So today I'd like to talk about …

The way I run classroom discussions I rarely if ever have a good sense of where they're going to end up. At the most I start off the day with a set of concerns that we might want to touch on, or a question or two concerning the reading that suggests a direction for us to move in. Sometimes I don't even have that. My feeling is that discussions are their own emergent entity, subject to their own dynamics and subtly urged on by the indefinable but present promptings of joint action. So I set the stage, provide the text, and then simply let things go where they will.

Of course, I'm a participant in the process, and I do have the ability to wrench the conversation around in ways that the students in the class are usually reluctant to utilize. Plus I tend to "conduct" by running a speaker's queue, so that no one dominates and people who aren't as aggressive can gain the floor right on point. (Of course, that kind of officiating breaks down, as it should, as the semester goes on and the conversation itself just starts to run away with everyone.) But I generally follow rather than lead, and if the conversation in the room seems to want to go towards X rather than Y, my inclination is to let it.

Now, this does mean that when I start off class saying that I want to make sure that we hit two or three things, we may very well not get to them. Take today's s/s/f class, in which I wanted us to talk about the gender issues in Dune that made their way onto several blog entries. We didn't really get there. I also wanted to talk about power, and whether religions were just ways of obtaining and exercising power; the Weber reading lent itself to that, and last week's discussion of the Bene Gesserit also posed the question. We did spend a while there, getting at the differences between an internal ("believer's") account of a religion and an external ("observer's") account, and also playing around with the perceived incompatibilities between science and (some) religion. And then Akira got dragged in near the end: what happens when science actually manages to produce something that can really only be experienced and explained in religious terms?

I'm not too concerned about the gender issue, since we have a session explicitly devoted to that in a few weeks, and it has come up from time to time before (and will hopefully continue to do so). These novels are rich enough that we can't possibly exhaust any of them in a given session. Plus, the blogs seem to fill in a few of the holes, such as Lennea's observations on why Dune's portrayal of women disturbed her and Jessie's analysis of Leeloo's ambiguous savior role in The Fifth Element. So things that we don't cover in the classroom are still getting considered more or less in public, which is good.

I suppose I could be more didactic, steer the discussion more explicitly. That way I'd make sure that we covered everything I wanted to cover…

…and we'd lose the whole "joint action" aspect of a class discussion that makes it so enjoyable in the first place. I already know what I think; class discussion is an opportunity to put that to the test, so to speak, by airing it in the company of others.

And besides, if I ever really feel like we didn't cover something, I can always blog it, right?

[Posted with ecto]

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