Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Learning By Way of Conversation

     Learning with undergraduate and graduate students over the past twelve years employing  conversational learning (or Socratic, or shared inquiry, or dialogical exchange) has converted me.  While I can still see the value of a lecture as a means of conveying information (much like reading a book, article, or blog), I am completely convinced that conversational learning is the best way for deep attention in learning.  In other words, it is the best way to be certain that minds are engaged, and in addition to the transference of information, there is also thinking through that information.  Conversational learning assures that the participants are reflecting and analyzing material.  It is also the only way I know that one can be confident that the movement from data exchange to the ultimate goal of becoming wise can occur.
     By way of honor to this way of learning, here are some select quotes I have run across over the years that address conversation and learning through conversation.  For the record, conversational learning is not when two or more people sit around and share their feelings about something, and it is not a collective gathering of mere ignorance.  Ideally, it is when people who know they do know approach something they do not understand with the tools of thinking and conversing to figure out what can be known.  The expert in the conversation is that Great Book, or poem, or play, or math problem, or theory.  It is all predicated on the reality that few affirm and the "educated" ridicule-- knowledge is the single greatest hindrance to learning.  If you do not believe me, talk with someone who thinks they know something and see how open they are to learning what he already thinks he knows.
     Quotes about conversations for your enjoyment and hopefully you will share in a conversation with another....

“In academic life, in my experience, there is no real conversation; just various people awaiting their turn to hold forth.” Joseph Epstein

“Bring a 'wise man' to a party: he will disrupt it either by his gloomy silence or his tedious cavils…Drag him along to a public festival: his face alone will be enough to put a damper on people’s gaiety…If he joins a conversation, everyone suddenly clams up.” Erasmus

Always something ought to be investigated or heard or read or argued for the student who wishes to be great. Since satiety and tedium usually occur in this strenuous exercise, the mind must be refreshed by variety and relaxed by variations, so that easy material follows hard, joyous follows sad, and new follows old; and we proceed from reading to writing, from writing to entertainment, from entertainment to learned conversation and the learned gatherings of friends.   Johann Sturm

“Most people who make their views known on t-shirts and bumper stickers do not want to be questioned about their opinions.” Stephen Miller

“Impatience to interrupt others, and the uneasiness of being interrupted are faults toward conversation and difficult to remedy.” Jonathan Swift

“Equality is the life of conversation.” Richard Steele

“In conversation we form the interpersonal ties that bind individuals together in personal relationships.” Walter Ong

A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue.  That is why there are so few good conversations: due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers seldom meet.”  Truman Capote

“A true knowledge of the world is gained only by conversation.” Henry Fielding

“Conversation is what binds us into a people.” Diane McWhorter

“To my taste, the most fruitful and natural exercise of our mind is conversation.” 
Michael de Montaigne