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Lushyn, P. Some Reflections on the Ecology of Pedagogical Space
20.02.2010, 19:59

The Ecology of Pedagogical Space

The first step that any educational system makes is that it not only declares but actually tries to prove its advantage in covering some deficit or shortcoming in the development, education or upbringing of children. But any such attempt results in a similar outcome--a new model for covering the deficit emerges, which either does it better than the previous one or proves it obsolete. Having realized this trivial fact, not only the researcher but any other subject in the educational process can be inspired with the idea that it is useless to change one's own pedagogical dispositions.

Here we encounter another fact. The general psychological theory of personal transformation emphasizes at least two transitional processes: 1) the process of personal development as intra-system or interlevel transition to a relatively new personal potential within the existing one; and 2) the process of personal transformation as intersystem transition to a new potential, which, per se, means the change of the existing system.

Thus, from the point of view of the second process--which is, by the way, inseparably linked with the first one--there is no use making arbitrary attempts to transform any system, the educational included. The transformation of a system is not an arbitrary process; or rather it appears to be such only in terms of adaptation to much larger systemic changes-for example the collapse of the USSR, the end of the cold war, the transformation of the geopolitical balance between "capitalism" and "communism," the Chernobyl disaster, and the collapse of the stable democratic system after the events of September 11, 2001. This very argument justifies a "sound skepticism" toward any attempts to "turn" the existing educational system "around," or even to introduce innovations. This sound skepticism or, in psychological terms-resistance--or, in my terms, recognition of a "transitional/buffer zone," has much greater potential than the perfection of the obsolete system. It implies a new perspective connected with the construction of a completely new potential for the development of all subsystems, the educational included.

The situation of the transitional or buffer zone becomes recognizable when the pioneers of pedagogical reform can no longer declare themselves to be discoverers: the new potential appears not so much on the individual as on the social level. In this case, the subject of pedagogical transformation is a kind of a "hostage" to pedagogical pressure, and his/her historic role is limited to accentuating its phenomena and adapting to them. In ecopsychological terms, it may be connected with the situation when the environment for pedagogical creativity becomes really tough, so resistant that pedagogical creativity turns into pedagogical survival. In this extremely complicated and unusual process neither teachers nor students and their parents or researchers can claim to be significant authorities--none of them have any idea about either how to live in this situation or even for what to prepare the growing generation. At the same time, each interested part entering this transitional zone comes increasingly to recognize a mutual and even fatal interest in each other: we can survive only together. Resistant agents or subjects are more important in this process than those whose roles have already been recognized in the pedagogical process. Admitting or finding the place for "renegades" we not so much hinder the transition of the whole system as we contribute to its quicker self-organization. Standing up for the purity of one's convictions every participant of the pedagogical survival must likewise persistently stick to the ecology of one's own social environment without violating its principles, laws and regularities.

How to leave the educational system open

The ideal modern educational system is typically considered to be one which realizes its goals and objectives in at least the following dimensions: a) the transmission of culturally accumulated and socially approved knowledge, b) the development of the student's personality, i.e. empowerment in a variety of certain capacities like self-regulation, thinking skills, emotional intelligence and ability to make good moral judgments, etc.; c) accomplishing a) and b) in a manner, which is not psychologically or physically overburdening either for students or for teachers and parents, and finally; d) all of these educational emergents must be in coherent interaction with the student's immediate and long-term goals, experiences and challenges--i.e. be understood as practical. It is assumed that all these dimensions of the educational system are meant to prepare the younger generation for active and conscientious participation in constant social reconstruction.

One need not be especially competent in the sphere of education to conclude that it is impossible to put the above-mentioned system into practice. What hinders it? The first, so-called formal explanation is that ideals are always inaccessible; they are meant to motivate, to move forward. The second reason is that as soon as we define an ideal model and begin to consider the ways of its implementation, it already needs to be reconstructed, given the fact of the continuous development of any society and of its various elements. Besides, in order to create such a model, one needs to know the locus or at least the tendencies of the global structure of social development, and given the present unstable geopolitical situation, this task increases immensely in size and becomes actually impossible.

