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.

8 Replies to “Four things discussion is good for”

  1. “Telling Stories: There is also nothing specific to lecturing that provides a better platform than discussion for the telling of stories.”

    I, for one, love it when teachers incorporate stories or real-world applications in the midst of their lecturing. It keeps me engaged and keeps the topic in perspective for me. I have tried to incorporate story telling into my own lectures, but often have trouble relating to the topics I’m teaching about (cardiovascular disease in old age, type 2 diabetes and downstream metabolic disturbances). Great post!

  2. My first reaction when I read your statement, ” I don’t believe in experts,” was, “What? ” Then I kept reading and came across the term “expertise-ism” and knew that I really did not know what you mean by this. Taking the advice from class about Googling big words, I tried it. My guess, based on what I read, is that the term refers to the contextual nature of expertise. Are you getting at the idea that deep knowledge/understanding (expertise) is always bounded by the experiences of the knower–that each experts version will be mediated by a unique set of circumstances? Or do you mean something completely different? Please help me, Galen! I am curious.

    1. Mary, I do kind of mean it when I say I don’t believe in experts. The experts get us into messes all the time. Experts in banking, experts in the economy, experts in computers, etc, have all been proven wrong at one time or another with devastating consequences. I’ll give you two recent examples: 1) the 2008 real estate crisis! Greenspan said the markets were rock solid, LOL! The same man is quoted here, displaying his full ideological apparatus in an interview with the Zurich daily Tages-Anzeiger on sept 19 2007: “We are fortunate that, thanks to globalization, policy decisions in the US have been largely replaced by global market forces. National security aside, it hardly makes any difference who will be the next president. The world is governed by market forces.” So here we have an “expert” who thought market forces were self-correcting and automatic generators of policy before and even during the financial melt down of the real estate bubble. But we saw that markets are not self correcting, and in fact do need intervention. 2) Hillary Clinton had a lot of experts working for her campaign. Where did that get her? Where did all her careful planning and playing of the poll numbers in relation to her image get her? Her “experts” did not understand ideology. They could not understand that Trump’s reputation, rhetoric, and demeanor HELPED him win. Mary, does this explain a little to you about what I meant?

  3. I like how you engaged your thinking closely with the reading, and made a smart move on the title. I agree with you that discussion will be better in telling stories. I had a communication science class last semester, it was just so fantastic to see how people told their stories and how stories could inspire other stories. I think discussion definitely has more potential to get stories telling going on. However, I do think lecture should still have a position in the modern education, since discussion without lectures can easily turn into pure chatting. We may want students to get basic knowledge first, and get into deeper level of the topic, and then start to discuss.

  4. Thank you for putting forth some important points. I liked that you included story-telling as a way of discussion and “cross germination” as you put it. I remember some of the lessons I learned when I was young were through stories…fables that had a moral behind them or just presented a different point of view. Have you ever read the story of the Three Little Pigs from the Wolf’s point of view, it is a hilarious way to make the readers and listeners realize how perception can differ for different people in different ways and you learn a little and laugh a little and most importantly retain the fact that there are several POVs possible.

  5. When you say, “I don’t believe in experts,” I wonder what that might mean. If it means that you don’t think there are individuals that are much more qualified than others in specific fields, then I would have to disagree. Surely someone who has studied Ancient Greek all their life is an expert of sorts, especially when compared to someone who has never studied Ancient Greek. To deny this is simply deny that word, “expert,” has any meaning.

    1. Yeah, OK, I’ll give that one to you, but I was being hyperbolic. Yes there are extremely knowledgeable people one could consider experts in various fields. My protest or distrust of “experts” is rooted in the social currency that title confers on subjects. That social currency can be used to mislead a lot of people, and not even necessarily on purpose! I’m sure that there were a lot of “experts” on the economy who heartily endorsed the real estate finance industry before the 2008 crisis. Greenspan, for instance. What about the Red Cross, an institution full of supposed experts on disaster relief, or at least it should be? What did they do with all that money they raised for the Haitians during their recovery efforts during the 2010(?) earthquake? They sure didn’t give it to the Haitians.

  6. I have to agree with you that discussion is a much better way to teach and learn. The hard thing about having discussions is that it requires the student to be at a level where the can respond quickly to what is being talked about. They have to be actively engaged in order to contribute to the conversation. This discussion model is a bit hard for the technical classes, where the students are different levels and have not “experience enough”. I know for me, it was hard to ask effective questions in undergraduate engineering course, but when I worked for about two years, I had much more insight to contribute to the discussion.

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