Talk That Matters
From California to Wisconsin
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
California State University, Dominguez Hills
Created: December 1998
Latest update: December 17, 2009
We believe in unicorns. jeanne studied with Leo Buscaglia, long, long ago, when unicorns in institutes of higher learning were not yet on the endangered species list. (Reference: Living, Loving, and Learning by Leo Buscaglia)
Our latest addition, October 29, 2010:
Most of all, I'm so grateful for Leo Buscaglia's unicorns. Through all the insanity of growing older, lots older and retiring to our own respective corners, Pat and I retained our vision of the unicorns. The latest Susan, the youngest of us, sometimes envies the leisure we know have for exploring and playing with the unicorns we come across.
Talk That Matters, a portion of the Dear Habermas site that Susan and I are carving out for carrying out the mission of Dear Habermas for our local communities, and for a grass roots renewal of talk that matters, on the issues that concern us all, at all ages.
I've just started the process of developing this new community-based site as one that expects to be a teaching hub for the growth of many overlapping communities, all of which do their best to see that all our citizens, of all ages, inspire each other to stay on top of issues that matter to all of us. That teaching hub will probably mimic our moot court project in insisting that we understand the difference between fact and interpretataion of that fact, that we respect the Other, including unicorns when they appear.
I'll offer brief summaries and online references from:
- Jürgen Habermas on lifeworlds, the public sphere, and his belief in the importance of law for the stability and cohesion it offers the aim of equality for all.
- John Rawls on his moral and ethical search for a system of justice and equality for all, on his position, along with Habermas, that what we ought to do, rationally considered as though our decisions were to be acted on by every individual, matters more than our values that are too influenced by the context of our cultural and ideological socialization.
- Mikhail Bakhtin, who said that before he spoke he must wonder what the Other would answer. Answerability - deeper and more personal and ethical than accountability.
- Anthony Giddens, who said that the sociologist describes society so that we can understand the system and structure better, and thus live more satisfying lives. But as we put that knowledge to use, we change the system and structure. And so the sociologist must study the most recent states of society as we have changed it, so that he can describe the changes, we can understand the system and structure better, and thus live more satisfying lives. And in turn, as we apply that knowledge, we change society further. And in turn, the sociologist must continue to study the changes we have wrought. Lucky sociologist. He won't have to worry about out-sourcing.
- Jonathan Lear, on his study of Freud's Wolf Man, who struggled to discover the rational reason for which he attacked Freud. Bit him, I think. Lear suggests that much of what we do is not rational, but something we simply do. The context, the juxtaposition of events, long forgotten events sometimes converge in random behaviors, not all of which grow out of complex thinking. Such certainty that everything I do is reasoned and justified by knowable evidence that leads to "the arrogance of knowingness." The Wolf Man Story
- Leo Buscaglia, on unicorns and their importance to our world.
- Maria Pia Lara, on illocutionary discourse, conversation aimed at just trying to know and understand the other, and through creative stories about our experiences coming to see new possibilities for changing what we see as "fair" and "moral" and supportive of democracy in a world of diversity. Maybe another way to say this is "trying to get your head around what the Other is thinking and/or trying to express, joining the Other by using your own skills and cultural understanding to help both you and the Other get your heads around stories and ideas that might help to change some of the possibilities we see for exclusion, inclusion, fairness and real democracy.
- Jean Paul Sartre, on good faith and what good faith means philosophically. In terms of just understanding another human being, good faith, as we interpret it, requires you to not only listen with an intent to be open to what is said, but to also lend your own skills to aid the other in explaining his/her validity claim (value, need, concern, idea). Lending my skills in good faith does not mean that I agree with the Other whose validity claim I try in good faith to understand, just that I have come to the conversation in good faith.
Most of these summaries will be brief, drawn from memories I have from all of my readings through college degree after college degree after college degree. But if you want to follow through, I'll always offer references, at least some, online, where you can freely access them. And if you know of other references, other ways to consider our striving together for the good of each and the good of all, as Habermas dared to dream (at least I think he did. Remember this is Dear Habermas - the school teacher and her friends who are trying to share what she imagines Habermas would say. That's a really real and important distinction.)
