Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Brain, Education, and Inquiry - Fall, 2010: Session 9B

Paul Grobstein's picture

Brain, Education, and Inquiry

Bryn Mawr College, Fall 2010

Session 9B

Facilitated by LinKai_Jiang



Discussion of excerpts from Chapter 2 of Pedagogy of Freedom by Paolo Freire


Summary of class session (linkai)

One major concern that came out of the discussion is how well can a text engage the reader and establish a relationship with the multiple populations in the community assumed and invited by the text. The medium of the text affects how people interact with and through it. The means for producing and publishing texts has became so democratized, perhaps to the detriment of the overall quality. It is very easy for many people to publish something on the web without rigorous review or editing. The advance of technology has also met some resistance from people who disapprove its aesthetics. No electronics can replace the beauty of reading a paper book while inclined on a couch. But why is paper book the golden standard for the aesthetic judgment? What if Kindle came before the paper book? We might be reminiscing the glowing beauty of the screen and the smoothness of its case. After all, our aesthetic judgment is influenced by the social reality we are born into and the space for imagination limited by that social reality. The stylistic elements of the text also influence people's engagement with the text, although the response is not universal. Some prefer the objectivity of the third person voice; some enjoy the intimacy of the first person voice; some do not care as long as the text speaks about something that matters. 

Summary of class session (paul)   

Starting with some quotations from Friere about texts and reading, lots of active discussion ensued, with Linkai assuring everyone was heard.  While the discussion moved more toward the nature of writing itself and the impact of contemporary technology on reading, I found myself wanting to think more about the parallels between Friere's text/reading discussion and the classroom, where teachers present things (texts but not only texts) that students sometimes find more interesting/engaging and other times less so.  The general notion, if I'm interpreting Freire correctly, is that interesting/engaging means something that one can onself contribute to the interpretation of .... something whose primary purpose is not to inform but rather to initiate response, bidirectional interaction.  And interesting extension of this is the possibility that the act of creating text, of printing, itself lessens the possibility of engaged interaction, co-constructive inquiry.  Thomas King, in his Truth About Stories, talks about the difference between American Indian stories (in print) and American Indian story telling, an oral tradition in which the story teller modifies the stories to fit the circumstances and the stories are constantly changed by the circumstances.  Maybe the problems of education began with the printing press?



Your continuing thoughts about this and its relation to the classroom in the forum below ....





LizJ's picture

the problem with screens

Evren and Angela both make good points. I also wonder about why assigned reading seems so much more difficult to do, even if the subject matter/content of the reading is interesting to the person doing the reading. And I definitely do not like doing reading on a screen (computer, ipad, kindle, etc.). There is something pleasing and more absorbing about reading a physical book. Sometimes I feel like a computer screen allows a certain kind of disconnection for the reader and I don't know if it would make a difference if the reading was interesting or not. To me, the worst way to do an assigned reading would be if I found it uninteresting and via screen. But that seems to be the way educational tools are evolving (well, not necessarily the uniteresting part)... so do I need to start sucking it up and read things on screen? Or can I just refuse to change like any grumpy old person who's too stuck in their own ways?

simonec's picture

i saw this nigerian poet

preform at haverford the other day.

his work goes against was is popular writing in Nigeria, and he admitted that very few people read his work. The question was then asked why he wrote, and for whom? What do you guys think is the purpose of writing that is not meant to be read? who is a writer usually writing for? how do our relationships to reading change based off of its INTENT to be read?


in response to eledford's hope that we find a way to find "boring" reading more engaging... what has made us feel like WE are at fault for not being able to engage with a text? if there is agreement that your bio text book is boring, why are we all subjected to trying to read it? is there truly not a more engaging way to present the information? who taught us that there was something wrong with (seemingly) most of us when we fall asleep reading social theory?

skindeep's picture

reasons for writing

im really glad  you brought this up - what is the purpose of writing that is not meant to be read? who is a writer usually writing for? how do our relationships to reading change based off its intent to be read?

the way i see it, writing is a form of expression, an extension of thinking. you write to express yourself/your thoughts on a matter, you write because sometimes it makes more sense than speaking. that being said, i think most writers have a lot of work that they do not write for an audience, work that was never meant to be shared. writing is a two step process, first, you get yourself to put something down on paper in a manner that makes you happy and then, you come to peace enough with it to be ready to share it with the outside world.

so, then,  the purpose of writing is not necessarily to be read, the purpose of writing is just to write. to have something on paper. as my creative writing professor once stated, 'by putting ink on paper, you suggest that something, somewhere is consistent.' you write for yourself. you write because you have something to say. you have an idea, an emotion, a contradiction in your mind. you think, and so you write.

that being said, writing for yourself and writing for an audience can or cannot be different. for example, when you write in a diary, most people still feel as though they're writing to someone, so they write as they speak, as they think, writing letters that you never send are the same. writing poetry and stories can be the same too - you find a means to express yourself, and sometimes you want other people to be able to connect with that and other times, you just create  because well, you want/need to create.