Does this mean that any educational system is doomed to obsolescence? Or can an educational system correspond to the tempo and dynamics of the development of society--or should it be ahead of it? And what about the relationship between school and life? If we judge the matter not by result-the granting of a diploma of some kind-but by process, there are always contradictions or resistances between these two components of social development. When it is school that is ahead of life, children are offered knowledge and skills which may not be used in their everyday life but are very likely to be used in the future. Conversely, school can leave life behind. Then, in their out-of-school communication children acquire knowledge and skills which, by definition, go beyond their school curricula but are extremely practical for the actualization of their future development. Obviously the most satisfying arrangement for both sides is the synchronization of both systems--society and school. In this case, resistances between them should first appear, then disappear.

Thus, in order to control the pedagogical system one should: a) preserve the content and sequence of existing school subjects and objectives; b) at the same time, realize their limited nature and give children the opportunity to gain out-of-school experience; c) follow the emerging transitional forms and phenomena that are the result of this interaction and which are presented in the opposition between school and life. Basing the construction of new pedagogical actions and their resulting systemic developments on these principles promises to allow improvement of the existing system before it becomes stagnant or chaotic and calls for fundamental reconstruction. This presupposes distinguishing between at least two types of school disciplines: the traditional ones that allow for the investigation of special spheres-e.g. the physical sciences-and "buffer" disciplines that allow for the investigation of the situations which create personal and social uncertainty, and fill in the gaps in the educational system as it faces the problems of out-of-school life. The latter include the following tasks: a) scanning the transitional space between school and "out-of-school", b) analysing the problems that students, their parents and their teachers encounter in school reality, and c) constructing new possibilities for personal, professional and social development.

This presents us with a logical question: might these buffer disciplines have an opposite effect, and in fact weaken the "immune system" of both school and society? On this argument, children will be "deprived" of real problems because the school system "immunizes" them in advance, anticipating transitional phenomena. Isn't it wiser to leave the transitional zone between school and out-of-school belonging to no one, and leave children to learn to solve the problems of the "real world" through actualizing their own deeply hidden resources? This question might be answered in the following way: in periods of excessive stability of the developmental processes on all educational levels, a function of uncertainty, ambiguity and contradiction might in fact act propeduetically to activate the system and to prevent its stagnation.

Again we fall into a logical trap: if we provide the resistance for them, we free our students from "natural" resistance to stagnation-i.e. we weaken their personal and cultural immune systems. The school presumes to be a substitute for life, which is impossible by definition. Moreover, this substitution may imply the idea that it is possible to remove the so-called negative situations (despair, absurdity, alienation, sufferings) from children's lives. If we could achieve this, would we not turn children's lives into a kind of "hot house" that would produce citizens who are not properly equipped for life? For in fact no matter how tragic and at the same time optimistic it might be, humanity has long since learned how to behave in extreme and profoundly challenging situations and even to benefit from them.

One might then ask: should we develop these buffer disciplines? At present the answer may be affirmative: if the idea is out there, then it is a response to some need. Such disciplines may indicate a more attentive and assiduous exploration of educational systems on the part of educators. Nevertheless, we cannot imagine a human society deprived of those imperfections that function to open any educational system to further change, development and growth per se.

"Buffer" school subjects: their meaning and forms

One of the dimensions in which pedagogy borders on psychology is in the concept of facilitation as a general capacity for a professional to initiate and guide a process of individual or communal self-organization. This assumption can be questioned from the start: Is the similarity between pedagogical and psychological facilitation so considerable that one can apply the concepts interchangeably? If the assumption is correct, then a teacher would find herself being capable of implementing therapeutic procedures while a therapist could easily teach and develop students. Since this does not seem to be true, we might refer to these professional activities as being close, as interacting in many ways but not the same.

We might be helped in our inquiry into the relation between education and psychotherapy if we examine the history of that relation in Ukrainian society over the period of the last decade. The social status of psychologists in the Ukrainian educational system, and especially in school, is very low--far lower than that of the teacher. An analogous situation can be observed in the preparation of school psychologists. In the late 1980's a movement begin in the former Soviet Union designed to radically increase the amount of applied psychologists in the field of education. A decade of successful social-cultural and educational endeavor produced a paradoxical result: the rate of unemployment among school psychologists is excessively high, and there is no distinct legislative regulation of their practical activities, including norms of licensing and conducting clinical research. On the other hand many classical and pedagogical universities continue preparing psychologists of various specialties. Besides, psychological curricula are very similar to the ones of the so-called "social pedagogues" and social workers. The latter categories are at the same-if not lower-level of social demand the psychologist's.

