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Eloquent Questions in Education

Since attending the Servant-Leadership conference at Marylhurst University in Oregon, I am thinking more about eloquent questions in education. Eloquent questions assume no obvious answers and grew out the work of Giambattista Vico, an 18th Century Italian philosopher. Eloquent questions were expanded on by Hans-Georg Gadamer, a 20th Century German philosopher. Without obvious or assumed answers, dialogue and community take on new and important roles in responding to eloquent questions. When asked eloquent questions, I have to be aware of, mindful about, and attentive to my thoughts and feelings and to those of others who are present in conversation.

Several things contributed to this rethinking. Firstly, Dr. Shann Ferch, a keynote presenter at the conference and author of Forgiveness and Power in the Age of Atrocity: Servant-Leadership as a Way of Life, spoke about eloquent questions. “Gadamer’s notion of the eloquent or elegant question forms a philosophical bridge into the kind of assured personhood that opens real dialogue, develops authenticity in self and others, and forwards a view of human relationships that helps us transcend our own hidden self- and other-annihilation” (Ferch, 2012, p. 29). Dialogue and community set aside the personal agendas that so often drive discussions. Setting aside agendas calls forth authenticity that helps reveal a safe space and path forward to share what is important and common within a community centred on eloquent questions.

Secondly, Gen Y Girl Kayla Cruz began following my blog, for which I am grateful. She triggered questions with postings touching on generational differences that impact society in general and education specifically. I was already asking, “What reasons are there to build 400 new schools over the next 10 years in the province of Alberta? What areas will these schools serve? What conversations yielded those numbers to Thomas Lukaszuk, the Minister of Education and the workers at Alberta Education? What costs will result from building these trophy-schools? What does that mean in terms of school closures? Was there a conversation about the need for school as a building?” Initially, I thought these questions might be strictly based on infrastructure, but, thanks to Kayla, I am increasingly aware of other questions based on generational differences. “What impact will a different understanding of personal and professional life for Gen Y adults have on teachers in the classroom (I use that word classroom guardedly, because what the classroom will look like or be is also an important question)? If, as Kayla pointed out, there is a blending of life expectations for Generation Y or the Millennial Generation, “what does that mean in terms of teacher preparation, teacher recruitment, teacher retention, teacher satisfaction, etc?”

I have no concrete evidence, but, as I talk to members of Gen Y, including our sons, I get the impression that work of any form, without meaning and a feeling of real input, is not in the cards. The questions here are, “What purpose does work serve? Do we work to live? Or do we live to work?” Kayla, in several blog entries, linked articles that provided insight. One that caught my attention was The Beginning of the End of the 9-to-5 Workday in a section called Work-Life Balance at Time.Com Moneyland.

It seems an education degree prepares young people for more possibilities than just being a teacher. What should this uncertainty suggest to the movers and shakers who think they can predict a need for 400 schools over the next decade? The above-noted article inferred going to school will not be going to school for everyone. What will school look like in the next ten years? What role will the increasing ubiquity of technology play? These are not simple questions to be answered with a mechanistic process that has been failing for some time. Eloquent questions ask us to not have pat answers, but to continue to ask each day, “What does this mean today?”

We drove back from Sedona to Phoenix yesterday. In spite of my terrible fear of heights, it was an enjoyable three days touring the Sedona and Grand Canyon areas, with the spectacular scenery and their Native American ruins. The visits to three ancient Arizona dwelling sites of Native American Indians were interesting and provided yet another source of rethinking the need for eloquent questions. During an explanation at one of the sites, I was struck by the uncertainty around the possible reasons that led to that village being deserted.

Retrospectively, we look back and speculate and pose eloquent questions, knowing and accepting we can not provide an answer. Looking forward, we are ready to ask eloquent questions “in order to gather greater understanding” (Ferch, p. 29). There is no certainty looking forward just as there is no certainty looking back. Eloquent questions do seem to fit an unfolding, emergent, increasingly complex and uncertain world.

About ivonprefontaine

In keeping with bell hooks and Noam Chomsky, I consider myself a public and dissident intellectual. Part of my work is to move beyond (transcend) institutional dogmas that bind me to defend freedom, raising my voice to be heard on behalf of those who seek equity and justice in all their forms. I completed my PhD in Philosophy of Leadership Studies at Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA. My dissertation and research was how teachers experience becoming teachers and their role as leaders. I focus on leading, communicating, and innovating in organizations. This includes mindfuful servant-leadership, World Cafe events, Appreciative Inquiry, and expressing one's self through creativity. I offer retreats, workshops, and presentations that can be tailored to your organzations specific needs. I published peer reviewed articles about schools as learning organizations, currere as an ethical pursuit, and hope as an essential element of adult eductaion. I published three poems and am currently preparing my poetry to publish as an anthology of poetry. I present on mindful leadership, servant leadership, schools as learning organizations, how teachers experience becoming teachers, assessement, and critical thinking. I facilitate mindfulness, hospitality retreats. and World Cafe Events using Appreciative Inquiry. I am writing and researching about various forms of leadership, how teachers inform and form their identity as a particular teacher, schools as learning organizations, hope and its anticipatory relationship with the future, and hope as an essential element in learning.

7 responses »

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  2. So Ivon, I am wondering what you mean by eloquent questions, and I’m thinking about the Godly Play stories I tell, since you seem to describe eloquent questions as those in which the questioner lets go of agendas. Correct? So when I tell a story, and then wonder which part of the story you liked the best… or which part is the most important… or which part is most about you… Then I think these would be included in your definition. Correct?

    • Eloquent questions which stem from the work of, first, Vico and, then, Gadamer are seen as questions without an assumed answer. My understanding of this would be that one would have to let go of their preconceived notions and listen to others much differently. Both of these philosophers, argued eloquent questions reveal what is held in common and what is important to share with each ensuing generation. The term common sense has a different meaning in this context and it means to have a sense of what is held in common within the community.

      I think the Godly Play stories and the use of words such as wonder in those questions tap into the eloquence of the questioner and responder. My understanding of eloquent questions, and it is in its infancy, is they have a broad range. Gadamer’s book Truth and Method is a book that is very long and he devotes a considerable effort to explain how culture is passed on and what is appreciated from one generation to the next.

      I hope this answers the question, an eloquent one, I might add, because my answer should not be considered to be definitive or complete.

  3. I’m so glad that my writing could provide some insight. I think that there will certainly be a shift in education in the years to come. Wonderful that you’ve taken the time to at least think about this and understand the value in reviewing different opinions. Should you ever have any questions, or feel the need to discuss any issue of importance to you, PLEASE don’t hesitate to ask. I promise, I’m really friendly 😀

  4. Pingback: 21st Century Renaissance People | Teacher as Transformer

  5. Pingback: Seeing the Ordinary as Extraordinary « Teacher as Transformer

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