Susan and I believe that it takes several things for us to grow, as we must, into mutual understandings and stories that will guide us in living together without exploitation and without killing each other.
- A space, what we called at CSUDH, the Naked Space. Class time, essential because most of our students commuted through abominable urban traffic and worked, too. In a classroom, essential because many of us were so tired, we'd forget the location, if our meetings moved around. By "naked space" we meant space in which we felt safe together, knew there was no need for armor or protection, for we had chosen, as part of the class, to speak openly and non-defensively about social issues we were all facing. Mutual respect was our primary rule.
- An openness to listening in good faith, i.e., a willingness to help get an idea or position across that anyone was trying to express, whether we agreed with the position or not, was another primary rule. What we hoped to achieve in this Naked Space was a new way of bringing students, staff, and faculty into group discussions that could lead us to new ways of seeing ourselves and the college that might help get California through the crisis we were facing, even before the collapse of the U.S. housing market: Ever increasing costs at both public and private colleges, with ever-increasing debt to afford college, and ever-increasing exhaustion at trying to live, work, and get an education for a better life.
- An understanding of illocutionary force: (Maria Pia Lara, Moral Textures, ISBN 0-520-21777-2, Introduction, pp. 2-3), the force of coming together, without any agreement on issues, to share stories that can help us imagine new ways to see that disagreement, to see other possibilities, and to move towards a much happier and more democratic group.
- An honest discussion of all the facts known, and the interpretations of those facts by our group members. Stories are great. But facts matter, too. Since facts are open to interpretation, it's important to take the discussion to the level of how and why we are interpreting those facts as we are.
We weren't focussed on evaluation of our project, but on real help in coping with our worlds. So I don't have quantitative data. We were too tired in the immediacy of our needs and the energy generated by those needs to find answers, that we didn't bother to count or survey. But near the end of the semester (this was in Fall 2004) a couple of my students brought in another student from someone else's class, asking basically for Naked Space to work out a dilemma elsewhere. We sat down and talked, and the student cried as she explained that her teacher had called her "stupid" because she voted for President Bush.
There was no way my students could have mistaken my personal bias as a liberal. I consider that our personal experiences always affect our interpretations of even factual situations. So I remind them of my bias, and that it is a bias. But they brought this overwrought young woman to me, knowing that I would disagree with her choice of Bush, but that that disagreement would not prevent our naked space respect for her beliefs and ideas, and that we would offer her support to vote as she thought right. She left our talk together calmer, more sure of herself, and more trustful of her college, because it included a safe place for disagreements.
I was reminded of what Maria Pia Lara said about how our identities, our selves, change over time as our situatedness changes. The teacher should not have called her "stupid." That teacher went down several notches in my estimation of his own intelligence for the crude handling of disagreement with someone over whom he had direct authority to give a grade. I didn't hear any more about the incident that semester. But there were only a few days left before exams. The "stupid" obviously didn't get translated into her grade, or I expect I should have heard from her again, for she had railed about going to the administration in protest.I would have liked to invite her teacher to a Naked Space discussion, but there was no Naked Space in which to create new perceptions and identities with the teacher. New role for the media, Susan.
Added August 26, 2009:
Once again, I'm amazed at how much I'm reminded of those magical unicorns. The only thing that needs rewriting here is that most of the institutions I know of are still endangering the unicorns, and that our dream of restructuring the site took a whole year before we could begin to weave its threads together. All the signs were there: the art, the work with hardware as well as with fiber and paper, the work with adults as well as with children, and the understanding of how it all falls together, not only with so many forms of art, but also with so much from the study of liberal arts, especially now that two of us have retired and found the time to study a little more. And how much it all falls together with the need that most of us have felt to keep on learning, not just while we're young, but all the way into a graceful old age that takes us back to the community from which we once came!