From a western point of view this paradox can be explained by the fact that the former Soviet republics are transiting from totalitarian to open market economies, and the latter are known for a well-developed social support system, including mental as well as physical health care. Thus, according to dialectical laws, qualitative changes are about to be replaced by a shift in quantitative ones, which in the near future will most likely produce a change in the target status of a school psychologist. But at the same time an analysis of the situation in the U.S. indicates that a boom in psychotherapeutic discourses and practices has been followed by the emergence of a slightly skeptical attitude toward psychiatric and clinical help, supposedly owing to its increasingly manipulative nature: numerous psychotherapeutic procedures resemble, if not pharmacological processes, then analogously technologized ones. This is exacerbated by a change in policy among insurance companies, which have acted to reduce reimbursable contact hours with a psychologist. In addition, the extended dissemination and popularization of psychotherapeutic and psychological knowledge has added to the emergence of numerous psychotherapeutic modalities which challenge and problematize basic concepts like "mental health" and "patient," and many pathological conditions are excluded from diagnostic inventories. Meanwhile, psychotherapeutic terminology is crossing professional boundaries and penetrating spheres like business, jurisprudence and education.

These accumulated contradictions-between, on the one hand, a growing body of psychologists ready to serve the increasing social needs of Ukrainian society and being rejected; on the other hand signs in the U.S. of exhaustion of the existing clinical paradigm accompanied by its expansion across professional boundaries-are so far being addressed by Ukrainians though avoiding the high road which has been taken by western psychology: from psychiatry to clinical psychology through social work to business and education. But it could be further resolved through the emergence of transitional or buffer disciplines in education such as learning or pedagogical facilitation. These buffer subjects are located somewhere in a marginal area between psychology and education. Their meaning is not the property of either child or adult, of psychologist or teacher. It is a zone of transition toward the mutually and socially beneficial results of communal self-organization. Within such a zone the "teaching facilitator" has the opportunity to develop her own educational potential as her students develop their own personal potential. In this zone they meet in a joint effort to transit to their individual zones of proximal development-for the buffer zone represents, in Vygotskian language, the intersection of zones of actual and proximal development. As it does not fully belong to the child, the teacher, for example, also has access to it, and thereby to the child's psyche and development. The same is true of the adult "buffer" zone, which is not "protected" from so called "kid's intrusion." Development takes place not so much in those two or even three zones as in the overlap or crossing--the "buffer" zones of both the child and adult. It is in this "no man's land," where they both feel drawn to each other that there is possible the emergence of an authentic mutually beneficial co-operation, resulting in cooperative social development. Thus the buffer subjects are meant for authentic cooperative facilitation, which can presuppose neither imposition, nor any form of manipulative learning or teaching in the classic sense of the word. This learning facilitation turns into co-construction of communal meaning in a situation of personal and social transition and ambiguity.

This definition is very close to the one I attribute to a relatively new and innovative school subject called "Philosophy for children" (P4C) which, since its appearance in the 1970's, has been disseminated throughout the world, most especially in the countries with transitional economies and developing democracies like Brazil, Poland, Russia, Lithuania, and Bulgaria. Characteristically for a buffer discipline, P4C curricula are designed not only for professional philosophers but ordinary teacher and educators as well as psychologists and even administrators. The curriculum consists of a series of philosophical novels combined with a methodology for teaching them called "community of inquiry" (CI), a pedagogy based on communal dialogue, whose aim is not so much to transmit certain philosophical knowledge as to develop the basics of creative and critical thinking. CI pedagogy aims for the students not so much to discover the author's meaning as to use the text as a cultural tool whereby they project their own personal meanings (triggered by the text) into the sphere of communal dialogue and consequence reconstruction of a new collective generalized meaning. The role of the philosopher in CI is atypical compared to the role of the traditional teacher.

One of the basic skills to be assimilated in the dynamic of CI is the posing of questions meant for developing a discussion agenda. The questions generated by the students may not coincide directly with the contents of the philosophical text. Often the questions serve as a means to involve students in a process of group dialogue. The text is created in such a way that (a) the facilitator is able avoid any form of imposition or manipulation, (b) it targets a certain age group and (c) its design enables participants to start a discussion in an open-ended and often even ambiguous way.

