Theme 3 – Language

About bell:  What did you think about the writing style and language used in the book? What makes hooks different from other ‘theorists’?
About you:  Have you ever experienced language being used to exclude you from education?  Do you ever use language to exclude others from participation in education?
Please comment below…




16 thoughts on “Theme 3 – Language”

  1. One of the things I love about the book is the use of dialogue, both imagined and real. In chapter 4 bell hooks (the writing voice) has a conversation with the real person, Gloria Watkins, and later on in the book she transcribes a discussion with a friend, Ron Scapp.

    This technique is informal, familiar and immediate; often complex ideas can be simplified through conversation and questioning (am thinking of the Myles Horton/Paulo Freire conversations here too). hooks writes earlier in the book about how academic language can be used to exclude and ‘gatekeep’; here she demonstrates an alternative way to make ideas accessible.

    It has made me think about how this could be used as a tool in our own practice, for example as a method of reflection. Asking questions of ourselves is a great way to uncover assumptions within our practice, and perhaps writing this in the form of a conversation or ‘interview’ (with ourselves, a colleague or even an imagined conversation with a theorist?) could help the process along.

  2. Kay, I’ve been thinking about this for much of the day. ‘Professional Discussion’ is formalised as an assessment technique by both the University (and many Universities, in the form of a viva) and by City & Guilds…we value it as part of our Community of Praxis discourse (eg via Twitter chat), but how well do we use this approach to get the best out of one another? What more can we do? The fact is that for many of us we find that when we read/view dialogue we get the most out of the learning. Certainly the dialogue chapters in ‘Teaching to Transgress’ have had the biggest impact on me during my re-reading of the book. Immediate questions are…how can we promote the reading of these? And how can we use dialogue techniques in the Community of Praxis to deepen and share our thinking? For example, what preparation can both parties do, to ensure the thinking is new (to us), relevant and impactful?

    1. I think this can be really powerful, especially when we find theory hard to grasp. I thought of an exercise where, after reading an essay/chapter of theory, pairs start a dialogue where one person takes on the role of the theorist and the other person asks them questions. The informality might help to get to the bottom of complex concepts, and the two-way approach could encourage sharing and exploration of our own relevant practice. The pairs could swap roles too and this could suit different levels of understanding…

      1. I really like this, Kay. I am appreciating the potential for depth, taking the exercise beyond the ‘go away and find out about X’, FOFO approach. For equality’s sake, I also like the idea of swapping roles. In a thinking environment, the dialogue would also be protected from interruption.

  3. That was such a teacher-y response last night! Been thinking since about why dialogue works so well (for me to understand). It is more flowing and less ‘constructed’; concepts are presented in simpler terms and there is the opportunity to probe and go deeper. Even in the self-dialogue, Gloria challenges “bell” to deepen and clarify. For me the language is fresher and less studied (I’m thinking of how much I like ‘We Make the Road by Walking’ too). This means that I connect more easily with stories, for example, they come alive to me which they need to do if I am to remember them.

    Which is another point – what really works for me is this kind of dialogue, written down. I recognise that although I might enjoy listening to or watching a discussion, I don’t retain the same memory of it if I don’t see the transcript written down. We all take in information differently and at different speeds.

    About the other questions, above…

    I think that bell writes much of the time as if she is speaking. I find that immediately engaging, even when I think (as I have in the past) that she is shouting at me. I have a response to what I imagine as a personal connection. I would love to emulate that in my writing style. This makes her different in many of the essays than other academics who adopt a more traditional style, which I find more difficult to engage with. (I’m not saying at this point whether I think that some writing is deliberately excluding, or whether I just don’t understand it, because I don’t know what I think).