We knew we weren't teaching art. No more than when we were teaching methods when we started that first FIPSE-funded research center. We were doing then what we're doing now. Teaching the art of doing. And in the process of that doing, we are able to excite learners of all ages to start with vigor wherever they are and move on steadily with whatever they have chosen to do. Increasing their skills and knowledge, and sharing with each other what they've learned and how to do the sharing. Academics call it collaborative learning. We like plain English. We just call it DOING STUFF.
No, the site isn't restructured yet. But there are many people in our community we know now, and many, many books we've read. We think now is the time to dive into restructuring the site. We sure hope so. The last weeks have been as hectic as ever any were before I retired, and I reckon not all that much is going to change. Last week a tech I hired to help me get started squawked at me, quietly, but none-the-less,. a definite squawk: "Do you know HOW OLD this computer is?" "Well, yeah. I kinda do. Eight years, you say?" So I need a new html program, a new ftp program, and what was that? A memory stick? How could I get anything done like this? Well, I was DOING STUFF. That's what I do. I didn't have time to keep changing programs. Mine already did what I needed to do.
I'm not sure I really need Adobe Photoshop. We don't rely that much on photos. Adobe Illustrator would be nice, but isn't it terribly expensive? And we do pretty much the same thing with crayons and oil sticks and paper and canvas and well, there used to be paper bags, . . . not so much anymore. But there are plastic bags around, and we can knit or crochet or weave them into wonderful art pieces and they don't cost anything. . . . well, not yet, anyway. Paper clips and hardware and wood are all over the place, if you just look carefully, and they make wonderful recuredos and shared exhibits in public spaces. See, we don't mind if someone takes our stuff. We hope they'll use it as a model to make their own stuff. That's a great way to learn.
Aren't new beginnings wonderful? So many possibilities. So much to learn. So much INTENSE EXCITEMENT! Maybe we'll get the imagery index done. That's a great way to find all the stuff on our site, and we can't always find hat we're looking for. But almost anything can happen when there are unicorns in our garden.
For continuity, you might want to read our update from 2007. But then there are so many exciting things to do. Be sure you learn. It's so much fun! And you'll need it all to DO STUFF!
Welcome back. jeanne
Added January 5, 2007:
I'm always surprised when I go back to an old file just how much I believe in unicorns. It's not so much that I believe in magic, as that life is magical. It's magic that Pat and Susan and I were able to form a collegial group that has carried on way longer than any of us ever expected. It's magical that our efforts at saving the endangered species of unicorns have resulted in some clear understandings of just how to do what we set out to do. And it's magical that we are steadfastly continuing to set up materials to let anyone share our work who chooses, under a Creative Commons License that let's you use our work to teach and to share, as long as you aren't using it for profit. Unicorns and flying good dogs made it all happen. I believe, I believe, I believe.
Jeanne and Pat and Susan have been together for so many years we think we came that way. Ours is a story of an unexpected teacher (Gee, I never thought I would do that; I trained for atomic physics!) and a once-devout Catholic with six children, and one of jeanne's first students who went off to Berkeley, and then, one day returned to create Dear Habermas.
We live where we landed in this crazy postmodern world of corporate mobility. Jeanne lives in the Hollywood Hills, Pat lives in San Pedro, and Susan lives in Kenosha, Wisconsin. We meet at professional meetings, and are grouchy when others take away our time together. We usually bring students with us to all the professional meetings, so that one day, in Chicago, one of Susan's students blurted out: "But when you went to your first professional conference with jeanne in 1975, I wasn't born yet!"
What a wonderful history we've created over the years! Since her early days at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), with me, Susan and I have never managed a prolonged period of time together. The computer became our constant connection. Telephones help. But the harder we work, the less time we really have for much talking. Pat and I, since our retirement together at CSUDH, have more time together. Not nearly enough, because we still teach every Fall semester for a few more years, and neither of us has the heart to turn a student away.
Susan, who trained at Berkeley in Criminology, ultimately founded a Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Wisconsin, Parkside. And Jeanne, who became a Criminal Defense Lawyer in the midst of her teaching, joined Susan in teaching law and criminal justice. No, we weren't together. We just taught together over the Web.