P4C proponents tend to insist that the facilitator should not concentrate on achieving psychotherapeutic effects. Facilitation must be associated with certain social emergents like the ability to listen, to respect the other, and to formulate arguments in distinct socially accepted terms. Most important to practitioners is not problem-solving or even building a sense of consolidated group identity capable of doing so; rather it is in promoting a self-organizing unity in continuous reconstruction of personal and social meaning. It is in this sense that Philosophy for Children is transitional, and not because it is controversial and ephemeral in its essence. In a changing world like ours, it represents the sphere of chaos defibrillated into the order of rhythmic constructive activity.

I would like to examine the term "defibrillation" in more detail, especially in the context of facilitation and help. As I mentioned above there is a strong correlation between different forms of facilitation/help: pedagogical, psychological and, I would now add, philosophical. I do not think it would be inconsistent to assume that the concept of help could be defined as (a) isolating oneself or another person from something which is alien and disturbing, (b) fighting against it, and finally (c) communicating with it in order to desensitize or compensate its destructive or negative influence. If all of these three aspects are connected in a temporal sequence, it yields an understanding of help, which is analogous to the functioning of the immune system. In order to survive, the immune system first isolates the organism from, say, a virus, then it fights it, producing anti-bodies. The latter are the result of communication between genes and anti-genes. As soon as the anti-bodies are ready, the system becomes indifferent to the virus, which in fact could be construed as the organism developing a tolerance to the primary form of the virus. From a dialectical perspective, the organism has become different from the one it was in the beginning. The same transformation could be expected from the virus.

Back to defibrillation: the virus is the fibrillator for the organism and its immune system, and the same could be said about the organism from the perspective of the virus. They both save each other through a variety of interactions. Then, defibrillation means sustaining the interaction. But how? When the immune system is stagnating in comfort, i.e. is in a stage which is antithetical to movement and development, it needs disturbing agents. It does not mean that the conflicting agents are necessarily evil--they are simply different. If they are very different and even antagonistic, the interaction will trigger metamorphosis, disorganization, chaos, and new forms of order.

We used to think that in order to make a difference a psychological facilitator needed integrative (problem solving) skills, a philosophical facilitator critical skills, and the pedagogue caring skills. But the buffer disciplines demand all three, and the facilitator is no long the expert manipulating these skills, for these disciplines represents dialogical rather than instrumental or transmissional situations, and all of them develop through communal dialogue, understanding and care. In the buffer zone there are no authorities, but there is the possibility of building a richer and fuller life collaboratively, and of developing new forms of facilitation and help. This new paradigm of facilitation is an ecological one, and as such its primary rhetorical form is not the proposition, the diagnosis or even the task, but the question.

