Teaching As Dialogue

Posts related to my book “Teaching As Dialogue”

In an article which appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, (“Waiting for Goffman” – by Michael Dirda -Sept. 17, 2010), I got excited, reminiscent; wondering about Goffman… as well as about myself.

Wondering how we study the human these days, I currently find myself wandering more into socio-political arenas (given these “interesting times”), than “merely” trying to describe and understand the world. But I’ve spent so many years trying to “see and study” the human in our most…basic terms: e.g., the human body – socially, developmentally, interacting, ageing, being and seeing others, and or via ourselves. (“Body Journals,” “Foundations Project,” “Language and Human Nature.” And I think I’ve “exhausted” those subjects.

Dirda “gets off” on Goffman’s magnificent prose, but also on the depth and breadth of his observations: as Goffman tried to explore the world as “an ethnographer of small entities.” As I now refer to myself as an “anthropologist of the Ordinary” – I relate very well to the title and ideas behind the first book: “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life” – a most expansive framing of the worlds in which we all wander, but… exploring who we are “behind” our public persona.

Goffman was “some kind” of Sociologist-Anthropologist who wrote beautifully, and was one of the best-ever observers of various persons interacting in varying circumstances.

And he was my “big brother”. Big brother, because we were/are heavily influenced by the same teacher-person: Ray Birdwhistell (who doesn’t show up in Dirda – but he always was the primary base for Erving’s and my thinking about… most everything. Birdwhistell who Goffman met at the U. of Toronto; me, somewhat later at SUNY Buffalo – he was our primary teacher, model, incite/insight/excite: the “best observer” I ever met. Similarly for Goffman.

Birdwhistell sent us both to U. of Chicago where we fell under the thinking of various practitioners of “Symbolic Interaction” deriving from G. H. Mead, whose ideas seem now to be “creeping” back into a field which has practically been overtaken by Sociobiology and/or by Neuropsychology and other psychologies which don’t pay much attention to the interactional-social facts of our very being.

Dirda’s celebratory piece is excited by Goffman, and wonders why he has mostly “disappeared” from public view after a good, long run in Sociology, and currently in some parts of Comparative Literature.

Well: the history of ideas and academic power overtook Birdwhistell, and then myself. I’ve been trying to revive and extend Goffman and Birdwhistell’s ideas> (Plus, Birdwhistell was the best observer I’ve ever met – in many circumstances… all of human… life.)

While Goffman “enjoyed” quite great success, his teachers and little brother got “wiped out” in what I call the Chomskyan “revolution” in ideas – where the study of the human got displaced (still is) by the notion that the human being is centrally a mind/thinker, not a body in such complex interactions.

Goffman who was finally a “university professor” at Penn, was able to “rescue” Birdwhistell and got him a position there after he was “let-go” from his study of human-interaction at Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute as support for these studies just “went away” and our careers much diluted.

Via Curriculum Studies— Henry Giroux on Freire’s Lessons for Now!
Dec 1, 2010 … Lessons to Be Learned From Paulo Freire as Education Is Being Taken Over by the Mega Rich. Tuesday 23 November 2010. by: Henry A. Giroux, …

Henry Giroux has been really ranting lately, inspired by Paulo Freire’s work and thinking: especially “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” – and especially the “political” understanding of education in these times of politics bending toward money and power… and control of students’ thinking.

I mostly agree… but a good bit of Freire has disappeared in the name of politics being overtaken by economic analyses and control of the very nature of education.

Education in the Western world – perhaps most especially – is being attacked by the rich and lovers of the rich – who oppose the public schools, the teachers who tend to find solace and power in unions, life tenure, pensions, and all. Charter Schools, private schools. Blah! On public schools and on the public.

Even most liberals (Obama…so far anyway) have gone for control of teachers and teaching, supporting “No Child Left Behind” – presumably as ways to “success” for students. Do what I/we tell you, and how we tell you, and…!

Giroux’ hero – rightfully, but for at least some different reasons – has been Freire whose book has sold well over a million copies. But his ideas continue to be fragmented by the would-be powers – and his “methods” of education, particularly “dialogue” have apparently yielded to the anti-politics of Giroux invocating money – now controlling politics. “Critical pedagogy” is Giroux’s Freireian term for what is missing increasingly in the current war for our future: thinking and being.

Freire would get (especially poorer) students to study and understand the power and motivations which got them educated effectively to prolong and promote the power of the few – by not attending to the “banking” and “telling” methods which the rich and powerful imposed on most students.

