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Listening and Learning

I was going to press a wonderful post from Cheryl’s blog called Living in the Gap. Unfortunately, she does not have a press facility, so I did the next thing. I copied a paragraph from her post that I relate to:

“Am I ready to look at the part I play in the current reality, come out from the safety of the suburbs, and confront my own racism? To take a sober look at my own bias, privilege, and exclusionary practices. This is when I want to curl up like a pill bug and roll away, but this movement is not about me, it’s about listening, learning, and leaning into the race issues currently afflicting our country.”

We are in an unusual moment with the protests. They call us to stop and listen to one another in ways we may not be used to. They also call us to ask questions we have not asked in deep ways, such as “how do I confront my own prejudices? Am I even willing to confront them?” I use the word prejudice to open the space a bit more. It is not only about race. It is about gender, sexual orientation, class, etc.

Currently, I am co-writing an article for publication using Paulo Freire. Freire used critical theory and I paraphrase him here. He said prejudices are interwoven, arising from individual lived histories passed from one generation to another in unquestioned ways. It is listening to others without taking on a saviour role, without drowning their voices, and hearing them speak about their reality. They await opportunities to be raised into consciousness and critically questioned. How I understand this is through a Socratic lens where skepticism begins at home. How do I make the world better, more just, more democratic. Freire suggests it is a slow process. In his book, Pedagogy of Hope, he acknowledged using gender exclusive language in his seminal book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, published 30 years earlier. He learned to use more inclusive language as he became critically aware of the harm done without it. It was a small and necessary step.

Freire argues we need to listen to one another, not denying difference. Instead, he calls on us to accept “unity in difference.” At our core, (in French coeur is heart and core) we are each human. Too often, we talk over each other and listen to defend entrenched positions. A key theme in Freire’s writing is human “unfinishedness,” always becoming. I reflect when I took-for-granted privilege and wonder how I might overcome this. It is not easy. It will not be finished. I understand my role, as an elder, as one of serving and listening. Leadership is serving, transforming, and mindful, rather than transactional and hierarchical.

Robert Greenleaf stated “the best test [of servant-leadership], and difficult to administer, is: do those being served grow as persons; do they become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous while being served: Since so many people seem afraid to grow, the true servantleader who brings it about is an extraordinary person.” If I look at the next generation and they offer me hope that there is better to come, perhaps I can take some solace in that. Without hope, we wither and flee from the scene, abdicating our responsiblity to one another.

I leave you with a video of Langston Hughes’ poem Mother to Son. If I expand the defintion of pedagogue to its broadest etymology, it is how elders interact with youth, allowing them to dream. Hope is not about a lack of obstacles. After all, no life is a crystal staircase and that is most evident for those on the margins of our societies, including in Canada with its history of residential schools and mistreatment of people of colour. It is, as Freire suggests, being willing to struggle and fight to overcome overt and covert injustices and inequities we encounter and witness. It is listening and testifying in those moments to offer a hand to those in need, regardless of race, gender, orientation, creed, and class without being dogmatic. How do we testify in each of those moments? It is not succumbing to historical amnesia and existential weariness.


Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

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.

22 responses »

  1. I love Langston Hughes. The one thing that needs to be brought into the open is white privilege. That’s what keeps eyes closed. Like male privilege, it goes unseen but is the cause of the problems.

    • I used his poetry in my teaching. This was one junior high students related to well. I agree Gigi. We need to unmask each form of privilege. It is often hidden or pushed aside with comments like “all lives matter.” I listened to Damon Davis on PBS tonight. He reminded me privilege is letting others join the race after it is well under way. That is what has happened to people of colour, women, LGBTQ+, Indigenous, etc. bell hooks reminds me that women are always at the bottom of the hierarchy, regardless of colour and class.

  2. Great post, Ivon. You’re right and I look forward to more of what you will offer on these topics. I’m learning a lot as I listen to friends and for more colleagues in my tapestry of friends. We are ALL part of generations of experiences which have contributed to our being right where we are. We elders have an opportunity to support the youth who are going to continue the momentum toward changing all of this entrenched history and unconscious behavior. Thoughtful post. Thank you.

    • Thank you Carrie. Yes, I think the change we can be best at is listening. I listened to Samuel L. Jackson tonight and he spoke about having to learn patience. Our patience can emerge as we listen. It is the young that will be the impetus for change and our support is essential in their work.

  3. This post is so very much on point. Freire was my hero when I first started teaching. Two of my undergraduate professors were mentored by Paolo Freire and of course I infused his teachings into my personal philosophy of education. Listening actively and attentively is a skill that has been diminished in our educational discourse. We need to get back to the basics with regard to listening and learning. All professional training must include mindful listening if we want thoughtful teachers, police officers, medical practitioners and frankly politicians. Thanks for your post. It is always a pleasure to read your blog.

    • You are welcome and thank you Melba. I find a some Socrates in Freire’s work. Healthy skepticism always begins at home and taking care of how we understand the world. As Cornel West would say, “We have a little gansta in each of us. We have to be aware of this.” I agree. Listening is a skill we need to re-introduce. Freire, Thich Nhat Hanh, Maya Angelou speak of the need for listening to one another with open hearts and minds.

  4. Thank you Ivon for including me in this informative and challenging post. I love that you collaborated with others to form a bridge we can all use to cross the divide and merge with each other. I agree white privilege needs to be not only addressed but acknowledged. We have work to do but together we will overcome the destructive forces of racism. Thank you for leaning in. C

    • You are welcome Cheryl. Thank you for a post that provoked thought for me. I have read a number of great articles the last few days about the challenges of addressing the various forms of privilege we each may have. It is a long overdue conversation to be had. I feel a bit more hopeful.

  5. I also had a time to confront my hidden prejudice…!

    • We each do. It is challenging

      • It is…and it shows up often at very inconvenient times! Do you think my writing about my experience would be helpful to someone else? Or would hearing about it be considered counterproductive to my Christian emphasis?

      • I write from my experience. I have prejudices that I have dealt with. They are part of who I am and I try keeping them front and centre in my critical consciousness. In fact, I don’t see them as opposing my Catholic/Christian faith. By lifting them into view and dealing with them in concrete ways, they strengthen that faith. It doesn’t mean others aren’t disappointed in me and can’t forgive. Forgiveness is not automatic. It is earned.

      • ALL very true and valid. THANK YOU !

  6. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:

  7. The poem/video is amazing. Thank you!

  8. Honest. Brave. Intelligent.


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