On the meaning of questioning in the community of inquiry

It is assumed that a Philosophy for Children teacher typically starts the group process by encouraging students to put questions to a narrative which contains meaningful, philosophically charged material. Usually this procedure takes an extended period of time-often up to it 2/3 of a class period. Why--judging from the time and effort spent-this procedure? I offer the following analysis:
  • It represents an opposing viewpoint to the existing educational paradigm, in which it is the teacher who raises questions and sets tasks for the students to perform. P4C methodology presupposes that the teacher not do this. If the student is a subject of the group process along with the teacher, then she should be more active than in just answering the latter's questions.
  • Students are encouraged not to be self-centered, but to learn to identify their questions with social problems. Participants are taught to correlate their own questions with the those of others in the group. In this case, the discussion assumes a social dimension and turns into a joint inquiry, which fosters social awareness among individuals.
  • In order for a problematic text to be accepted as transformative, participants need to project themselves into it. The question can be defined as a means of crossing motivational boundaries for the sake of constructing a shared space for generating new meanings.
  • If such a considerable amount of time is given to problematization, it is for the purpose of uncovering various perspective or alternative ways of viewing the object or phenomenon. The student may also thereby develop the idea that any point of view can be accepted as adequate--the main condition is to specify the context. On this account, the formation of the capacity for divergent thinking and of an assertive attitude to life is of major importance.
  • Cognitive psychologists stress the fact that the precise formulation of a question either promotes the resolution of the problem it represents, or in fact is its resolution.
On the other hand, the phenomenon of problematization in CI can be viewed from a different, less affirmative perspective:
  • Given that its learning process as an exteriorized form of thinking, it is not just a transmission of the "material," but neither does it necessarily form students' capacities to put questions in any meaningful way. It is more a form of reconstruction-by which we mean generating new meanings through various forms of group process. In such a classroom, social values are challenged and reconstructed. Students are often more open, not so overloaded with social responsibilities, more imaginative and, by definition, more motivated to change than adults. If this function of CI is the major one, then in any given class, each participant may undergo an experience of being, not just a problematizer, but a constructor of meanings. This constructive function of education places the teacher and the child in one and the same learning dimension and makes of them co-workers--not because of their space-time unity but because of their mutually constructive disposition. The radical problematization which an overemphasis on questioning implies can interfere with this constructive function.
  • As soon as a community of inquiry undertakes the formation of a philosophical life-attitude in which critical thinking plays a major part, then its structure must be made up of three major elements: problematization, hypothesis-formation and testing, and self-correction or/and evaluation. The overestimation of the first component of the learning process may lead to a deformation of the process as a whole.
  • Another argument against the overestimation of the problematizing component of CI comes from the assumption that if the teacher is not distributing the questioning process among the students, then their capacity to do so is blocked. This assumption could be questioned, for the school is not the only place in which questioning skills are developed. A life situation may be no less of a teacher for a child than a formal educational context or event. The problem of not being able to ask questions could be interpreted as, say, (a) the student is not motivated to cooperate or (b) the tasks are too easily accomplished, or (c) the teacher is not genuinely interested in listening to the child.
  • Research based on the educational paradigm developed by the Russian pedagogue/psychologist Davidov indicates that, no matter how interesting and problematic the learning material may be from the teacher's point of view, this doesn't guarantee genuine participation in group inquiry into that material. That the student may have learned to put questions does not necessarily imply that this skill contributes to his growth in thinking skills or personal development.
The only view which might eliminate these negative arguments comes from the idea that the formation of the ability to put questions is in itself a model of the learning group process. The construction of questions implies the next two phases of the process-hypothesis-generation and self-correction. The putting of questions is therefore a central aspect of the mutually constructive learning dimension of teacher and student mentioned above. We may even go so far as to suggest that the questioning itself is the construction: as soon as the child has mastered the construction of questions, there may not be a special need to teach him to construct ways to resolve and evaluate the problems as they are. From a dialectical perspective, deconstruction announces reconstruction. The only mediating factor is time.

On the image of the philosopher at school

It is worth mentioning that the philosopher at school is not only expected to teach certain skills and knowledge but also to present a role model for students. Thus, a CI participant has the possibility, so to say, "to try on the philosopher's gown" and make a decision for including it into her/his "wardrobe". What does it look like? What is so attractive about it, and what could be rejected or even "restyled"? What impression does it produce on the observer?

Traditionally the philosopher has been regarded as an ambiguous, ironical, extremely critical and rational figure, who seems always to be guarding his own standpoint and is ready to challenge his/her opponent's. This description, although a bit abstract, is common even among philosophers. It represents them as occupying a certain meta-position, which helps them to stay detached from the common problems and daily routine so characteristic of lay people. The philosopher is most likely to be devoid of the emotional, and his ultimate weapons are reasoning skills and a strong sense of logic and truth.

But there is one more characteristic of the philosopher's image which I consider more realistic. Matthew Lipman, dealing with the emergent dispositions which students may acquire within the course of practicing P4C, wrote: "To learn philosophy, one must be actively involved in the life of philosophy and this can only be accomplished by children appropriating the philosophical tradition for themselves, reenacting it in terms of their own experience, critically reflecting upon it and incorporating the meanings thus acquired into the ongoing conduct of their lives." (Lipman and Sharp, 1978). This description is quite different from the one mentioned above. Having mastered philosophy, the student turns out to be, not just an "expert in sound judgment" absorbed in defensive rationalizing strategies, but one who is sensible, probably doubting, and--what is more important--open to exploration and personality change.

If one imagines such a teacher in the classroom, then student reaction to the first type of philosopher, which is typically one of reciprocal defense (i.e. hyper-rationalism when confronted with a hyper-rationalist), would change into something else. In order to determine the specifics of this change, I might elaborate on Lipman's understanding of the teacher of philosophy to children. The word with which he has replaced "teacher"-i.e. "facilitator"--might be a strange one for philosophers, but is more common among psychologists. In the person of the philosophical facilitator, we have a combination of one who (a) tries to grasp the general laws and contradictions of reality, and (b) helps others do it on their own. By this I mean not just transmitting his or her understanding, but creating pedagogical conditions under which students are positioned to make their own discoveries.