“Learn what I tell you!” Never mind contexts and methods which effectively keep most students in their “proper” places: learn what I tell you – never mind the fact that I-the-teacher – am guarding the status quo by convincing you that this is “way” of the world – no questions asked. Just learn what I tell you, as efficiently as possible. It’s all politics… but the politics remain “hidden” and y’all don’t ask no questions! The world of the powerful remains “distant” and effectively hidden to the students. Increasingly efficient!

So much to agree with – especially in these times of attacks on schooling, teachers – especially as so many education systems of other countries seem much more “successful” than ours.

But much, so deep, is left-out… omitted from this particular if not exactly narrow analysis. Particularly people, persons – everyone: teachers and students – have no clear “presence” in this world. Presence: persons, thoughtful, development of the very nature of clarity over the course of the entire course, so it can enter students’ being… perhaps especially after the course is “over.”

Here I’m quoting Freire – who I invoke in my book and course: “Teaching as Dialogue.” Freire’s major way-out of the power-pinch is Dialogue. And most of the educators who Freire-ise education invoke the term: but apparently only a few of us seriously explore and apply dialogue in our teaching-being.

I want to “touch” the futures of my students – I would love to be “remembered” as “inspiring” their futures. But much about “me” – a person – much about them being and becoming who they would be. Mostly the Freireians don’t seem to be “present” – strong, memorable… characters…who “remain” some places in “their” students’ ongoing thinking.

(Can I be remembered, have power without being very “oppressive” in their thinking? Am I “good enough” to deserve having some presence in their lives? Or is this just a “different” route to power and control from the past: more than inspiring “my” students to study and develop their own personal framings of… power and control.) Whew! (If Socrates only realized that his idea of dialogue was always to know all the “answers” to his question-ing!)

So: enough to begin/continue the study of Freire, amidst the facts of his being still inspiring me, most days as I teach, and am a teacher. Growing with my memories and appreciations of his work and thinking.

But a “true” dialogue? – a lifetime pursuit… and then some.

Why do so many teachers invoke their anti-politics, even as they (don’t find themselves) don’t enrich their own teaching in the practicings of dialogue?

[Download the PDF version or read the full text below. Updated from previously published version in Organization, May 2001; vol. 8: pp. 403 - 415.]

Abstract. My vision for the future university acknowledges the facts of rapid change in the world. It attempts to conserve the idea of the university as structures and process by centering the university on a study of changes as they are redefining knowledge. As vision, it asks that faculties join in Centers for the Study of the Present Age to discuss, teach and attempt to shape the futures of Science and Technology and their ramifications. Key words. future university; new vision; re-center the university; study of present age

The vision: when I speak and think of the university, I have in mind the largest institution, the greatest number of students at all levels, professional as much as academic; graduate and postgraduate, as well as undergraduate.

The curriculum is at its maximum: some 150 subjects/disciplines in which one can garner a PhD. I have in mind, then, the largest public research universities, especially those which (also) educate their students to serve their states in the traditions of Land Grant: including agriculture and the mechanical arts.

While there are ample reasons to describe a private (research) university of fame or privilege as the descriptor of the university – say, the top of the pyramid of American universities, an Oxbridge or a Berlin – I think it important for our understanding of the present toward the future to consider the university serving the interests of the widest public or publics. In this setting, I intend to focus on the structure-processes of the institution, but particularly on how the idea of a university will intersect with, even help to define, the nature of the future.

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“What scientists do when a paradigm fails is, guess what, they carry on as if nothing happened.”

After watching this TED video of Elaine Morgan, updating us about the latest evolutionary research supporting the hypothesis that we evolved from primate ancestors who dwelt in watery habitats and the connection between nakedness and water in mamals, I thought I’d share my unedited essay on Elaine’s other examined ideas about m/other-child interaction from her book “The Descent of the Child: Human Evolution From a New Perspective“. Many paradigms need updating these days!

So, first the TED video updating on how we evolved, followed by my essay updating how we become somebody (interested folks might also like to see my (shorter) post about this.)


Seeing Somebody There


The broader context of this essay explores the fact that we humans are socially interactive creatures: “bodies-in-interaction.” Our individuality, the development of the self and/or the I, is an “emergent” aspect of the human condition.

Fact is italicized since the history and current thinking about the human and how we are, think, know…has managed to omit this fact. Why so, and what differences it makes in how we think about the human, the world…are at the heart of this discussion.

The human has been characterized as each (physical) individual, essentially separate or independent of others – at least early on in life. The individual has been characterized in terms of knowledge or mind: the individual is taken to be an embodied mind. The mind – how we know or have knowledge – is the factor of our being which is raised to the status of definition of our being.

