Conversations, articles, plausible deniability and learning.

Over the last year, I’ve really found that one of the key ways that I’ve learnt, and that all people learn, is through conversations. The very act of speaking our thoughts aloud to another person and allowing them to interact with our words is so important. If you have read some of my articles or had a conversation with me you may have noticed that I do stress this point relatively often. But why is this the case? What makes conversations so powerful?

Whenever we read something or we watch something it is essentially one-way talking. The author is telling you their thoughts, ideas, interpretations and so on. Even when you want to push back on some points we often will still finish reading the entire article (as you’ll maybe do with this one?). As such, I find that I often come away from an article and make an overall judgement on the quality; “That was an excellent article” or maybe, “Okay, that was a waste of my time.”

Now, I’m sure all of us have had the experience where we have read or watched something and thought, “Wow, this is the greatest thing in the world! Everybody should read/watch this!” So we might share an article on Facebook or even tell our friends, “You should read this!” Invariably we find people somewhat cautious and even if they do have a look, they don’t get as excited about the whole thing as you did. This happens to me too when someone asks me to read something (particularly if they don’t elaborate on why). However, what I have found interesting is what happens if I take some issue with the article or video that was shared to me and go and talk to the person about it. The situation can become strange in that one person is trying to defend the author who is not in the room and essentially the other person is trying to have a conversation with that author too. This is where I find plausible deniability comes to the fore. The defendant will often choose to distance themselves in some way from the more controversial parts. They may say things like, “Yes, I don’t agree with all of it but I just thought the article was interesting.” This is the ‘out’ or plausible deniability aspect that we like to have as a safeguard.

This is quite different from when we speak our own thoughts and ideas in the context of a conversation. There is nowhere to hide and we must take full responsibility for what we say. In a conversation, we expose our ideas to either the possibility of being supported or being dismantled. If our goal is to get closer to the truth in our discussions then we must see either possibility as a ‘win’. It comes with the imperative that if our ideas don’t stack up when we speak them to another person, that this would then have an impact on our lives, in particular, our actions. This can be very difficult for us as human beings because our ideas are often so linked to our identity. It is far easier to keep ideas at a distance and not too personal.

So how does this link in with learning?  It is often difficult formulating our own thoughts and ideas in a way that makes sense to others. You will probably have experienced a situation where you want to share an idea that you read about but find that it was “way better the way it was explained in the book”. But this is exactly the point. If we really want to know if we have learnt an idea we must be able to explain the concepts in our own words otherwise we have not really learnt it. To give assent to an idea is not the same as learning it. Simply assenting will not change our actions. When we learn a practical skill, like sailing or riding a bike, there’s only so much we can learn by listening to theory, eventually, we actually have to go and do it. It is only through the actual doing of the task that we really learn. The same goes for ideas as well. There’s only so much help that reading and listening to ideas brings us. Eventually, we have to actually ‘do them’. How does this work with ideas? It happens through conversations where we share our thoughts and ideas. Where we own the full content of the words we speak just as we fully own our actions when we learn to ride a bike or sail a boat. Knowing that we are in control is essential to learning and to see that our words and actions have a real impact in the real world.

So this goes into some of the reasons of what I am trying to achieve with Frank Education and while I do enjoy writing articles I understand that ultimately it is through conversations that any true change in our thinking and actions, in regards to children and education, will happen. So once again if you are interested in having those conversations, let me know.

Having said all that, there are some positive aspects to the way we can use plausible deniability for articles that we find interesting. In “liking” or “sharing” articles (on Facebook for instance), it brings some topics more into the open. The more people see content on these topics the more socially acceptable it becomes to talk about them, even if you choose to distance yourself from an article if someone does bring it up for discussion. So for all of you out there who like reading my articles (nearly 1000 reads on my articles this month, so no, you’re not the only one) and if you think the topics I am sharing are worth discussing then ‘like’ and ‘share’. Feel free to use the plausible deniability approach for now and say you “found it interesting” so that it becomes more socially acceptable to talk about these things and who knows, maybe we could start dabbling our toes into really having full conversations on children, education and learning.