Four things discussion is good for

Modelling thought processes: I think discussion, rather than lecturing is the best way to understand what gives a person his or her opinions. I don’t believe in experts. I think this kind of reciprocal interaction is also good for differentiating someone’s character, his or her specific way of responding to stimuli, and neurosis, people’s tendency to position themselves as an aberration to social norms, rules of conduct, etc. Neurosis gives us a way to combat “expertise-ism.” Humor is a good example of the power of neurosis; as Kirsten Hyldgaard says in her essay on neurosis and perversion: “Humour and joking are, on the other hand, the neurotic’s breathing hole and playground in the social. Here he can let loose all that the good society would rather was left unsaid and unheard. Laughter and humour is a pleasure or enjoyment that is never innocent” … “A joke has to have a latent “tendency” consisting of hatred, obscenity, and cynicism in order to create the enjoyment of a roaring laugh.” The point is that we’re all neurotic.

Sharing cognitive structures: discussion is again a much better way to do this. Discussion is discursive, can move directions and respond to inputs in a much more flexible way than lecturing. It gives all parties a chance to share cognitive structures. There is nothing in the concept of lecturing that offers a superior mode of reciprocation.

Giving context: discussion creates a much more complex context in which to situate one’s self than lecturing.

Telling Stories: There is also nothing specific to lecturing that provides a better platform than discussion for the telling of stories. Discussion simply allows for more thorough cross germination of ideas and stories. I have found that in my teaching I often end up giving short lectures and telling stories of an analogous form to what we are discussing, ad hoc, on a variety of topics that come up in the discussion that they have little knowledge of, and when I don’t know it, we look it up on the spot. I use networked classroom strategies too sometimes.

A Response to Alfie Kohn

I read this article once before in my former graduate school experience for a similar class with a similar structure. It is most certainly part of the philosophy with which I handle student assessment. I like Kohn’s assessment for 3 reasons: 1) He presents a clear case against a flawed institution that is severely out of date and inadequate, and has always been inadequate, for assessing performance. 2) He presents this case through a logical reversal of the incentives supposedly produced through grades. By his logic, if a student defines her success through the grading apparatus, her focus will be on the grading apparatus, on how well she’s doing, instead of what she’s doing. 3) He makes a clear distinction between assessing a student’s progress and measuring a student’s progress. The latter is clearly, although he makes no reference back to the enlightenment, a product of the rationalization of civilization. The problem is that rational systems can easily produce irrational effects.

For my class, I have them grade themselves. They can even produce they’re own metrics of how they might go about self-evaluating. Perhaps the nature of my course allows me to more easily generate an environment for this, but I do not think so. The course is called “The Creative Process,” and it is quite an open field as far as course design is concerned. We read a book and have daily discussions produced through a series of questions students must ask in response to the weekly reading; there are documentaries; there’s a group midterm project; and they present they’re individual creative projects to the class for the final. I provide feedback as best I can, but there is no real measurement I provide of the student’s success. I must admit, as I progress into my second semester teaching this course, there seems to be a lot weariness on the part of students when they encounter my attitude towards grades. Some have accused me of laziness (it is less work when I don’t grade them, and all the better for both parties). My response to that is I put more time in the feedback, a device with much more potential use than a grade, or a grade with feedback. But the students also seem equally anxious about being given almost complete free reign over what they will produce for my class. I guess my passing questions here are how do I motivate students who have never done they’re own research, who don’t know what they’re interested in, who are perplexed at the idea of generating a thing of their own, and who are so locked into the administrative side (asking question like: “what do I need to do to do well in this class?”) of education that it almost seems to destabilize their identities (as students) when I say I’m not going to grade you and you have to come up with your own research project?