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The Psychology of Communication



The role of the school is no longer to organize the distribution of information but to teach students how to handle the information that is now common to all - in a word, to teach students to think and to utilize television, radio, reading, writing, any and all forms of communication, as tools in that process. Because we have an overload of information, the school's function is to help students sift through and make use of that flood of information that might otherwise overwhelm them. The role of the teacher should include teaching children how to structure and place in perspective information they already possess and are constantly absorbing. Very few teachers take this approach, and children have paid the price for their failure to do so by becoming uninterested in "school" learning.

Tony Schwartz, Media: The Second God, Page 133

13.1 From Communicating To Teaching

Away back at the beginning of this book, I stated that I would tell you what I was going to tell you (Chapter 1 - Prologue), I would tell you (Chapters 2-12), and then tell you what I have told you (Chapter 13 - Epilogue). One way to summarize what I have told you in Chapters 2-12 is to focus down on teaching, a very important aspect of communication for me as teacher and you as student.

Chapters 2, 3, and 4 presented the behavioristic, humanistic, and interactionist concepts of the person as thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Traditional teaching is based largely on the behavioristic concept of the person and thus embodies the corresponding transportation theory of communication. Information is transported from the source (teacher) to the destination (student). Educational reformers are arguing for a shift to the interactionist concept of the person with its corresponding transaction theory of communication. Teaching is a transaction between the teacher and the student, in which each responds to the fedback information from the other.

The first proposition of interactionism is that intrinsic motivation (the basic principle of humanism) is necessary to go beyond biological needs to the satisfaction of sociological and psychological needs. Extrinsic motivation (the basic principle of behaviorism) is not only ineffective in satisfying psychological needs but actually destroys the intrinsic motivation underlying knowing and understanding.

The second proposition of interactionism is that growing from the inside out is the primary process, supplemented by the secondary process of being conditioned from the outside in. The LAD (language acquisition device) leads but it needs the LASS (language acquisition support system). Thus, as teachers, we must respect the fact that the student is growing from the inside out and dovetail our outside-in instruction to that primary process. Hence the title of my forthcoming book - Turning Teaching Inside-out [GARDINER 2009].

The third proposition of interactionism is that there is a third factor beyond genetics and environment which determines human behavior - namely choice. This is further underlined in Chapter 5 (From Animal to Human) and Chapter 6 (From Child to Adult). Phylogenetic and ontogenetic development are both the story of progressive emancipation from the tyranny of genetics and environment. Chapter 12 opens with a quotation from Richard Dawkins in which he encourages us to escape the tyranny of selfish genes and memes. One major focus of teaching is helping students make good choices.

The fourth proposition of interactionism is that the person has intrinsic worth. Thus, teachers should respect and enhance self-esteem. This worth is based on the fact that each of us, as members of our species, as a part of nature, plays an important role in fighting entropy by creating a full and accurate subjective map of the objective world. Teachers play their part by passing on their "understanding" to their students.

The fifth proposition of interactionism is that human relationships are basically intimate. We are all members of the same species on the same planet in essentially the same predicament. The so-called contractual relationships are mutual agreements not to realize the full potential intimacy. Since, in the contractual relationship, the people are interchangeable, the relationship between the teacher and the student is more intimate than contractual. That is, it is more like the relationship within families and among friends. Other professionals - doctors, lawyers, accountants, plumbers - have a more contractual relationship with their "clients". There is a commercial element in each of those relationships in which the professional has a vested interest. The teacher-student relationship is more intimate like that of the parent-child. It is not contaminated by commerce. Like parents, teachers must plan their obsolescence. Your plumber is not planning his obsolescence.

The only profession which comes close to teaching in this respect is the clergy. Ministers, priests, rabbis focus on the goals of their parishioners. However, this relationship is marred somewhat by the fact that their help is offered within the framework of a particular ideology. John Durham Peters makes this distinction concrete in comparing the teaching styles of two of our greatest teachers - Jesus and Socrates [PETERS]. Jesus broadcasts his message in the hope that it will be picked up and passed on by the members of his audience. Socrates has no message (he claims to know nothing and is merely serving as a midwife to pull out what the person he is addressing already knows - he turned teaching inside-out).

The teacher has no axioms to grind. POMO thinkers have argued that science is simply another ideology. However, it is open to feedback information from the objective world. The scientific meme, like the gene, will not survive unless it "fits" the environment. A beautiful big theory can be destroyed by an ugly little fact. The process of scientific research is self-correcting. If a student is pursuing truth, then the teacher is the most reliable source. That is why horror stories about commercial drug companies influencing or even writing articles in scholarly journals, as described in University, Inc: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education [WASHBURN] is so scary. This last source of reliable knowledge is threatened.