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Quotes towards Day 4: On learning to "read the room"

Anne Dalke's picture

Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens, "From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces: A New Way to Frame Dialogue Around Diversity and Social Justice." The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflections from Social Justice Educators (Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing, 2013), 135-150:

We question the degree to which safety is an appropriate of reasonable expectation for any honest dialogue about social justice.  The word safe is defined in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary as "free from harm or risk...affording safety or security from danger, risk, or difficulty...unlikely to produce controversy or contradiction" (Safe, 2010).  We argue that authentic learning about social justice often requires the very qualities of risk, difficulty, and controversy that are defined as incompatible with safety.  These kinds of challenges are particularly unavoidable in participant groups composed of target and agent group members.  In such settings, target and agent group members take risks by participating fully and truthfully, though these risks differ substantially by group membership and which identities hold the most salience for a given participant at a given time. (139)

...As we developed alternatives to the safe space paradigm, we were influenced by Boostrom's (1998) critique of the idea of safe space, and in particular his assertion that bravery is needed  because "learning necessarily involves not merely risk, but the pain of giving up a former condition in favour of a new way of seeing things" (p. 399). ...By revising our framework to emphasize the need for courage rather than the illusion of safety, we better position ourselves to accomplish our learning goals and more accurately reflect the nature of genuine dialogue regarding these challenging and controversial topics. (141)

... Whatever methodology is used to create ground rules, commonly used ground rules include "agree to disagree," "don't take things personally," "challenge by choice," "respect," and "no attacks."  We believe that unexamined, these common ground rules may contribute to the conflation of safety and comfort and restrict participant engagement and learning. (143)

David Bohm, On Dialogue (New York: Routledge, 2004):
Different groups … are not actually able to listen to each other. As a result, the very attempt to improve communication leads frequently to yet more confusion, and the consequent sense of frustration inclines people ever further toward aggression and violence, rather than toward mutual understanding and trust.
….one meaning of “to communicate” is “to make something common,” i.e., to convey information or knowledge from one person to another in as accurate a way as possible….Nevertheless, this meaning does not cover all that is signified by communication. For example, consider a dialogue. In such a dialogue, when one person says something, the other person does not in general respond with exactly the same meaning as that seen by the first person. Rather, the meanings are only similar and not identical. Thus, when the second person replies, the first person sees a difference between what he meant to say and what the other person understood. On considering this difference, he may then be able to see something new, which is relevant both to his own views and to those of the other person. And so it can go back and forth, with the continual emergence of a new content that is common to both participants. Thus, in a dialogue, each person does not attempt to make common certain ideas or items of information that are already known to him. Rather, it may be said that the two people are making something in common, i.e., creating something new together.
But of course such communication can lead to the creation of something new only if people are able freely to listen to each other, without prejudice, and without trying to influence each other. Each has to be interested primarily in truth and coherence, so that he is ready to drop his old ideas and intentions, and be ready to go on to something different, when this is called for….
It is clear that if we are to live in harmony with ourselves and with nature, we need to be able to communicate freely in a creative movement in which no one permanently holds to or otherwise defends his own ideas….
When we come together to talk, or otherwise to act in common, can each one of us be aware of the subtle fear and pleasure sensations that “block” his ability to listen freely? Without this awareness, the injunction to listen to the whole of what is said will have little meaning. But if each one of us can give full attention to what is actually “blocking” communication while he is also attending properly to the content of what is communicated, then we may be able to create something new between us, something of very great significance for bringing to an end the at present insoluble problems of the individual and of society….
 “Dialogue” comes from the Greek word dialogos. Logos means “the word,” or in our case we would think of the “meaning of the word.” And dia means “through” — it doesn’t mean “two.” A dialogue can be among any number of people, not just two. Even one person can have a sense of dialogue within himself, if the spirit of the dialogue is present. The picture or image that this derivation suggests is of a stream of meaning flowing among and through us and between us. This will make possible a flow of meaning in the whole group, out of which may emerge some new understanding. It’s something new, which may not have been in the starting point at all. It’s something creative. And this shared meaning is the “glue” or “cement” that holds people and societies together.
Contrast this with the word “discussion,” which has the same root as “percussion” and “concussion.” It really means to break things up. It emphasizes the idea of analysis, where there may be many points of view, and where everybody is presenting a different one — analyzing and breaking up. That obviously has its value, but it is limited, and it will not get us very far beyond our various points of view. Discussion is almost like a ping-pong game, where people are batting the ideas back and forth and the object of the game is to win or to get points for yourself…
In a dialogue, however, nobody is trying to win. Everybody wins if anybody wins. There is a different sort of spirit to it. In a dialogue, there is no attempt to gain points, or to make your particular view prevail. Rather, whenever any mistake is discovered on the part of anybody, everybody gains. It’s a situation called win-win, whereas the other game is win-lose — if I win, you lose. But a dialogue is something more of a common participation, in which we are not playing a game against each other, but with each other. In a dialogue, everybody wins.

