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being open

Conversation for the informal educator is not about trying to win an argument. Rather, conversation is about understanding and learning.

learner.jpg (12133 bytes)This does not mean that we avoid debate and challenge. What it does involve, though, is constantly being open to the possible truth of what others are saying. This makes it a risky business. To be open to what others are saying we have to bring our own beliefs and feelings into play. In other words, we have to enter conversations ready to change our view of things.

However, being open does not mean that we accept everything we hear. We have to make judgements. We are educators, not companion horses. Neither are we simply listeners - as educators we have a responsibility to engage with what is going on. Thus, we will often check:

All this entails looking for assumptions. It means thinking about the context in which people act and how this has affected them. Further, it involves imagining and exploring alternatives. In short, it means thinking critically: 'crap-detecting'. Ernest Hemingway was once asked if there was one essential ingredient to being a great writer. He replied, 'Yes, there is... a person must have a built-in, shockproof crap detector'. For them the cultivation of 'crap detecting' is the central task of education. Some seem to approach this as a skill, but really it is a frame of mind. We have to be open to what others are saying and ready to subject what is said to certain tests. Keeping a balance between the two is not easy. It depends on our being wise - having the necessary knowledge and developing our ability to make informed judgements. Also, ideas and experiences have to be examined without threatening people’s integrity. As part of this we also need to be open to challenge concerning our own experiences, values and ideas.

infedcov.jpg (18462 bytes)Taken from Tony Jeffs and Mark K. Smith (2005) Informal Education. Conversation, democracy and learning, Nottingham: Educational Heretics Press.


© Tony Jeffs and Mark K. Smith
First published October 11, 1999. Last update: July 08, 2014