways than I learned to draw lines in personal behaviors. Some people misrepresent intention and discourse to their own ends like a bully pulpit, some individuals have really bad taste in their associates and some people are proud of behaviors that are embarassingly juvenile. And very unused to apparently providing an apology.

    I want to apologize however. I did answer back to some twisted logic in that original posting as I thought I’d failed really to communicate my meanings. Also in naivite, also simply because I don’t know some things all that well about internet discourse. And of course I rather apologize for a tendency towards longer comments and personalizing as reading something out of the exchange I see I generally shouldn’t do that….live and learn. I was/am an elementary teacher with real concerns about things happening with students. Lots to learn , and some few insights from working with children daily and watching that world well with daily written notes to myself to fall back on for memory strand, over 23 years…with a kind of introspective desire and a big willingness to admit I know very little and sometimes nothing at all.

    In the face of an increasingly rude, shouting, shoving phenom in modern culture with “survivors” and voting off and so much pop culture around telling off….its a time I know almost nothing apparently( from my teacher perspective) for it looks like a place from which nothing to assist humans with hurts and problems with needs and concerns into lives can be cared about. To me it feels like a kind of process is a foot to create an atmosphere where hate and anger is more acceptable, intolerance and deliberate deception is a process, making someone with an ethical dilemma comply or conform absolutely is a desired action, and for me, knowing very little, of the few things I do see , they lead me to conclude that in this process a force is being let loose once again in the world, one of many methods and faces and forms as Steinbeck once so cagily remarked, but obviously leading to some rather straight forward conclusions….and as I was wounded in this exchange a bit, disconcerted about playing a part, and stopped myself to think about why, and stopped from moving forward for a bit to articulate my meanings, slowed into self justifification…I feel I can speak to that.

    I know times are indeed changing….at any rate I’m sorry to you for my part of that unproductive line of thought. It was my intention to provide some views of a real teaching life and to allow a very good piece of wrtten questioning and thought to be answered back with a kind of gentle hello, I hear you. Failing to do that means as a teacher I lost my footing in carrying forth a kind of teacher as learner mission, and that is never acceptable to me. Sarah Puglisi.