Elizabeth Ellsworth, Chapter 2: "The Paradoxical Power of Address: It's an Education Thing, Too," Teaching Positions: Difference, Pedagogy, and the Power of Address (New York: Teachers College Press, 1997), 37-53 (in our protected reading file):
“the space of difference between address and response is a social space, formed and informed by historical conjunctures of power and of social and cultural difference….The point is that all modes of address misfire one way or another. I never ‘am’ the ‘who’ that a pedagogical address thinks I am. But then again, I never am the who that I think I am either….the eruptive, unruly space between a curriculum’s address and a student’s response is populated by the difference between conscious and unconscious knowledge, conscious and unconscious desires.”

Rena Fraden, Introduction and Chapter 2: "To Be Real," Imagining Medea: Rhodessa Jones and Theater for Incarcerated Women (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, 2001), 1-26, 67-119 (in our protected reading file):
it was a real challenge to have a conversation about race in was like opening up Pandora's box--all sorts of evil things began to creep out...she started the workshop by asking the women two questions: what was their first memory of race; and if they could take a pill and change their race, their gender, their entire being, what would they choose to become (6).
That the incarcerated women's experiences have to be acknowledged, understood, related, and heard is a key principle of this feminist theatrical project. That everyone has a story to a constant refrain. However, though the Medea Project begins with honoring experience, it would be limited if that were all it did. Instead, Jones finds theatrical ways to interrogate the personal, surrounding the contemporary with the mythical, that each individual's story is...always seen in relation to others....autobiography alone neither guarantees new insights nor changes behavior. As Joan Scott has argued, experience is not transparent but is "at once always already an interpretation and something that needs to be interpreted" (21).
experience must be given its due, acknowledged as valid....But experience must not think of itself as true, authentic, and therefore impervious to questions and critique, because without critique and dialogue, there cannot be exchange and mutual learning. Identity...coheres...."in a the realm of a context-dependent creativity" (37).
Medea could see only one side of her story. The pedagogical thrust of the Medea Project is aimed at uncovering the connections between an individual and the system of power. Jones and Reynolds believe that critical literacy--understanding social context, moving with others and not alone--will transform the oppressed and pathetic into people who believe they can think and thus act for themselves and also for others....The Medea Project wants to revive community....The best work is harrowing, but its most important effects are always delayed; one breaks up the ground the best one can and hopes that the crops will grow (70).

Ira Shor and Paulo Freire, Chapter 4: "What is the 'Dialogical Method' of Teaching?" A Pedagogy for Liberation: Dialogues on Transforming Education (Westport, Connecticut: Bergin & Garvey, 1986 ), 97-119:

Paulo     Yes, dialogue is a challenge to existing domination.  Also, with such a way of understanding dialogue, the object to be known is not an exclusive possession of one of the subjects doing the knowing, one of the people in the dialogue.  In our case of education, knowledge of the object to be known is not the sole possession of the teacher, who gives knowledge to the students in a gracious gesture.  Instead of this cordial gift of information to students, the object to be known mediates the two cognitive subjects.  In other words, the object to be known is put on the table between the two subjects of knowing.  They meet around it and through it for mutual inquiry.  (99)

Ira          My understanding is that dialogic inquiry is situated in the culture, language, politics, and themes of the students.  Teachers have some familiarity with experiential objects or materials for study.  They bring in magazines from mass culture, or show popular films and TV shows.  They ask students to write about events from their daily lives.  But, in situated pedagogy we discover the students the themes most problematic to their perception.  We situate the critical pedagogy in subjective problem-themes not yet analyzed by students...  In dialogic pedagogy, this turn toward subject experience must also include a global, critical dimension.  That is, we don't only look at the familiar, but we try to understand it socially and historically...  Do the material and questions open an investigating dialogue through which we reexamine the subject?  We gain a distance from the given by abstracting it from its familiar surroundings and studying it in unfamiliar critical ways, until our perceptions of it and society are challenged. (105)