Academic journal article High School Journal

School Relations: Moving from Monologue to Dialogue

Academic journal article High School Journal

School Relations: Moving from Monologue to Dialogue

Article excerpt

This article investigates the existing nature of relationship between the student, the adults in charge of schools and the curriculum, and argues that the nature of the encounter between these participants in schools often results in a "miscounter" rather than in actual contact and produces a variety of monologues. The article goes on to discuss the possibilities of establishing real contact through a dialogic relationship instead.


Speaking about education, at the Heidelberg conference in 1923, Martin Buber said, that essential for the growth of the child, there must be, between the teacher and the child, a "subterranean dialogic," an inclusive relationship in which there is trust and full acknowledgement of the other (Buber, 1965, p.98). Otherwise there occurs, what Buber called, a "mismeeting" or "miscounter", by which he meant, "the failure of real meeting between men"(Buber, 1973, pp. 18-19). Mikhail Bakhtin (1984) laid a similar stress on the dialogic relationship. Bakhtin believed that truth emerged out of a "meeting of consciousnesses," and that such meeting was the outcome of dialogue.

As educators and teacher-researchers we realize the importance of dialogic relations and note with serious concern the general lack of such inclusivity and mutuality in our schools. In this article we argue, that, rather than being places of dialogue, schools, in general, have largely functioned as monologic institutions in which there is very little mutuality; that although teachers and students daily share experiences, and the students meet the curriculum in classrooms mediated by the teacher, the result is often a "mismeeting," using Buber's term. In other words, although the engagement is apparently on a common experiential plane, the nature of the exchanges between the student and the teacher is mostly formal, and they remain widely separated culturally. Deborah Meier (1995) comments:

   In our large high schools ... students move about bereft of relationships
   with anyone but their exact age and grade peers. Adult and student cultures
   rarely interconnect much less overlap. There is no thick, complex and
   powerful counterculture to balance the one that has been developed for
   adolescents only, no counterforce representing serious adult ideas and
   concerns to which these novices might now and then apprentice themselves.
   (p. 113)

Our observations as classroom researchers largely bears out Meier's comment about the absence of a "thick and complex" inter-culture, one that could overlap and construct bridging discourses, create "border" dialogues (Giroux, 1992), and bring about a public language in the domain of which we can pursue together that which we call learning. The general absence of such an atmosphere of mutuality, we feel, is a serious lack., and the imperative behind the writing of this paper is to help focus the attention of teachers and administrators on this vital question of school relations. We also argue that when these monologic conditions are met in an "inclusive manner" by forms of the "dialogic", there is the possibility of the emergence of mutuality, and the beginning of true communication. We begin by considering the nature and different aspects of the monologic pattern of school relations.

The Nature of Monologue

Monologue arises when we iguore or fail to open ourselves up to the "other". An exchange becomes monological when there is no deep acknowledgement by either party of the legitimacy of the other's point of view. Michel Foucault (1979) pointed out that power is a factor in every relationship. Relations between individuals or groups are liable to be monologic when the discourses that define them are embedded in a hierarchical order of power, and the terms of those discourses appear reified and largely nonnegotiable. For instance, those who work in schools often perceive the discourse of "experts" or the bureaucracy of the district administration as oppressive or meddlesome. …

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