i think reading something that wasnt written to be read gives you a more honest but complicated window into the authors mind. it allows you to build a deeper connection with the author and find more levels on which you connect with the work. however, that is not to say that wiriting that was meant to be read cannot evoke the same things in you.

so i guess, maybe it isnt about whether the work was meant/not meat to be read more than it is whether or not the author wants you to understand...


bennett's picture

 I really like your second

 I really like your second point – I think that one of the things that technology and the generally increased bigness of the world allows for is a plenitude of different forms of expression and different things expressed. Now, I think, more than ever we have the opportunity to present things in ways that are tailored to engage with people in whatever way best works for them; biology and social theory are not confined to books anymore (even though I guess it's still the standard). And I think there's a lot to be said for the limits of books or text generally (hopefully we'd also mention their still-great value to us and the distinct features that make them so functional and special!).

I think also, though, that it might (more than ever) be a case of the increased bigness of the world and the widespread dissemination of technology that makes us (by which I mean me, really) sort of bad readers. I feel like my brain has to handle so many inputs and outputs all the time, in forms that are pretty new and unprecedented, and that it has a hard time doing slower, more deliberate things than I remember being capable of when I was younger. I don't want to be alarmist or extreme – I don't think it's "the end of the book" or that "It's our fault that we get bored of texts" (I really don't, I totally agree with you here, Simone) , but I do think that "there's a chance that our culture has an significant impact on the ways that our processes information and assigns attention."

FinnWing's picture


  You may read The Brothers Karamazov and hate it, and you may love it.  In an example such as this, I truly believe that the reader usually gets out what they put in...this is based on the assumption that anyone can relate to his writing even if it is dense, long, and can seem convoluted.  With the biochem journal, it would seem that it takes a long time to get into it because there is such a foundation of knowledge that one needs to really understand and get it.  These differ insofar as life makes Dostoyevsky interesting, whereas I imagine that a strong background in chemistry, an interest in quantitative data, and a fantastic imagination (to put the pieces together) makes biochem. really interesting.   

Evren's picture

How to make assigned readings interesting

I think that a person's lack of interest in assigned reading has a little less to do with the content of the text than we might think. Personally there have been books that when assigned to me for a class I struggle to read and engage the text, but if I were to choose to read it independently, the process would become much easier and more enjoyable. Of course, there are times when assigned reading have been very interesting and engaging, but for the most part if you tell are person they have to do something, they're less likely to find it enjoyable than if they choose to do it independently. I think a possible remedy would be to have a selection of readings from which a student can choose. Although the students will then not have all read the same topics, they can share with each other what they read, and they will individually be more engaged with the reading of their choice. Additionally, when each student is sharing something that they were engaged in, they're likely to portray the reading as exceptionally interesting, perhaps leading the students who read another article to look at something new.

Ameneh's picture

I’m just wondering how much

I’m just wondering how much of assigned tests being a bombardment of facts and figures and consequently dull or boring has to do with us having internalized societal norms/a certain way of thinking and acting. You’re not supposed to enjoy reading academic journals as much as a novel in your spare time. You're supposed to complain about it. What you read for pleasure, on the other hand, is what you're meant to enjoy. Maybe subconsciously knowing this makes it more unlikely for us to identify a particular piece of reading as enjoyable? 

A lot of it, I feel, also has to do with how much interest you have in what you’re reading whether it is an academic journal or a book. You could find the newest bestselling book far more boring than your biochemistry article. Whether such a preference is innate or cultivated, however, is another question. 
eledford's picture

if x is constant, y is...

Okay, so if we are intrigued by certain texts (as in Naa Kwarley's example, Fantasy Novels) that others may not find intriguing and vice versa, is there a way to tap into the brain and say "hey! find this intriguing!"? We will not be able to change what authors have authored, this is the constant variable.

What's the other variable? Can we change how we interpret, or rather, our side of the relationship? How then do we change it? How do I make/train my mind to find the grueling article from the journal of biochemistry as beautiful and as fascinating as the books I read during my free-time? I'm sure there's a way we can do it... hopeful, nonetheless.

epeck's picture

Maybe we could enjoy

Maybe we could enjoy biochemistry articles as much as we enjoy the pieces of writing we select to read ourselves if we made an effort to think about why the biochemistry article is interesting/beautiful/relevant, etc.  I've read academic articles before and made them more appealing by reasoning through why each point is actually interesting (fake it until you make it theory of reading?).  However, this process is exhausting since it doesn't come naturally - maybe if the process were practiced more often, it would become natural, or at least easier. 