Thus, the notion "philosopher at school" depends on one's interpretation of the concept "creating pedagogical conditions under which the student will make their own discoveries." Does it mean that the teacher (a) is not too fast to deliver and transmit the philosophical information on the relevant epistemological, ethical, or aesthetic theories but rather (b) inspires them to discover and deal with all these theories in the context of their own daily lives, in a reasonable and independent fashion?

Or, while doing the first and the second, he does one more thing which sublates them: he uses himself as a model in order to demonstrate the relativity of any theoretical or commonsense construction of reality. If we consider these three steps appropriate, then by "creating pedagogical conditions┘" we mean the interchange and communication of diverse reality models in the learning process. One reality model may underlie the curriculum, another the teacher's approach, another the student's, another those of the students' significant others, and so on. Each model has its own context and its own course of development. Each model is true, yet, since it is a construct, it is restricted by the set of conditions under which it has appeared and under which it functions.

There is only one further step necessary to develop the concept of "creating pedagogical conditions under which the student will make their own discoveries." I define it as: the facilitating philosopher is one who, while knowing philosophy, is not fixated on it. Not only is she receptive to alternative and diverse standpoints and models, she is appreciative of their philosophical value. Besides knowing, receiving and appreciating them, the philosophical facilitator enriches her own scientific and philosophical outlook through interactive communication with alternative models. In summary, the typical student reaction to the typical rationalistic and ironical philosophizing pedagogue-one of reciprocal defense-would change, under the influence of the philosophical facilitator-to a sociable, caring and respectful professional who is ready to communicate with unconditional positive regard with diverse reality modes and models.

The facilitator as described above may produce an impression of being a "weathervane." This may be an accurate attribution in situations in which any form of change in the process of learning or teaching occurs through the suppression of either the student's or the teacher's point of view. For example, the teacher may forgo his own perspective in the interests of achieving an agreement or consensus with students. As opposed to this, if a teacher accepts (verbally as well as non-verbally) any point of view as potentially justifiable, then he--along with his students, may be called a "democrat", rather than a weathervane. The democrat differs from the "weathervane" in his capacity for the exercise of imagination. While the weathervane tends to solve pedagogical problems through adaptation to the existing conceptual context, the democrat does so through clarifying and resolving the inherent conflicts in the context, and thereby transcending and reconstructing it. This could be a long process.

Isn't the image of a philosopher at school like that? Here is a person with a developed imagination-one so mature that:
  • the students are ready to expect from him or her, as well as from themselves, (in his or her presence) the transcending of their own potentials;
  • thus, each class turns into a journey into new spheres of potential human change and development,
  • a journey in the course of which the notorious pedagogical shortcomings of controversiality and directiveness are transformed into an advantage, for it is the contradictions within a system which lead to its becoming a sort of "building site" for producing and testing new hypotheses, for generating new perspectives and dispositions,
  • and, in the long run, for the construction of new theories and new models of reality.

Ecological group facilitation: the basic skills

Before undertaking to lead a group the facilitator asks herself a question: can the group lead itself? If it cannot, then her task is to admit that the group is not just in a state of rest resulting from the style of former leadership, but is in a state more like stagnation. Its participants need either to determine a topic that will bring about a new cycle of constructive activity, or to construct something that will "immunize" or "vaccinate" them against stagnation, i.e. will provoke new group and individual self-organization. In the first case, the facilitator moves to create conditions for the group to treat themselves more ecologically, e.g. not to fear someone else's judgment. In this situation everybody has a chance to declare his or her interests without the fear of being rejected. As a result, the exchange of priorities and goals may serve as a basis for the construction of a shared goal.

