On the 3rd of June, SLATE organized the International Conference on Dialogic Pedagogy, Creativity & Learning: How do we Foster Dialogic Teaching, Creativity & Learning in Educational Settings? with a variety of presentations from some of the most influential researchers on the field of dialogic pedagogy. The presentations were based on chapters from a book on dialogic pedagogy that is being edited by Olga Dysthe, Professor Emeritus at the Department of Education, University of Bergen, Ingunn Johanne Ness, Senior Researcher and Theme leader at SLATE, and Preben Olund Kirkegaard, PhD and Docent at the University College of Northern Denmark (UCN).
Behind the stage of the conference we had the chance to converse with Professor Eugene Matusov over a cup of coffee about his opinions on the current educational system, and about dialogic pedagogy in education and its relation to diversity and social justice.
Eugene Matusov, Professor at the School of Education, University of Delaware, USA, is editor of the on-line journal Dialogic Pedagogy and has written the book “Journey into dialogic pedagogy” (2006). He was born in the Soviet Union, studied psychology in the Vygotsky tradition, and was a teacher before he immigrated to the USA. He is particularly interested in Bakhtin and sociocultural approaches to the study of learning.
The current educational system
Matusov’s research and educational interests include dialogic pedagogy and to assure safe learning environments for all students. Therefore, he is in a constant search for answers to the different challenges facing the current educational system. In a friendly conversation he pointed out that the educational system has been scrutinized by many experts and reformers throughout history who aimed to enhance the performance of the system. Still, many students are detached from the learning process and the system seems to be unable to provide for diverse profiles and interests. In fact, the educational system, as explained by Matusov, was designed to support students’ failure and social promotion policies. The problem in the current educational system is that schools are not serving education itself, but is serving other political, social or economical purposes, which means that learners are denied access to meaningful education.
Why dialogic pedagogy now?
In order to confront the failur of the educational system in being inclusive and serving the education, it is necessary to talk about dialogic pedagogy. Dialogic pedagogy is a theory and practice of teaching in which dialogue is central. Teachers and students are in a balanced relationship and share multiple points of view.
In Matusov’s opinion, dialogic pedagogy is needed to make education meaningful: meaning is built between persons and is based on dialogue. Meaning is not possible to achieve without someone questioning something and someone replying to that. So, if we want a meaningful education, and not only pattern recognition and pattern production, it has to be dialogic.
Another argument is to consider dialogic pedagogy as part of the humanization of human activities. When people are encouraged to start questioning things and to ask about the underlying reasons, they are already part of the dialogue. It is a natural process of the humanization of human practices, and education is obviously part of those activities. In that sense, there is a need to humanize education itself.
Finally, Matusov refers to Bakhtin’s point of view and says that everything is dialogic: even a monologue is dialogic, even if it is a distorted dialogue it still is considered as dialogue. So from that point of view everyone is doing dialogic pedagogy, but it is done in a distorted way. This is why we have to work on improving the existing situation in education? and transform it into a real and sustainable dialogic pedagogy.
Dialogic pedagogy and social justice
For Matusov, a topic that lies close to his heart is the topic of social justice; it is complex and attractive at the same time. In his own words, “there is something that I like about social justice that I would like to call anthological. (…) Anthology initially is a theological term that basically means the study of life, but with the emergence of existentialism takes a complete opposite meaning, is not anymore about studying the life but it is more about the way that life affects our choices and studies. And I am using the term in its existential meaning”. Hence, the importance of studying issues related to social justice resides in the fact that it always emerges from personal, often painful, experiences.
Matusov, however, is critical to the topic of social justice when it comes to two points. First, whenever education is solely addressing issues of social justice and when this education is being “sacrificed” to “serve” social justice matters. In other words, education is presented as a magical solution to all problems and illnesses of the society and, at the same time, it is first in line to be blamed if something goes wrong.
Second, Matusov is skeptical about the social justice movement that often utilizes education as an ideological brainwashing instrument over students. The relation with students and their engagement becomes non-dialogic and it controls the learner’s freedom and creativity.
Matusov is passionate about dialogic pedagogy and one cup of coffee turned into two before we ended our conversation and wished him a safe journey back to the USA.