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Teaching as Dialogue

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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Dialogue is a performative art, a fast-form in which the agenda must remain partially loose, tailored to those who are actually present, each day.


Below is a very interesting edited and revised excerpt from the book "Teaching as Dialogue", by Harvey Sarles. The book was originally published by the University Press of America in 1993 (now out of print). and this excerpt was originally published byThe Higher Education Acdemy and Practice (Health sciences and Practice) in England.


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning


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[?] Teaching is a messy Art. It is a relationship; a study of subject matter, of the subjective self, of politics, management, techniques. It occurs more than it exists. And it is a different order of event from the perspectives of Teacher, and of student.

I say Teacher rather than teacher because the concept of Teacher is more than a societal role. The Teacher has at least in potential the possibility of shaping minds, ideas, even of inspiring deeply the future. The teacher become Teacher contains-within the perceptions and memories, imaginations and life-unfoldings of one's students-a continuing presence which far transcends the ordinary and mundane. The concept of Teacher contains the power to inspire and to remain alive in the thinking of those who are touched by some particular Teacher.

[?] In this age, an era where knowledge and life are eased toward bureaucratization knowledge itself has become a business. [?]The question of depth, of yearning toward the attainment of wisdom, has been forsaken. Knowledge now seems to be too vast to be contained. Teachers fade into the information solicitors and inquisitors whom we now dub lecturers and facilitators.

As hope is about the future, the issue of thinking about the future in which the students will be living affects how we consider time. The recent freezing of knowledge into bureaucratic pigeonholes affects the experiencing of time. It shapes and frames time and history and the concept of futurity, quite literally. When information resides outside anyone's actual experience, it does not necessarily relate to any futurity. Without living Teachers, how do we go on? Where is the agenda; who is reading and acting the scripts of life's theaters?

[?]For the fearful and the weak-and who of us is not sometimes-the temptation arises to say: This is too much! For them and for us, the either/or which appears on the horizon of solution is a quick fix. We are urged to abandon trust and confidence in ourselves, in life virtually, and to trust in the texts of some ancient persons who claim genius or divine inspiration

[?] [But]What remains is us. The Teacher needs to enter into dialogue with those who are here. She nor he can tell truth, can no longer lay claim to the wisdom of all of time. What the Teacher has positively is endurance and continuing presence, a love of life and justice and knowing, and an abiding sense for the notion of hope and the future. [?]

By engaging in dialogue with the young and uninformed the Teacher can get them to think, conceptualize critically and anew. [?]

No doubt this is what all Teachers aim toward.

Yet here and now is where we are; where Teachers find themselves imagining their students to be more perfect than they are themselves. But here and now we are all flesh. Our lives consist of the ordinary and mundane which battle utopic wishes and transcendental temptations. The entire world has become the text of each day's bombarding news. We find ourselves often lacking the energy necessary to complete each day, much less float beyond it.

Living in a time when the history of ideas has pushed us to technologize teaching, first by concentrating on learning and the learner, then by offering texts and machines, the very idea of the Teacher has been down-played to disappearance[?] Teaching no longer controls its own destiny. As education has become bureaucratized and like a business, it has bought each step on this technologized ladder...only to discover as it approached the top that the rungs had devoured themselves below.

[?] As our thinking is full of others, parents, friends, from past and present, so Teachers often enter in, formulate and shape thinking. For those of us who have been fortunate enough to have studied-with people who, indeed, did inspire us, this idea of Teacher remains clear and alive in current thinking-even as we age beyond the age of exposure to those whom we think of as: my, our, Teachers.

But there is also much distrust of the idea of the Teacher. Claims of technology vie with the presence of persons who teach. The programmed course and the programmed person who acts as a mediator or facilitator of knowledge seem surer and safer and pre-determined in ways that a live Teacher can never be. Why the Teacher? [?]

One reason. We permit few people to touch us. Yet we are social creatures and praise love. It is within the relationship of vulnerability and power that we may locate ourselves. [?]

It is in this relationship that Freire (1973) believes the future is cast. If their vulnerabilities are abused, students become oppressed...and will seek to oppress others in their own (future) time of power because this is the lesson in being they have learned. Rather, if the vulnerabilities are nurtured, explored, and overcome through dialogue, the touch of the Teacher may be used to inspire, indeed to guarantee the futurity of the students. [?]

[?] As teaching is touching the minds of students, the Teacher must study students. The politics of the classroom may only mimic the Realpolitik, but they are nonetheless quite real to its students. Here students may practice, try out, be tested and test their Teachers. Granted the power inherent in the yielding of students' spirits, we Teachers need to enter into dialogue with these students and reveal aspects of our Teachers.

Much of this pedagogy, therefore, is concerned with the nature of dialogue: its preparation, dynamics, and process; in the skills which make it possible; in the reactions it prompts; and in the competencies which help make it full [?]

Dialogue is a performative art, a fast-form in which the agenda must remain partially loose, tailored to those who are actually present, each day.

Dialogue is exploration, a mode of search and critical inquiry which can direct students toward paths of solution, but leaves the future-their lives-open to be studied, lived. [?]

It is in interaction, the dialogue, the sharing of spirits, of modes of thinking, that teaching is its most exquisite. It is a way, an insistent means for the Teacher who has heard it all before to remain alive in one's own consciousness, to resist boredom, and the mere filling of the classroom. Dialogue is a means of remaining in the students' present which the Teacher's power may entice him or her to abandon.

? [But] teaching is incomplete whenever being a Teacher lacks substance and subject matter: what any course is about[?]If teaching overwhelms its subject matter, then the sense of any future is weakened. Students will live-out their lives, but they don't truly live them.

As the Teacher is critical and thoughtful, dialogue is useful in enabling, inviting students to think. Dialogue can open up areas to questions whose paths toward solutions require critical thought and self-criticism. . [?]

It is an obligation of teaching that Teachers be judges. This is no simple task, neither to contemplate nor to exercise. This is a terrain of some vastness. [?]Teaching as Dialogue offers no direction here, only some analysis; neither prophecy nor certain prediction. It dodges, feints, and side-steps the issue by urging that Teachers direct students to engage in critical self-judgment...just as their Teacher.

Here the best the Teacher can do is provide an intellectual and personal esthetic: not only toward what is good or true, but the sense that there will always exist paths toward increasing knowledge for critical thought and judgment; that such paths will remain available; that the Teacher and her teachings through dialogue will help reveal where those paths may be found. What is called inspiration is the sense that each student will be able to search those paths in one's own futurity, and find firm groundings along the paths and by-ways of one's Teacher. [?]

On the other hand certifying the value of each student as a real person deserving of full human beingness, is a primary political act. Real, but incomplete; needing to be broader, deeper, and confirming a long life whose possibilities remain immanent. The Teacher who enters into dialogue, who studies the vulnerabilities, who has been granted the right to judge, must judge and say what that judgment is. In the same breath the Teacher can affirm that change and growth are aspects of forward movement and offer a model of that towardness in their continuing presence.