It Keeps Coming Back to Conversation

Compelling discussion about compelling discussions seem to surround me lately. At least four folks have pressed this button with me in the last two weeks. We are in a time and place that does not give time or place to good conversation. I have believed for some twenty years now that “conversation” is the single best descriptor of a school. I am still reading bits and pieces of Diane Ravitch’s wonderful work, Left Back, and in those pages see lots of examples of where instead of having a conversation, the educational leadership over the last 100 years have simply each taken a position and yelled it at others. There has been no give and take, no willingness to reconsider, no seeking of premises for the conclusions, etc.

Let me illustrate with just one small example that I have spent a great deal of time on recently (unfortunately in my own thoughts, not with anyone else). Spelling. That wonderful discipline we love or hate. I tend to be a better than average speller. I hate the formal way in which it is usually taught as such was a bore and bother to me as a student and to a lesser degree as a teacher. Churning out lists of spelling words for a kid and mom to slave over all week seems much less natural and pedagogic than learning the rules of spelling as one learns to read, then applying those rules over and over as you use them, and simply being expected to spell things right when you write them.

Okay, so you have a good dose of my own theory there. But this has not been conversed upon much. Can’t give any excuses, just have not engaged others in my thinking. And I could easily be shown other light. But for years now I have stood safely in my little cocoon of ignorance, thinking about this issue of spelling from my own vantage point, secure in my own thinking, never risking the challenge and enlightenment of putting it out there for others.

Again, my point here is not for everyone to go at my views on spelling. You can, but that would be the little target. The big one here for me is a plea for us to be courageous and carry our ideas out into the marketplace of conversation. That is not the same as surrounding ourselves with those we know agree and then getting “yes’d” to make us feel good. I mean purposely taking our ideas out where we know others disagree and then listening, learning, bantering, shaking the tree, in general having real conversation and thereby growing.


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