I’m thinking lately about how some of my classroom discussions remind me of the conversations at my dinner table. In a classroom discussion, being the professor/moderator is often challenging. First, you have the students that digress in conversation (you are trying to talk about the quiz show scandals of early television and they are telling you that Kim Kardashian just had her baby) . Of course, sometimes these digressions are the most interesting part of the conversation. Other times, they just aren’t listening to each other. Then, there are the times when it just gets heated. Last semester my students got into a confrontational conversation about breastfeeding in public (not typically a subject that 20 year olds debate about). Then, you have to decide as a professor how to reinforce great ideas and what to do with ideas that do not connect to the material without publicly insulting someone. How do you teach while also helping to increase confidence levels?
All these questions are part of my typical teaching day so I think you can appreciate that when I get home at night, I would prefer to just read my kindle while eating dinner and ignore the conversation. However, my husband has proclaimed this behavior anti-social and thinks that we need to actually use dinner as a time to engage the children in conversation. I decided to embrace his suggestion and envisioned a Kennedyesque type of dinner conversation (with less grilling but with rousing political conversation- to the extent that an almost 9 year old, 7 year old, and 4 year old can engage in such discussions). Yet, the dinner experience reminds me of classroom conversation on steroids. The children just want to be heard and haven’t learned to listen so there are non-stop fights over whose turn it is to speak. Digressions are common (Jonathan left school early today for lice) and I wonder when I should try to explain the idea of following through but acknowledging that the 4 year old is probably less able to follow the conversation than the 7 year old, yet when the 9 year old digresses, should I be guiding him more? The conversation moves so quickly that we can discuss school lunchroom policies, why clouds form, the social dynamics of little girls (Audrey is not speaking to Cassidy--- FOR NO REASON), and Chinese dissidents- all within the span of 5 minutes!
Perhaps, in both the classroom and the home, the context is more important than the content (if you don’t mind a little McLuhan). Maybe it is more important just that we are engaging in conversations, having discussions and the content is secondary. As my children learn more about the world, they will (hopefully) be able to make more clear connections but meanwhile learning to take turns and listen are important skills. Perhaps, for my college students, the idea of learning when to listen and when to talk and how to accept digressions from classmates respectfully while still articulating a point is an important skill that at times may be more important than the particular point we are discussing. In the meantime, at least I’m up with the current celebrity and classroom gossip.