Hence, the conditions for stagnation may be an unfavorable microclimate or, in other words, a rejection of equal interaction by the participants. Therefore, at this first stage of group dynamics the facilitator creates a favorable microclimate, and in second stage- "vaccination" against stagnation-she provokes the group by introducing some form of vaccination that will cause an "immune reaction." One way to do this is to touch on some "weak," or "delicate" or overvalued beliefs or opinions dear to every group participant. Even an "unusual interpretation of the usual" may serve as a kind of provocation. In the first stage, building relations of equal favorable interaction itself serves as self-provocation, because it means that everyone can express his or her opinion-at least one of which will inevitably conflict with someone else's. In the second stage, when the level of mutual trust within the group is higher than the trust in an outside person, the facilitator seeks to find the topic or theme that will "break" the existing pattern of understanding/interpretation of group events and thereby cause the conditions for construction of a new one.

As a new topic is being located, the facilitator is very attentive to each member's position, and to his or her style of communicating them. He listens to every remark and also remains attentive to nonverbal expressions. This is the basic skill of active listening applied to the content of the group discussion. When the participant finishes his or her proposition or argument, the facilitator asks himself if it was clear to everybody; if not, he paraphrases it in the speaker's terms, then gives the speaker the opportunity to correct his interpretation. If this, in turn, fails, the facilitator appeals to the group to help clarify the idea. This kind of behavior is a prime example working according to principles of group ecology and building a primary level of group acceptance and mutual responsibility.

As participants offer their positions, the facilitator performs a dual movement of structuring and also following the direction and pattern of claims, arguments and examples, seeking every opportunity to identify and feed back the larger patterns of argument which suggest themselves in the process of dialogue. This skill is particularly useful in moments of "stagnation," when the claims and reasons and examples are in an entropic state-i.e. when they have proliferated and drifted apart to the point where the implicit structure which they form is no longer or hardly visible. Another facilitation skill is that of provocation, critique, or challenge, which often emerges when one points to a contradiction within the logic of a member's argument. Again, if the facilitator fails in articulating the contradiction, the task can be shared with other participants. Other forms of challenge/critique consist in mirroring the stagnation-state of the group, or giving the floor to those who tend to perform the function of critic or skeptic within the group.

If a confrontation of opinions occur, the major factor that will "push" or organise the group process is close attention to the opponents' positions. Thereby, the possibility of activating or projecting hidden resources of group dynamics increases. As the group self-disorganises by expressing diverse opinions, the process may become chaotic. At the same time, if the topic is significant and the process has gone its usual way, there may spontaneously appear the participants who will "localise" or "pacify" the group process trying to not only maintain good discipline but also to co-ordinate opinions. This symbolises a new stage of discussion dynamics.

On the assumption that at every stage of group dynamics the facilitator induces or suggests something to the participants, the first stage is characterised by the ability to take an observing position, which requires an ecological or tolerant attitude to every participant in the group. The model of this ability is the facilitator herself, who does her best not to get detached from the discussion while providing the opportunity for others to follow as closely as she is. And at a certain point the facilitator even restrains herself from leading the group in order to give the group the opportunity to self-organize even as the participants seem to have lost this ability-and this in itself is, of course, a form of leadership.

The facilitator is motivated by the conviction that the group must find the solution or answer to the question it has posed itself. And that answer must satisfy the facilitator as well as a participant of the group. If it does not-if she is neglected--the second crucial stage of facilitation follows, in which she does not restrain herself from expressing her discontent, and attempts to "correct" the development of the group towards her own understanding of the issue. This, again, is her right as a group participant rather than as the "authority." This stage is a risky one, for it may influence the group which does not recognize that the move is a democratic one, but takes it as an assertion of authority, to either accept her arguments submissively or to resist non-verbally, if not otherwise, the "authority" they understand her to be asserting. Its ambiguity is amplified by the fact that the moment of her assertion is closely connected with the moment of her rejection, at which point the facilitator takes the "underdog" position, and defends her right to acknowledge her own experience and competence. Unfortunately, some facilitators overlook or shy away from this circumstance. In fact it is absolutely logical, given the fact that the facilitator went through the first stage together with the group, and her original position prepares her for access to the second.

Having reached some kind of consensus--i.e. the at least temporary satisfaction of all perspectives-the ecology of the situation must be "tested," i.e. it is necessary to answer the question of how fully each position has been integrated. In this context, an ecological evaluation implies the ability to include identify aspects or elements of the theme under discussion that may have been ignored, rejected or overlooked. These aspects often provide the material for the group's progress over subsequent sessions.

Lipman, M., and Sharp, A. Growing up with Philosophy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978.
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1 Dimyanshan   (12.01.2012 01:33)

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