    I don’t imagine that bell ever writes to exclude; her writing is always folksy (literally using the word ‘folks’ reflects her real voice I should think), I like that her dialect accent comes through in the way that I love to hear Kate Rusby’s Barnsley accent when she sings. Maybe some people do feel excluded from that? It helps me connect to bell in a social class identity way (I’m making an assumption about her social class so maybe I connect in an ‘outsiders together’ sort of way). Sometimes I get lost in her writing style. An example of this is during the chapter ‘Theory As Liberatory Practice’, which started well but then I found myself not really taking it in. But when I thought about it, I understood all the words. I just found it difficult to immediately connect with the example she was using, of black women’s struggle to understand one another. But I can’t expect all the examples to resonate with aspects of my identity! I know that a weakness in me is to over-personalise what I read and it was good discipline for me to work at this chapter until I understood. It made me think about another of the questions above, do I ever use language to exclude. I’m not sure and want to think more about that.

    From the very beginning of re-reading ‘Teaching to Transgress’, I recognised many of the words I use to try and describe teaching for a social purpose and certainly many of the concepts, such as students taking responsibility for their choices, learning communities, living what you teach, teaching disruptively etc. I can’t figure out whether a) I absorbed more from my truncated first reading than I thought b) I’ve been massively influenced by Jane Weatherby, who loves bell (probably) or c) I’ve just found my own way to the same space. Going to think more about this but the affirmation of those first pages was immense and certainly confidence building.

  4. The first six months of my CertEd I wrote down everything I failed to understand, all the references whose meaning escaped me and confounded me, then I went away and read, and read and read again until I understood. Eventually I could join in the conversations / discussions. I started late – very late – and I hadn’t done the Northern College PTLLS course, or the Thinking Environment training, so I felt excluded from the discussions. Reading ‘More Time to Think’ was the first action I took to understand the language which was designed to include, but which was having the opposite effect. What is a ‘Thinking Round’? what is ‘Freshest Thinking’? Who is ‘Nancy’ or ‘Paulo’ or ‘Ivan’ or ‘Stephen’? What is a ‘TCP’ or ‘CPD’? Why can’t I use AA routemaster, why do I have to use the ‘Roadmap’? I am not sure if others would feel this way… and the alternative resource list certainly helped me know where to discover the information I needed to decode the language that was used, and which made me feel excluded.

    A separate part of course was understanding what it is to plan schemes of work lesson plans, handouts, assessment strategies, teach, assess, feedback, reflect in action and on action, to ‘go meta’ in my reflections, to think critically, to think reflexively, to revisit my values and teaching values, and those of the organisations I work for, to decipher the mysteries of pedagogy, andragogy, anthropogogy, single, double and triple loop learning, and finally to decide to write sentences witj commas int he wrong places before and and to omit or include semi colons, colons, apostrophes and other punctuation.

    The two tasks – understanding the language of teaching, and becoming a teacher are linked, but the demystification that bell hooks encourages helped me to understand the vacuousness of much that passes for excellence in teaching.

    I know a bishop, a highly educated man, people assume he talks sense because he uses long words and complicated sentence structures with lots of subordinate clauses so they don’t understand him. In fact much of what he says has the substance of dry ice on a hot summer’s day. I can fall into the same trap, and try to use language to include not exclude, but it is a long journey to take.

    1. I wrote a beautiful reply and then lost it…

      Rev, I want to express my gratitude to you and my appreciation for this salutary lesson. I had not realised how unwittingly excluding our own ‘TeachDifferent’ language and culture has become. Of course, as you know, we strive for the opposite. Thank you so much for causing me to reflect richly on how I can support transition into the programme at any stage. Wow. And I am not taking it personally at all, these challenges are the central joy of the Community of Praxis. I feel refreshed and invigorated by your words.

