Listening to a Challenging Perspective: The Role of Interruption
by Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon — 2010
Background/Context: Taking up an issue explored by John Dewey, Austin Sarat, and Walter Parker, as well as many others, I continue my study of the conditions under which people choose to listen to a perspective that challenges their own beliefs.
Research Question: In my book, Learning to Teach Through Discussion: The Art of Turning the Soul (2009), I present a case study that shows students and teachers learning to listen. The reader sees that as they engage in what I call ï¿½interpretive discussionï¿½ï¿½that is, discussion about the meaning of textsï¿½they become more eager to understand their meaning and to understand the ideas of others in the group. In some instances, people work to listen to ideas that challenge their own, rather than eschewing them. The present article continues my investigation into the conditions under which people try to listen to a challenging perspective and draws implications for the challenge of so doing for teachers.
Research Design: The research described in Learning to Teach Through Discussion moved me to examine a fictional case and assert five hypotheses about the conditions under which listening to a challenging perspective occurs. Then, I examined a nonfictional, introspective case that focused my attention on the second of the five hypotheses. Next, with Elizabeth Meadows and others, I studied two nonintrospective, nonfictional cases. These analyses helped to clarify four conditions that obtain at the point identified by the second hypothesis. Clarification of the four conditions enabled me to identify a challenge that teachers face in trying to help students and themselves listen to challenging perspectives.
Conclusions: The evidence that I have collected suggests that when one listens to a challenging view, it is because one is trying to resolve a question and seeks help in doing so. Then, one allows oneï¿½s listening to be interrupted; that is, one stops trying to answer the initial question and starts trying to resolve a new question. The shift occurs because one hears, in the otherï¿½s words, an idea that challenges a heretofore tacit belief. The listener then starts listening to determine whether the belief should be accepted or rejected. I argue that when teachers allow their listening to be interrupted by a challenging perspective, they open themselves to recognition of heretofore tacit beliefs, to new questions, and to new ideas about the resolution of those questions.
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