Tony Gurr

What makes good “academic” or “pedagogic” discussion?

In Guest BLOGGERS, Our Universities, Teacher Learning on 03/11/2012 at 10:45 am
As some of you will have noticed, I have been MIA in the blogosphere for a fair bit – been on me travels, seeing my big, little girl in big, bad London and buying stuff I really do not need!
A change is as good as a rest – and I wanted to do both…
I was just about to start banging away on the keyboard, when my old friend Laurence dropped me a line. He had noticed that I ain’t done a lot of blogging of late…and that he had not much guest-blogging either.
Laurence is an academic / educator here in in Ankara and is also the editor of the Journal of American Studies of Turkey (despite his very British accent) – he’s also the chappy that I am co-authoring my new book with…
I’ll let him take over…
I’ve been asking myself this question a lot recently, after having read posts on a listserv (which shall remain nameless) focusing on issues of academic freedom, bullying, and the right to express one’s opinion. Sometimes the posts have become quite libellous.
So what is “academic” freedom anyway? The right to express oneself is an important one, and should be developed in every educational sphere, whether in school, university or elsewhere. Group work is an ideal method of doing this, allowing participants to “uncover” new truths, as well as develop their own approaches to LEARNing.
However freedom of expression must be tempered by a concern for other people.  Respect for feelings, emotions, and beliefs is as important as developing one’s own perspective.  LEARNing depends on being able to LISTEN as well as comment.  If we don’t believe this, then we might as well give up the idea of discussion.
Just listen to THE JEREMY KYLE SHOW someday, or any one of those so-called ‘chat’ shows where people come and talk about their (failed) marriages, and just see how the guests shout at one another without giving anyone the chance to speak.  In that kind of atmosphere, no one LEARNs anything, either about themselves, or those around them.
The business leader John Bryan once remarked: “You have to be willing sometimes to listen to some remarkable bad opinions.  Because if you say to someone, ‘That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard, get out of here!– then you’ll never get anything out of that person again, and you might as well have a puppet on a string or a robot.
Make no mistake: I believe in the importance of free speech.  At a northern university in England, an educator has been suspended with no right of reply, either in spoken or written form.  He should be given the right to put his point of view.  But there’s a world of difference between expressing one’s viewpoint and ranting for the sake of it.
The same goes for blog posts: people will listen to you if you listen to them.  You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.  Learning depends to a large extent on asking questions; but to ask questions, you have to be engaged in what you’re reading or listening to.  Ranting turns people off, rather than engaging them; as a result, no one wants to ask questions.
So next time you feel like ranting against someone – in public, in print, or online, just bear the following idea in mind: “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood.  The best way to understand people is to listen to them.
That is what academic “freedom” truly represents – the power to be able to understand.
Laurence Raw,
Baskent University – Department of English
Editor: Journal of American Studies of Turkey
@laurenceraw (Twitter)
  1. Reading this article reminds me of an old adage,’It’s not what people say but the way they say it’. This is one of those things I remember from my childhood along with ‘There is nothing common about common sense’ and ‘Locks are meant to keep honest people out’.

    Shouting at somebody may mean – I do not believe you are listening.
    Preaching to somebody may mean – I believe I hold the only truth.
    Talking constantly to somebody (ranting) may mean – well a whole host of thing!

    I have such a narrow view point I can not allow any challenges.
    I feel hurt or believe I have been treated unjustly.
    I am right and you are wrong.
    There is no foundation to my words so I must overwhelm any challenges.
    Listen to me, I know best.

    To me it is not what you say back to people or the challenges you make but instead it is what questions you gently ask that gets you to the real message.


    • Cheers Kev – so true!

      The thing is (and this is just me thunking aloud)…academics tend to be some of the worst “listeners” around. Is it ego? Is it fear of losing face? I’m not sure. I know some of the listservs Laurence was talking about – some of the comments I see there (from highly “educated” individuals) scare the living daylights outta me. I just hope this is not what they LEARN their students!

      Take care – thx 4 dropping in 😉


  2. I try not to rant; rather, I try not to come off as though I’m ranting. I think I succeed much of the time, but clearly not on some of my recent FB statuses. Luckily, no one pays much attention to me there… 😉

    • Ty,

      I actually thought it was funny that Laurence did a “rant” on “not ranting” (he’s going to kill me for saying that) 😉 BUT, he did “manage” his rant – and, as you say, it did not come off as though he was ranting. That having been said – sometimes (especially when confronted with silly ideas) we just have to “speak” our minds and hope we can shake a few things up enough for people to realise how dumb they might be “behaving” 😉

      Thx for dropping in – take care & have a GR8 w/e 😉


  3. It depends what you mean by ‘ranting’ I think you have to express your opinions – newspapers call it op-ed columns. Otherwise you cannot help to create the kind of questioning culture that is intrinsic to learning.

    • Laurence hocam,

      Tee-hee – I know, I know – was just teasing. Actually, my friend Mike (in Korea) has the word “rant” in the title of his blog – he rants very rarely 😉 But, hey…we cannot make omelettes without doing you know what 😉

      Take care,


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