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Conversation in Education  

Emile Bojesen

Conversation is a topic of burgeoning interest in the context of educational theory and as a prospective means for conducting empirical research. As a nonformal educational experience, as well as within the classroom, or as a means to researching various aspects of educational practice and institutions, research on or through conversation in education draws on a range of theoretical resources, often understanding conversation as analogous to dialogue or dialectic. Although only brought into this research context in the early 21st century, the philosopher who has engaged most extensively with conversation is Maurice Blanchot (1907–2003). His text, The Infinite Conversation, originally published in French as L’Entretien infini in 1969, responded to and took forward many elements of what would go on to be described as poststructuralist or deconstructive thought. Blanchot’s notion of conversation (in French, “entretien”) is distinct from those reliant upon philosophical conceptions of dialogue or dialectic. Itself the subject of philosophical research, Blanchotian conversation has been interpreted variously as either not sufficiently taking into account the ethics of Emmanuel Levinas, or else expanding beyond its more limited scope. Some of these interpretations stress the ethical and political implications of conversation; however, none engage specifically with its educational implications. Blanchotian conversation allows for contradicting and contrasting thoughts to be voiced without being brought to shared consensus or internal resolution. Its “lesson” is not only in the thought that it produces but also in the ethical relation of sincerity, openness, and non-imposition that it develops. Unlike some recent applications of conversation to educational context, Blanchotian conversation does not re-entrench the subject to be educated but rather deprioritizes the subject in favor of the movement of thought and the ethical “between” of conversation itself. This notion of conversation has corollaries in political thought, notably with Jacques Rancière’s understanding of “dissensus” and Karl Hess’s thought of an “anarchism without hyphens,” as well as the politically informed educational ideas of Elizabeth Ellsworth and the educational practice and research of Camilla Stanger.

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World Language Education and the Pedagogical Imperative  

James P. Lantolf

L. S. Vygotsky proposed that human consciousness entails the dialectical interaction between memory, attention, perception, emotion and motivation, imagination, and rational thought, organized in large part through language, or more appropriately, communicative meaning-making activity. The development of consciousness occurs more or less spontaneously (i.e., unplanned) in everyday life activity and in more systematically organized and intentionally planned educational activity. An important component of the developmental process is the conceptual knowledge that cultures make available to their through various types of social relations. In everyday life, this knowledge is largely empirically based, while in formally organized educational development conceptual knowledge is highly systematic and much more readily recontextualizable than is everyday knowledge. Academic concepts are derived from rigorous research and as such reveal processes and components of material reality that are otherwise hidden from direct empirical observation by our senses. The responsibility of presenting and explaining academic concepts to students in educational activity is carried out by specially prepared individuals—teachers—who engage students in intentionally planned and (hopefully) rigorous interactions, mediated largely, though not exclusively, through language. According to the pedagogical imperative, as it relates to instruction in world languages, relevant high quality theoretical and conceptual knowledge must be made pedagogically viable; that is, understandable to both teachers and learners and it must be useable by learners to mediate their generation of meaning in practical communicative activities. The knowledge must be presented in a memorable way, usually in a holistic visual representation rather than traditional verbally based rules of thumb and learners must be guided through appropriate prompts, clues, and hints provided primarily by teachers, but at times also by peers, to internalize this knowledge so that it becomes functional in communicative practices. Finally, recognition must be given to the fact that development of any kind, including that provoked by educational practice, must not only take account of the participants (students and teachers) intellect, it must also profoundly consider the emotional aspects of the educational process as teachers and learners engage in the dialectic process captured by Vygotsky in the Russian term, obuchenie, or teaching–learning, whereby teachers and learners engage in a process of mutual mediation.