MAZI Articles

CFSC Analysis and Opinion: Whose Class is This Anyway?

A Dialogue about Communication for Social Change Learning
by Jim Hunt

Whose "class" is it anyway?

This question is one in a series of important questions CFSC educators must ask ourselves and those who gather for training in communication for social change approaches. We'll discuss this question in this article and welcome your feedback. In subsequent articles, we will discuss other questions " including those you believe are critical to a communication for social change learning dialogue. We believe we can best teach participatory approaches like CFSC by using the process of dialogue to teach. Our role as teacher, like the role of the communicator in a community engagement, is facilitation.

Consider again the first question: Whose class, or workshop, or seminar or university course, is it anyway?

Asking the question prompts a discussion of ownership and assumptions. It also reveals the subtle control past experience has on all communication. Say "training" and one has certain expectations: a presentation, materials, "wisdom" from the front of the room. Participants who hold fast to those expectations will most likely be disappointed in a communication for social change learning dialogue in which we all must work to learn together.

Learning together " learning facilitator as well as learning participant-- is uncomfortable for some, liberating for others.

Listen, for example, to a university graduate student who said candidly: "I did not pay money to listen to my classmates talk. I paid money to learn from the experts." Some classmates saw it differently: "Learning the goals of CFSC processes and projects by experiential learning was very positive for me and my learning style. " The "unusual teaching process has some hidden treasures. You don't realise at first that you are learning the process by doing, rather than by studying.

The Consortium's approach to creating a learning dialogue , based on conversations with experienced communication educators, is often informed by the work of Paolo Freire. Freire observed: "Through dialogue, the teacher-of-the-students and the students-of-the-teacher cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-student with students-teachers. The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach . They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow." ( Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p.80)

Our goal for all is to guide a learning dialogue that addresses the important issue of thinking differently about communication before working with others to act differently.

A shift in thinking about communication is one part of building a community's capacity to use communication for the changes they choose. Every group, every community, every culture has a deep communication process expressed in norms that are taken for granted, powerful, and invisible to most unless we ask them about them. Young people are often expected "to be seen, but not heard" in some cultures. In other cultures, faced with an onslaught of technology, it is the older people we expect to be silent. In private dialogue in many cultures, we share fact and rumour without distinction or challenge " provided it is interesting. In other cultures, we expect misinformation, even disinformation, in public forums or from public figures.

If all of us are to employ dialogue in pursuit of change, we must look collectively at our deep communication processes, understand them, reveal them and change those that stand in the way of change.

It is said that the beginning of the end for the totalitarian regime in Poland was Lech Walesa* and others talking loudly at bus stops about issues not normally discussed at bus stops. The Solidarity activists looked deeply into the communication processes available to them and changed their thinking about one, converting it into a force for change,

Whose communication process is it anyway?

From the Readers' Respond column, Boston Globe Magazine 1/30/05

Please send your questions about CFSC learning to:

Please include your name, email address, telephone number and fax number if available.

We will select one question to discuss in each of the upcoming issues this year.

Click here to return to MAZI 2