does everyone understand?

Scott Thornbury’s blog
justifies the “have any questions” question,
as part of fostering an authentic environment
of honest communication.
This environment of trust may be contrasted to
the dishonest and distrustful environments
that Thronbury’s critics, Alan Waters, in particular,
(Applied Linguistics, December 2009)
seem to accept. Such suspicious patronization of one’s students
is offensive to Paulo Freire’s egalitarian conceptions of education,
and reeks of his ‘banking’ model of education,
where the ignorant students must be coerced into compliance.

First, this discussion seems
to confuse addressing
“is” and “should”.

Second, even the defenders of “does everyone understand?”
seem to acknowledge that a great deal more of investigation
is actually necessary to determine if everyone understands.

To my mind, the most insightful observation
comes from Linda Aragoni,
who brings up the point that the discussion
should not just address purposeful duplicity
for the sake of avoiding embarrassment;
it also needs to consider
the fact that misunderstandings
are often unaware that they are such!

This comment hopefully reminds one that
the conversation should be less about
malicious deception and accusations,
and more about the daunting challenges
to being completely honest.

If one wishes to support Freire’s ideals,
one may prefer to identify loci of deception,
both intentional and unintentional,
and purposefully attempt to eradicate them,
or one may may simply hope to wish them away.

Which strategy is more effective is hard to say,
and may depend greatly on the personalities
of the implementer and of his subjects.

How effective is Freud’s ‘talking cure’.
That depends on who you ask.
What personality factors are relevant to its success?

Does pretending something make it so? Or,
is acknowledging problems the best way to solve them?
I’d argue effective action requires deploying
both these strategies in their proper contexts.

I’d also argue honesty is useful
but not sufficient for learning.

In any case, saying “be honest” is probably
even less useful than “do you understand?”.


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