The Two Dialogues of Education

2019-06-26 Nick Bowley

Dear YueCheng community members, 

Welcome to the first article I have written for you since I was appointed Superintendent of YueCheng Education (YCE). From time to time I will send you short articles such as this, and they will focus on the nature of education and how you, as a parent, teacher, staff member or student, can optimize the experiences offered by the different YCE places of learning. 

We all know the value of ‘education’, but what exactly is it? Perhaps we should start by describing what it is not. It is not a product. Products are designed and made by the manufacturer, sold to the customers and used by them. The relationship between the manufacturer and customer is a simple transactional one.

Similarly, education is not a service, although there may be some who mistakenly think it is. A service is a useful act – usually paid for – performed by one or more persons for others. This works for pizza deliveries and car repairs but it most certainly does not work in education! The educated person is actively and deeply involved in her own education for a period of many years or decades. So, too, are that person’s parents, teachers and friends. Education is a long and collaborative process of learning.

At the heart of learning lies dialogue. In the educational context, dialogue and discussion have different meanings. Dialogue means conversing with the aim of coming to a deeper understanding. Discussion take place at a simpler level, when the aim is to come to a conclusion or make a decision. Both dialogue and discussion take place in education, but it is dialogue that lies at the core. 

Education is founded on two kinds of dialogues. What we may call collaborative dialogue takes place between two or more people – student, teacher, parent, and peers. Everyone asks questions of each other and contributes their own ideas towards achieving deep learning. Curiosity, rigor, and an open mind are the key to successful dialogue. 

The second kind of dialogue takes place within your child’s mind (yours and mine, too, but for now we’ll focus on the child). We can call this internal dialogue, and it happens in two main ways. First, it happens when your child reads. Unconsciously or consciously, when she is engaged in deep reading she makes connections with other knowledge and ideas already in her long-term memory, and her imagination takes flight. She is engaged in the act of creation, which is the highest level of thinking. When she reads she is also learning the skill of empathy, which makes her a well-rounded human being. 

Secondly, internal dialogue takes place when the child is alone and at rest. Using modern technology such as fMRI, neuroscientists have quite recently discovered that more brain activity takes place when a person is not consciously thinking of anything than when she is actively focused on an activity or task! When actively focused on doing something the child may increase her skills of analysis and evaluation, but when she is at rest the cerebral neurons in what are called the brain’s ‘association cortices’ are making countless new connections. This is what happens when we have new ideas; some may be fanciful, but others may be of lasting value. Those ‘flashes of inspiration’ that apparently come to us from nowhere have been silently incubating in our brain while we have been at rest.

There are two significant implications for parents. First, without ever immersing herself in books, your child’s deep reading skills that we humans have developed over 6,000 years of history will be lost because these skills are not hard-wired in the human brain. She will have to be content with the much shallower skills that come from only skim-reading WeChat and surfing the internet. The same applies to you and me!

Secondly, you must give your child time to do nothing whatsoever. Some after-school activities and weekend classes are absolutely fine, but too many will harm her learning and creative thinking in the long run. Please don’t try to fill every waking second of her time with purposeful activities. Like education itself, down-time is a child’s right, not an option. 

If you’d like to learn more, please get in touch with me(nick.bowley@yuechengeducation.com)and I will send you some references for further reading. 

Next time I will write about the child’s right to academic challenge. 

With warm regards,

Nick Bowley

Superintendent, YueCheng Education