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  • Writer's pictureTim Logan

The importance of dialogue... and monologue! On education as a 'goal-directed activity'

After disappearing down the intellectual rabbit hole that is a twitter thread, I was inspired by @mfordhamhistory's questions (and the many responses) about dialogic pedagogy. My trail ended up here reading Eugene Matusov (2009) on how education and meaning-making are, by their very nature, dialogic. However, the 'conventional education project' is entirely anti-dialogic.

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I thought initially that this was a swipe at the so-called 'neo-Trads'! But, reading further, Matusov goes on to state that, as a 'goal-directed activity' in which knowledge is passed from teacher to students, education can never be fully dialogic. It doesn't matter whether this is done through explicit instruction or inquiry-based approaches, it is still to some degree 'anti'-dialogic. Only the removal of both the goal and the existence of a pre-determined 'knowledge' itself can enable a genuinely dialogic pedagogy.

'Dialogue is impossible if a participant knows its endpoint in advance. It is, at best, skillful manipulation of leading a dialogic partner to the known endpoint or, at worst, violent imposition of the teacher's knowledge, skill, attitude on the student.' (Matsuov, 2009, p3)

But this raises the question, what's SO bad about monologism that one would go to such extreme lengths to avoid it! It seems to me that somehow the issue centres around the fact that monologism is perceived to be anti-democratic - a 'violent' assault on our liberal values.

Universal suffrage is a necessary precondition for a genuine democracy. Too much power to make decisions in the hands of too few clearly compromises the level of democracy achieved. However, not everybody needs to have the right to vote... While some people might (and do) argue for extending the voting age to sixteen, there are not many people advocating for six year-olds to be included in order to have a genuine democracy.

If it was up to my six year old, the blue Lego ninja (rather than Boris) would be leader of the UK Conservative & Unionist Party! Although maybe…?!

So, allowing some people to make decisions on other people's behalf about who runs their country, or in our case, what they should learn is not anti-democratic. This seems to me to cut to the heart of the tension between the 'Trads' and the 'Progs'. Maybe a bit of monologism is like setting a voting age (or being a parent for that matter), sometimes those with more understanding and experience know better and should be allowed to decide on behalf of those with less.

[Maybe a bit of monologism is also necessary given our cognitive load, which is quickly reached in dialogic classrooms.]

This is why education should absolutely be a 'goal-directed activity' and it is the experts who should direct these goals for the benefit of the novices in our classes. This is why a responsive, robust and careful planned curriculum built around threshold concepts is so important. And if we can achieve those goals through both dialogue and monologue then more's the better.

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