In my experience, thought, and observations, this is not an accurate characterization of the human. Though it has been the completely dominant idea of the human – particularly in Western thinking – it leads us away from the experience and truth of our being – tends to focus on certain of our (presumed) abilities as definitional – and mis- or under-estimates many others. The facts of our faces being central to our being, for example, has been hardly studied or much considered in thinking about what is the human.

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I’ll be going to NYC this weekend for a conference on “General Semantics” – seems there’s a growing interest in Media Ecology, my former teachers who contributed to the ideas of Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman – and I’ll be giving a talk exploring my interests and my teachers in the context of a review of Edward T. Hall (buddy of G.L. Trager – my teacher). Meeting with Dan Latorre (especially), a former student of mine continuing in extended conversations about the media, especially.

“The 57th Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture & Dinner and 3-Day International Istitute for General Semantics Conference”
Conference Schedule (PDF)

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Who are cops…the police? Mostly guys, mostly white. In the past few decades a few women, more and more “ethnic” persons: some African-American, in Minneapolis-St. Paul they reflect the recent immigrations…somewhat…as far as I know. Not too many Hmong persons, a few Latinos from various countries…

Who are we…in thinking about the police – wondering how they think about us, and what they’re “up to?” How many of us would like to be cops? Do police “like” being cops, or filled to various levels of…fear, import, wondering about each next person, in each approaching moment?

How do they get to be cops? I mean what’s inside their heads, their thinking, that we might get to understand in their terms – more than in our reactive minds?

Also important – maybe very important is the fact that they dress in “uniforms.” Uniforms seem to take individual identity and help make them all into police – cops. (Where has their “individuality” gone?)

More signs: their cars, bright flashing lights, rear seats which can be made very separate from the front ones; painted black and white (in lots of places). Quite obvious. (Except that we might forget to notice them when we’re driving a bit too fast: over the speed limit. And they can make really loud siren noises which instill us with fear and the immediate reaction to stop, and pull over.)

All this to say that the police have quite a “presence” in the world: in many/most senses they are all “alike.” Uniform…has several meanings and even more connotations. (The differences between police and the military? – has gotten a bit complicated and confusing especially in these moments driven by war, terror, fear… (Observing the RNC meeting in St. Paul last fall: the police “looked” remarkably like military – faces obscured, wearing odd/different uniforms, carrying threatening looks and clubs. Whatever it takes to “keep the peace” said the mayors!)

Sargeant Crowley and that “Uppity Professor” (from Harvard no less), “Skip” Gates. What were the exact circumstances? Never totally clear: perhaps so “obvious” to many of us, that the moment-to-moment “facts” don’t seem very important to the situation.

A white cop (likely with some ethnic background which might still be “important” – was very important a couple of generations ago – Irish Catholic? Boston, a long history of Irish Catholics bathing in money and power. But we should remember the movie, “Gangs of New York” pitching the Irish immigrants against the (then) white Protestant majority to taste those senses of their history. Tough (mostly) guys? Ethnics, culture: what sorts of culture do the police have? “White ethnicity: gone entirely or some residuals?

And an African American, in many ways “the African-American Professor” in these times when being “Black” is taking on some “new” meanings, especially as Barack Obama is our President. And Harvard: In “spite” of being at Harvard, Gates is probably the most important historian/critic of what is African-American. Read the rest of this entry »

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(Further notes after my first “My Teachers” post.)

Lessons from My Teachers:

Observe, observe, try to see in every moment, context, persons, relationships…I now call myself an “Anthropologist of the Ordinary.” (My sense is that many Anthropologists are more anthropologists of the …Exotic!)

Go to the field – live there for extended periods of time – take a “vacation” and return to the field, and not what (more) I see than I had before.

Went to U. Chicago for PhD – studied with linguist, N. McQuown who was supervisor in Mayan studies. U. of C. became a kind of experiential fieldwork for my own experience examining the University (“the” University). Daughter born in Chicago. Then to Mexico.

Return home (big fieldwork to Mexico was for 2 years – with J. and 5-month-old Amy). Life is a “study” of society, politics, homes, money: rich and poor, and…and…

Return home after 2 years was amazing – arrived just before Bay of Pigs, with no sense that all this was about to occur (living in Chiapas-Mayan Highlands – no newspapers, no TV, hardly any radio,  not much knowing of the world.

Whew! Life is a “whew” – mainly from Birdwhistell. Read the rest of this entry »

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