      When I read your comment, I didn’t even know what TCP was (unless you’re joking I’m going to have a big ‘DOH’ moment when you tell me!) 🙂

      I don’t believe for a moment we’ve changed how you write though…except temporarily maybe…

  5. I’m really interested in the way organisations (eg government departments) use language as well as tradition, ceremony etc to exclude. (I am thinking particularly about local politics here). The language of Council meetings (even public ones) – despite the emphasis on plain English -exclude whether intentionally or not. And then people wonder why no-one is interested in local democracy! Why would someone need a glossary to attend a public meeting or join a local government organisation?! Barriers like this just reinforce the norms and continue to keep the same kind of people involved (or not)…

    I’m not sure if I have deliberately used language to exclude, but if I’m honest I do use language to (try to) impress. I often struggle with academic language but if I work at it, and look up new words and meanings, this can be part of the learning too, and can be something I enjoy. This whole discussion raises some really interesting questions about academic writing and I need to think some more about it. One of the great things about Community Philosophy is the way that it deconstructs and questions the language we use; practices like this are helping me to be more mindful, as are the themes in this book.

  6. Whether it’s your Bishop person, Rev, or a whole organisational/political culture, Kay, using language to impress is everywhere in education. I must admit, I’ve got over being impressed but I do feel excluded and even scared by it sometimes…I still sometimes (often) assume that people who use very complex language are brighter and/or more informed than me. It brings on the Impostor Syndrome!

    I’ve always tried to walk a line between expressing complex concepts simply (but not dumbing down) and introducing people to the types of language they are likely to encounter in policy, literature and other forms of discourse – in fact that’s probably several lines. I’ve still got a long way to go with this too. I like what you said about looking up new words and meanings, Kay, and I must admit I do love finding new words which help me be more precise in what I’m saying – precision is something I like. I know that some would dismiss this as ‘jargon’, particularly if the word is currently in vogue, but there’s an opportunity lost in that, maybe. I’m also a convert to succinctness (you may not think so) – Nancy Kline values succinctness, eg in appreciation, and Twitter helps develop the discipline of it.

    I do think that bell could say what she’s saying more succinctly and not lose the power of her message, though maybe that’s a consequence of the structure of the book, which is is a number of essays published elsewhere in some cases.

    1. Is there a need for a glossary? Add your ‘freshest thinking’ and ‘what’s live in you’ and a ‘time to think council’ and ‘comunity of praxis’ ‘reflexion’ ‘reflexivity’ ‘criticality’.

      One remarkable discovery was that the Northern College website, with log in and password, and Athens ebrary / ebooks access is totally separate from the Uni versions of the same, even where they look to be the same they aren’t. That would definitely have been covered in the new student induction though.

      I know there is a risk of ‘infantilising’ learners and a need to do as you say and introduce learners to the language they need to know to succeed in a professional context, but where langauge is used with a technical meaning – such as conscientisation, dialogue, humanization, reading the word, culture circles, culture, reading the world, hegemony, counter-hegemonic, generative themes, reification, codification, Easter experience, magical or false consciousness – or schema, comfort zone, stretch zone or panic zone – it might help to have a glossary.

      Where would you start with compiling a list? I imagine that all the PTLLS tutors use some of this language, and some of their own, but surely they can chip in? What do these words mean?

      Some have a specific Northern College meaning – I would want to ‘disaggregate’ (*cough*) reflexivity from reflective practice, and reflexion from reflection, so that one word does not do the job of both verb and noun, but what could you replace them with? What about a ‘taxonomy of reflection’?

      What’s missing here (in Pappas) is the values: ‘I did this because’ but could that be worked around? The ‘aims’ and ‘could’ column of the session plan invite the learner to express their social purpose aims, but could they do so explicitly perhaps? Turn his taxonomy on its head and begin with values, then aims, then learning outcomes… and ask teacher trainees to reflect on each of these? Then his taxonomy?

      Hey I don’t know, but ‘puzzlement’ or ‘disorienting dilemmas’ are a crucial part of learning, so I am sharing my puzzlement with you that it might help others… one day, perhaps, if ever they are puzzled for the same reasons as me. Having said that would I have learnt as much if I was not puzzled?


