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Letter to My Students on Real Learning

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: May 5, 2006
Latest Update: May 5, 2006

E-Mail Icon jeannecurran@habermas.org
takata@uwp.edu

Index of Topics on Site If Only I Could Just Understand Me

A major part of illocutionary discourse is trying in good faith to understand the Other. To do that, as Bakhtin, would say, I have to think about how the Other will answer before I speak, for the Other, like me, can answer. When I begin to think about how the Other will respond, I find myself needing understand me, too.

One way I come to understand me is by talking to others. We sometimes call it "talk therapy," or "talking things through." Some therapists believe that only a trained therapist can assist you in such "talk therapy." Others, like Ivan Illich, and Bakhtin, I think, believe that it is in talking to each other that we come to understand both ourselves and the other. (Remind me to give you specific references on this. No time just now. End of semeseter rush. jeanne)

I had just such a talk with all of you yesterday. I posted it on transform_dom, which seemed the most natural thing to do, for there, and only there, it can be effectively collaborative. But it's very long, and needs to be archived on Dear Habermas, anyway. So, I've posted it here below:

On May 4, jeanne posted a Letter to Her Students in Message No. 13039:

It's 3 p.m. The cat and I just crawled out of bed, ate a pear (me, not the cat), and drank a Dr, Pepper. Now, I can face the world. Well, briefly, anyway.

I just read Betty Pearson's comment: "I have started a journey that is going to end soon [graduation] and I am very excited it has been great learning from Jeanne and Pat. Hopefully they will continue to let freedom ring on this site."

First, thanks for the "good dog", Betty. This was a wild week for me, and I desperately needed some good dogs. I am passionate about our need to learn and to share that learning with every one of those who live and work and play with us, legal or not legal, smart or not-so-smart, female or male, young or old.

I was asked yesterday why I give so many A's, and why I can't distinguish between good, better, and best students. I was stunned, because I resolved that issue with our administration in the early '70s. It wasn't an unfriendly or angry question. It was a genuine question with concern that I somehow needed help to learn to distinguish. They forgot I'm a physicist and statistician.

I'm still not sure whether to laugh or cry. First thing I did, of course, being me, was to ask those who were kind enough to remain to help me schlep all the art materials back to my car to just tell me whether all this craziness of trying to change this world through integrating the academy and the community in an integral attempt to develeop awareness and knowledge for all of us, the whole community, is working with our classes.

But I did resort to my familiar plea, "are you learning?" Charlie and Maria and Nicole and Maria and others packed up everything and ushered me out to my car. One of the last things we packed (OK, threw in - we never have enough time) was the collection of frogs, etc. we had made.

As we stuffed them in, I stared in amazement. They were bright and colorful and fun and most of them had, with all my howling and confusion, begun to shown signs of professional communication efforts and line and color and form and texture. They didn't look like third grade efforts of non-genius children. They looked like the disciplined and thoughtful work of people who cared.

All of a sudden, all I could think was "You folks are fantastic! This classroom was chaos for three hours, as I tried desperately to mix art and communication with community activism, race upstairs to take of office needs, get asked why I think I should give all A's, come down and find Rigo's frog with a monster mouth and almost no added color, line, form, texture, and think "Oh, my God, and they're gonna ask me why I gave that frog an A."

Desperately I tried to explain to Rigo that he wasn't through. Neither was I. I still hadn't had a bit to eat, and had been lecturing for almost four and a half straight hours. I knew I wasn't making sense. I knew that if Rigo wanted his frog to have a monster mouth, the frog should damned well have a monster mouth. All I could say lamely was "But, Rigo, he doesn't look like a frog!" I had to measure his frog so that they would know it was an A. I looked at him plaintively and asked, "Rigo, do you understand what I'm trying to tell you?" He thought for a couple of seconds, and then said quietly, "No."

I have never felt so deeply the need for the skies to part and God to say, "Hey, hang in there; it's gonna be OK." Just then, Rigo turned to Alejandro, who had been working continuously with me and Maria, and adding texture and line and, well, you know. I'm not sure what words were exchanged. I was too caught up in my need for a miracle. But before I could get back to reality, Rigo and Alejandro took off on their own.

Confusion overwhelmed. I went to get a sandwich. I just left you folks there in that chaos. The room was buzzing with activity. I don't even think you knew I was gone. And when I got to the store on the second floor and went to buy a sandwhich, I finally remember I had cheese and crackers in my purse. I bought a piece of lemon cake and determinedly slunk back to the chaos.

I ate my cheese and crackers right in the middle of all that pandemonium, while we were searching for the lost tulip stamp (Maria, I found it on the kitchen floor when I got home last night, and I don't know where Marsha or Marsh went), and somebody took Charlie's ribbon. (Somebody in the last class took one of Aaron's frogs - frognapping?)

Betty, you said "I have started a journey that is going to end soon and I am very excited it has been great learning from Jeanne and Pat. Hopefully they will continue to let freedom ring on this site."

Me, too. (retirement) So has Pat. I told that to one of you yesterday, and I remember her saying, "Jeanne, you've been retiring for years. You're never gonna stop this."