Pat, upon retirement, planned to go to People's Law School, until we found Dear Habermas growing so quickly it took both of us here at CSUDH to keep it going. We didn't initiate this project of peace and social justice to welcome our local communities to academic and political discussion; the project initiated us. And now we're not so sure we want to let go.
Our collective goals are that life-long education should be real, "really real," as Susan puts it, and free. Collectively, we are appalled that schools and universities spend more on "certification" and short-term, short-goal employment training than on the liberal arts of our founding universities for clerig[cal training and for the "elite."
Someday I'll add here what Frederick Jackson Turner (of the now-infamous Frontier theory) said about the state land colleges. We have much to learn from him in that respect. Susan and Pat and I reflect Turner's insistence that we must educate all the people without letting what he called the "masses" dictate the curriculum. Turns out it was the corporate world and profit that dictated the curriculum, but that change in players doesn't alter much in the way of Turner's thought. He saw our future in an educated populace. And education to him meant as it does to us, a liberal arts education in critical thinking and social justice. And he knew that we must not let that education be dictated by what was fashionable or what would simply meet short-term goals and thinking.
Our philosophy of the Site is based on our determination that our students shall learn: as freely, and openly, and with as much respect for that learning as we can manage to afford them:
- social justice
- peace in the interest of neither harming nor exploiting others
- social theory as it informs our understanding of how on earth we are to live a good life in these times
- social methods in the interest of those tools science does afford us despite the arrogant elitism of positivists
- philosophy and aesthetics as keys to our culture and our growth as humans
- art and music as alternative tools for expression of our lived experiences
- an understanding of social welfare as a safety net within social justice
- an understanding of privilege as social welfare beyond the safety net
- an understanding of the limits to human knowledge and the responsibility that imposes to respect the Other who may "know" differently
- a mix of disciplines that we have been led to cover over the twenty-five years or so we have worked together:
- learning theory
- social theory
- social methods and analysis
- modernism, postmodernism, and critical theory
- epistemology or "the art of knowing"
- history of the social sciences
- the philosophical roots of the past as reflected in contemporary social theory and philosophy
- race, sex, and gender
- law and social justice
- criminal justice
- religion, morality, and ethics
- centuries, generations, decades of the young, the elderly, and the increasingly confused middle years
- writing, both academic and creative
- art, both academic and public and personal
- and whatever the future drops in our lap, which we're sure it will do
Of course, we all have lives. So you can see how this program left us little discretionary time to learn new computer methods, do our own tech stuff, and cope with the general departmental refusal to accept our site in any valid way at CSUDH, except by our students. Still today, despite our begging, there is no link through our department through to our site. Wisconsin loves us, and links to us. But we're a stepchild, unloved and unwanted at CSUDH. That took energy, too. Hey, it happens. Pat and I are pretty visible and rarely complacent. Hence, our decision for fairly early partial retirement. Teaching only one semester a year gave me more time to write and plan and work with our students, and gave Pat the opportunity she had wanted for so long to focus more on teaching than on the ever more blatant paper trail of academic advisement.
This summer has afforded our first chance to step back and restructure the site. Until now, we've put up material as quickly as we can. Because we believe that students must learn to be aware of the world and its events, we link conceptually in all our courses to world events. It took us a long time to see how to do that effectively in a way that promised to be effective for those who might seek to go on for Ph.D.s in one of the disciplines and for those who sought general liberal arts understanding. We considered, and still do, for that matter, that it is important for those groups not to be educated separately with no communication. So we struggled to develop common language, common conceptual understanding so that effective public discourse could take place between students with many different career objectives and the community of life-time learners.
The restructuring of the site this summer should provide us with a chance to test our results so far. Feed back and participation are welcome.
Jeanne Curran, Ph.D., Esq., Professor Emeritus of Sociology, CSUDH
Patricia A. Acone, B.A., A.B.T., Community Adjunct, Emeritus, CSUDH
Susan R. Takata, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of Criminal Justice, UWP
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