Class discussions express as much about participant egos as they do about the topic at hand. Professors aren’t immune from becoming over-zealous about their pet topics and students, well, even the best of us can be carried away in flights of fancy as we expound our points of view. But where loquacity lets off real thinking begins. AU allows our minds to thrive in ways that aren’t under perpetual cross-examination by our peers, and this may be a benefit to our learning, especially if we are of an introvert bent.
Consider the simplest of questions: what do we really think about a topic? To be sure, we could adopt one of many stances on an issue of the day or with regard to a key foundational aspect of our academic discipline. Yet, in the end, we can only try out perspectives with the honest knowledge that, in the future, we may feel different about it. Values and beliefs can feel like they are for keeps, but the times and the time of our life as we age means that change is as inevitable as the wind. The act of taking a perspective, espousing a point of view, or exploring a narrative, invokes a certain set of rules of discourse and interaction. Like a board game that gobbles up countless hours as players lose themselves in the minutiae of rules and strategics, tactics and tit-for-tat, the sheer act of discourse can transcend the pedagogical purpose of education. We’re not students to talk so much as to listen.
Hearing and Being; Seeing Within Our Ideas
A Moncton, New Brunswick musician named Rick White once sang that ““everyone wants everyone to listen. But everyone hears only themselves” (White, online). School is one of many forums, online and otherwise, where the medium of debate can override the joy of sharing ideas respectfully. Timeless though discussions may appear to be, there also exists a parallel realm of silent meditation. We may not literally be like Rene Descartes sitting with a candle and pondering his cogito, but it never hurts to quietly consider where we are at in our studies. A Hindu guru named Maharaj claimed that “salvation is to see things as they already are…your hope lies in keeping silent in your mind and quiet in your heart” (Maharaj, online). Other highlights of this point of view, far from immurement away from so-called stimulating conversations, include “knowledge can come by constant meditation”, “you are knowledge, you are what you are seeking”, “you do not come from somewhere, you do not go anywhere”, “the greatest guru is one’s inner self” (Maharaj, online).
Eat your heart out, individualized study students! But there’s more to the idea that our inner steam mill of a mind can on its own propel us to scholastic success. Even when we do express our learnings to peers and tutors and fellow students, we are always-already engaging in more than simply an expression of meaning. Behind every vernacular or lingo lies a hidden phrasebook of implicit meanings. The assumption that speech must be relevant to a particular topic at hand already rules out many comments that might break new ground, epistemological or otherwise. Consider this excerpt from a succinct description of Speech Act Theory:
“conversational maxims. These are the conventions stating that one usually says things which are not only true, but relevant, substantiated etc. (And these rules are, according to Grice, part and parcel of human rationality just as the rules of logic are.) These rules facilitate that saying something can effect conveying something else: if I ask “Where can I get some petrol here?” and get the answer “There is a garage around the corner”, I assume that the answer is relevant to the question and infer that the message is that the garage sells petrol. The pieces of information a participant of conversation infers like this were called by Grice conversation implicatures.” (Peregrin, online).
An answer to the question about where to fuel up could easily be: why don’t you walk? Or: why go shopping in the first place? Such snide remarks might not win us new friends but they are certainly possible as discursive rejoinders; in fact, class discussions are much like everyday social life. Rife with assumptions and biases, discourse may tend to simply uphold groupthink norms and cultural biases of the times. To really think ourselves free of the bondage of normality is, at least in terms of creative expression of our learning, perhaps best done in the relative isolation of our own minds. At the least, some balance between talking and thinking is required. Expressing ourself to others is crucial to really showing that our studies are worthwhile, but that doesn’t mean we are missing out by not being part of a chattering class discussion every time we learn something.