You know what? She's right. As I write to you, I see the beauty in the chaos. Yes, I know that some of you could better write a paragraph on illutionary discourse than others (so if I used that for a "measure," I could rank you as A, B, C, D, and I could probably, if I were obtuse enough, give some poor kid an F, like Rudy, a few semesters ago, remember him?, who kept trying to take over the class for the Dare Program assault? But semesters later, Rudy came back to ask that I work on his thesis. Now, that could mean he reformed on the Dare Program thing, which I seriously doubt. Or it could mean that I would have chosen the wrong measure if I gave him a lower grade. Good way to extinguish creativity, insisting that we "know" what the analysis of the Dare Program "should" look like.

That was real and good learning Wednesday night. For me, as well as for you. I can't believe I actually told Rigo his frog didn't look like a frog. And neither do dogs have stars instead of spots, nor are they astronauts. I think I want be . . . I wanna be . . . uh . . . an ASTRONAUT! Dreams are what ignite the learning of science. Rigo, you dream monsters; I dream fairies. But we dream. And for that, we are better humans.

So I'm smiling again, and I'm finally getting hungry. Will I give you all A's - that question that started it all? Yes. I will give an A to everyone who makes a "disciplined" effort to produce a flower gift, and tells me (a paragraph will do) of how that flower gift was shared with our community and what effect it had. (Telling me is sufficient. I'll bring my little black book for the next two weeks.)

PRODUCTION OF A "DISCIPLINED" FLOWER GIFT
(CAPS for those with time conflicts who may have missed some of this. jeanne)

The frogs are a flower gift. (The Hippy Flower Gift of the 21st Century) How are they "disciplined?" By showing, in collaboration with all of us, that you have learned some of the skills of making flower gifts, at little expense, that are something that a stranger might enjoy enough to keep a while, with their social message. I would be particularly happy if your flower gift showed that you had mastered some of the techniques for flower-gift making we have shared, the instructions for which are on line. In addition to production of a flower gift and it's launching in our community, along with its social issue, I expect you to be sure that I know either through your dialog on transform_dom, or through talking with me, or through putting it in my little black book, that you understand at the very least these concepts:

  • Illocutionary discourse: http://www.csudh.edu/dearhabermas/dhhowto.htm#illocutionary http://www.csudh.edu/dearhabermas/jcls2311.htm#illocutionary

  • Where illocutionary discourse fits in discourse generally: http://www.csudh.edu/dearhabermas/illoclearning01.htm

  • Fundamentalism as a barrier to illocutionary discourse, and how to deal with that barrier:: http://www.csudh.edu/dearhabermas/fundism03bk.htm

    The Arrogance of Knowledge and How It Often Shows Up in Coded Words

    These are issues that grew out of our experiences together this semester, and that illustrate in a practical way the teachings of Freire, Dewey, Che, and many others who have sought to empower the powerless. That's a left perspective, one that takes the position of challenging the fairness and justice of the world distribution of resources and our very humanity. We have disscussed the arguments against this left perspective, and you are welcome to express them as well. This is illocutionary discourse, remember. My goal is to understand how you have come to the conclusions you have, not to tell you which conclusion you should have come to.

    Assume I chose these questions for a test in which i asked you to explain in a paragraph what illocutionary discourse is; how it fits into discourse generally and why it is needed; and how fundamentalism presents a barrier to illocutionary discourse and how we might get around that barrier. and how the arrogance of knowledge often depends on coded status words. And again, telling me is enough. You don't have to write it. Just be sure I know that you "get " it.

    I couldn't have made these questions up before the course, taught to them, and then given you that test. I would have violated in so doing every principle of solid learning that prepares you for responsible leadership. For that goal, we must discover together what you need to know. and teach it to each other as we grow and dream. p>In a world that believes in testing, I could ask you these questions and grade you accordingly. In a world that acknowledges how little of learning is actually measured by paper and pencil tests, or focused school tests designed by the "teaching institution or teacher," I must recognize that a lower grade might mean you missed that idea one day; you failed to see the significance of that idea; you would use different words; your brain has used different words; you're focussed on other things; you don't know how to tell me what you know.

    Just think of how differently we handle "grades" and "accusations of incompetence" in our courtrooms. The one giving the grade has all the authority; the one accusing another of incompetence will bear the burden of proof. Isn't that an interesting switch?

    Real teaching to everyone in the real world means recognizing the limitations of language and pencil and paper as applications of knowledge in this world. So I leave up to you how you let me know that you "get" these concepts.

    Ask friends for help, ask Pat, ask me. Help each other. Outside of school or competitive formal training and hiring no one's gonna measure you with a test on pencil and paper in the real world.

    What's the sense in Leaving No Child Behind in a world that no one inhabits? Give them a flower gift, and love their learning so it will grow along with them.

    love and peace, jeanne

     

    This letter was written in response to Betty Pearson's Message No. 12943: "The purpose of learning is to form new ideas and be able to talk about them to create new ideas. Being on this site has helped me learn to respect other people's ideas and create new ones. It is a shame that people have to get personal because we want someone to accept our thoughts and words. Freud was right: blow off some steam everyday because letting it fester will only create a person like Hitler. Too extreme? Well sorry, I am graduating, and I needed to vent. I have started a journey that is going to end soon and I am very excited we have had great learning with Jeanne and Pat. Hopefully they will continue to let freedom ring on this site." betty pearson

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