Should students be expected to make this effort to engage with all/most of their readings (or assignments or lectures)?  Or does the burden of being "interesting" or "appealing" fall on the author/teacher?  In school we seem to place a lot of this responsibility on the teacher - is teaching and creating material such as readings comparable?  Where does the burden lie?  There is a gap between the information we are expected to absorb and ourselves - should bridging the gap be a cooperative effort or should one side of the gap be held more accountable?

jessicarizzo's picture

Let me direct our attention

Let me direct our attention to Roland Barthes... who's been hanging out, spying, presiding, from the top right hand corner of this page all along.  The quoted text of his, S/Z, speaks precisely to this point you make about really engaged reading not coming "naturally."  In S/Z, Barthes reads Balzac's short story "Sarrasine," and in writing his experience of that reading, he reveals the tremendous amount of effort that goes into making sense of our encounters with literary texts.  Even when it feels like we're just easily being carried along by a narrative, Barthes shows that what we're doing involves a whole complex choreography using many different "codes" (semiotic, thematic...) we have to interpret at once.  With any text, the onus is really on us, the readers, because the system is an open one... we determine what goes in and what comes out as much as does Balzac. 

I haven't had the pleasure of working my way through a glut of assigned biochemistry articles, and I'm fairly certain I never will.  But I imagine what's being reacted negatively to here is the data-drivenness of the writing, the absence of ambiguity, of a way in, a point of entry for readers.  Being treated like a computer responsible for downloading information is dehumanizing, and when we aren't feeling particularly human, we can't be particularly good readers, because it's all this subjective, idiosyncratic, human stuff that gives our consciousness its unique contours, its texture, a surface that can get some traction when put into contact with the texture of the writing. 

Questions I hope can be addressed by the end of the semester...

-Related to "If there is no Truth, what do we teach our kids?"  What do we do about data?  It's not the same, but I think it's related to the "basics" we all seem to agree very young school children need to suck it up and master before they can move on to all this questioning Knowledge stuff. 

-We should think about how we are writing for our readers, what responsibility exists there, because it seems like the biggest problem is fear. Your biochemistry reading is (I hypothesize based on no empirical knowledge) unpleasant because it doesn't take the form of an invitation, but rather throws down a gauntlet.  You are charged with absorbing a good deal of highly technical information.  The message is that if you don't manage mastery, manage to learn the foreign language quick, you've failed.  And a situation where failure is a looming possibility is always anxiety-producing.  I think this anxiety inhibits the "natural" curiousity that might be there, and makes it very difficult to be a good reader. 

Angela DiGioia's picture

Technology's affect on Interaction with Texts

I cannot read a book on a kindle or ipad (yet).  I love reading a book as the author originally intended--reading each word at a specific place on the page.  Whether it's a journal article or a book that I'm reading for pleasure, I cannot read--and interact and engage--with the text unless it's on a piece of paper in my hand.  Otherwise, I am distracted by the millions of other inputs that are begging my brain not to focus on the words on the screen.  However, if the purpose of reading is to skim and not truly to be absorbed (unconscious) in the reading, then reading on a computer or a device would be adequate for me.  Perhaps this process is an evolution; I would suspect that I will be reading-- and absorbing-- text from a kindle or an ipad in due time.  I suspect that I will evolve, although slightly behind the early adopters.  However, I believe that, right now, I need to define the purpose of reading because it will affect the format in which i read it and thus, how I engage and interact with the author and text.  Whether I am more able to learn, retain, apply, and assess the information in these two situations is perhaps a hypothesis that I could develop and test in the future.

ellenv's picture

test taking with technology

 I too do not like to read online or using any form of technology. I just seem not to comprehend it in the same way that I do when I read an actual book. This could because I learned to read using books rather than using technology and so I think it would be interesting to see how the next generation reacts to the idea of reading using technology versus on paper. 

About half way through high school, my state's standardized testing moved to computers. Rather than filling in millions of little bubbles, we took all of out tests on laptops or in computer labs. To me, this form of testing was highly frustrating and at the same time, when I picked an answer I didnt feel the same weight as when I had to fill in the bubble on the answer sheet of the previous standardized testing experiences. For me, the physical act of filling in a bubble with my answer was a lot harder to do than to click on an option on the screen. Most students seemed to finish their testing a lot faster than they previously had and I wonder whether or not that was a function of that fact that it was a lot easier to simply click through random answers on the tests on the computers than fill in the bubbles on the scantron sheets. 

kgould's picture

I wonder if there is a

I wonder if there is a relationship between narrative voice, narrative mode (first-, second-, and third-person), and the ways in which our conscious storyteller constructs a story. If we think about narrative mode as an integral part of (and perhaps even an integral difference between) academic and “pleasurable” writing, what does that mean for how the brain narrates and “writes?” Are we the writer or the reader or both or neither?

And when it comes down to the classroom, what does that mean for the teacher and the student? As we construct stories, are there better narrative modes and relationships for telling certain content than others?


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
11 + 8 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.