      1. Yes you’ve reminded me that I would be in need of a glossary if I came into your world, too 🙂 A wiki is the ideal place (allowing for challenge and change); where to host one without opening up yet another platform is the dilemma. I will think, and keep thinking. Certainly there is a place to more effectively explore the connection between values and reflexion.

        My only hesitation around a glossary is this: does it over-fix meanings? I think we do – collectively – develop precise meanings, to describe our ‘social purpose’ pedagogy, to share and further develop those definitions outside of the classroom is essential in expressing why we do what we do and how. It also allows those meanings to be further challenged, disrupted and refined. But I take your point, that there needs to be some stability in meaning, to those coming into this world of discourse and learning.

        I realise that my sense of exclusion from bell – previously, and slightly, this time round – was connected with her language (you have written more about this elsewhere). I went back and re-read parts of the chapters I found most difficult. I had thought there was a jargon of North American language, with a particular political slant, which was causing me to keep a distance. In fact, I realised when I checked out what my actual physical response was (I made myself do this because of our conversations about ‘the body’) that I was finding bell’s anger difficult. Immediately, I knew what that was about and it wasn’t about bell. I am going back to do some re-reading today 🙂

        Finally, a thank you. You have brought me back to Jack Mezirow (1991). Funny how thinkers read years ago sort of lodge themselves in your own thinking and become part of its DNA. I had forgotten his theory of transformative learning and its element of convictional (ie values) change. Good to remember and honour that connection.

        Mezirow, J (1991) Transformative Dimensions of Learning San Francisco Jossey Bass

  7. Instead of having an authoritative ‘book of the course’ – why not steer learners to discussions here? (Which would need developing). That might subvert the notion that Avis, Fisher and Thompson should be the starting point for assignments, or the thinking that ought to go on around them. It might give learners either hints and tips or the tools to critically reflect on the weaknesses of the coursebook. It might also mean that module tutors would have to put up with fewer references to Kolb and Honey and Mumford in the essays they mark.

    1. Yes, I’m thinking of using the Northern College ‘Guide to Good Practice in Teaching, Learning and Assessment’ which is stored here, as a starting point; have already changed its title and I’m looking forward to doing some work on it. I was speaking flippantly, but there seems to be some general agreement that we’re covering the ‘why’ (#teachdifferent) pretty well, but not the ‘how’. I wish there was a wiki on WordPress (maybe one day) but for now I think comments will do the job. I’m looking forward to making a start!

  8. Very frustrated I just wrote a long reply on language. Lost it in cyberspace somewhere as I hadn’t logged in. I wanted to agree about language being a barrier in teaching theory. I personally was very put off by the use of acronyms in the beginning. I felt that everyone knew what SMART was except me. Also PDP and TP. I have found this in all my teaching experiences in the UK. It seems that there are so many abbreviations within the teaching world and added to that the ‘In house’ abbreviations. I was pleased that Jane wrote out some of the common acronyms on the flip chart, but many others were ommitted. They were just so obvious for everyone except me!! (Imposter syndrome kicking in there!) Some of the names were common qualifications which I hadn’t heard of in years and those I remembered were outdated. On the other hand, in the practice model I found the language accessible and down to earth. This is how I started to feel at ease and even felt I belong. Language should be our friend and the use of it carefully planned. Nobody should feel excluded form theory due to the use of long words. We all should think about this when planning courses and sessions. People do switch off from tutorials using long words and acronyms. This is also the case when reading theory. What I love about ‘bell hooks’ is that I found her dialogue and style accessible to all. i FEEL her anger in her writing but also admire the determination to get over her message to the masses. Love the idea of role playing an interview with a theorist and questionning them on what they really mean (and why they are hiding behind long words). I love language and learning new vocabulary but it should never be assumed that everyone understands. It’s all down to how you make learners feel, so they are not afraid to ask for explanations. This does not apply exclusively to teaching theory but to all subjects and all sessions.
    Talk to me as a human and you have me ‘hooked’ every time.

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