Dear Habermas Logo A Jeanne Site
Education as Praxis for Non-Violence Appel's Animated Figurine; see templart.htm.
Original Submission
Update in May 2000
Additions made in Albany, June 2

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: June 6, 2000
E-Mail Faculty on the Site.

Educating for Justice
Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata
Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata, May 2000. "Fair Use" encouraged.


Our search for authenticity in teaching (Michael Planck's term), for ways of motivating our students to incorporate learning into their lives, and for ways of counseling them into how to do this for a lifetime of learning, led us to focus on issues of public discourse, of the regeneration of hope, of non-violence, of criminal and social justice. And these issues led us to the Dear Habermas Project: an effort shared amongst students, staff, teachers, to live within our educational institution without engaging in structural violence, without too quickly understanding others, without refusing to listen in good faith, without using labels or categories that harm those for whom the categories do not include their uniqueness, without using structural violence done unto us as an excuse to engage in violent responses.

This process text, a set of related files on one site, to which we have all contributed collegially, is our first evaluation report. We are pleased to be able to present it at the Justice Studies Association in May, 2000 at the Albany meetings.

Questions of Exclusion

Our recent Town Hall Forum brought up some interesting questions about our focus on non-violence and our commitment to social change and social justice by non-violent means.

We (jeanne and Susan) believe that violence begets violence, and that violence harms, us, as well as those at whom it is directed. We are not taking a stand on absolute pacifism. We accept that there is gratuitous violence in our social world, that humans have found ways to combat only through violence. But we do believe that we must seek non-violent means to deal with the ever-increasing spread of structural violence, internalization of that structural violence, and violent responses to perceived structural violence.

This is a report of our 1999-2000 experiment in developing academic discourse to bring ourselves to awareness of violence, in all its forms, and to transform our academic activities into non-violent interaction.

. . . This is where your narratives of how your own awareness and of our collective attempts to be non-violent will go. . . .

What We Mean by Exclusionary

One form of violence is exclusion. By casting an individual as an "outsider," as one who does not belong, we subject that individual to rejection, which may translate into violence. One of the techniques for strengthening solidarity of the ingroup is hostility toward the outgroup in the interest of strong ingroup identity formation. (Citations omitted.)

This section of our research draws attention to the ease with which the internalization of normative patterns leads us into the practice of exclusion, with its attendant violence. The example we use is a recent face-to-face forum for the Dear Habermas community. We created a Town Hall Forum as an initial follow up to our presentations at the Western Social Science Association meetings in San Diego. In shared discourse at the WSSA meetings, we had concluded that we often engage in academic discourse, feel pleased with our awareness of the need for peacemaking and non-violence, then return home to the same old violence of our academic institutions. We vowed to follow through on our WSSA performance by seeding such efforts on our local campuses.

Although we had no specific agenda in mind, we hoped to re-create the kind of academic discourse we had enjoyed at WSSA, where participants exchanged ideas and theories in a free and open forum. But Town Hall Forum turned out differently. At WSSA all of us were focused on peacemaking, on the creation and flow of academic discourse. In Town Hall forum we discovered that many were focused on specific issues that needed to be addressed on our campus.

This was disappointing to those who wanted to move into concerted and effective action against actual injustices in the local area. And I am sure it was also disappointing to those who wanted to make great strides in welcoming the campus community into a peacemaking forum.

As Lisa noted, I was smiling like a "cheshire cat" throughout. Why wasn't I disappointed? Well, chalk one up to the wisdom of age. I probably didn't have the same "windmill dreams" you did. But also, I got to watch. It was my turn to shut up and listen. When you acquire an evaluator's status, you are less emotionally involved, and you get more of a "fly on the wall" view. Besides, I would have been happy with either concerted action or a genuine peacemaking forum. Both would take us a long way towards public discourse on this campus.

Actually I'd call it a draw between the two outcomes. There was some very real peacemaking. Saundra Davis trying to wriggle O.W. Wilson into "hope," and her near-jumping for joy when she did. There were some very real appeals on issues: a consensus on structural violence of the educational institution, and a formal urging of students to take greater interest in their school.

There was no formal closure. We didn't DO anything. But I, for one, didn't feel the want of doing anything at that point. We did complete a collective painting. We did listen in good faith. We were forty strong, proving that our campus does afford such interest, even two days before the end of classes. And Jaime is already looking to the next Forum, as are, I'm sure, Michael, and Lisa, and Joe, and Cliff, and Marlene, and Susan, and Saundra, and on and on. Public discourse must start with public interest.

. . . No time to write all I 'd like to, but one last comment. Review the meeting, and your reactions, and try to get in touch with how easy it would have been to exclude those who took a warmaking approach instead of a peacemaking approach. Or to exclude those who just want to talk and never do anything. Or those who believe you can leave it all to the ultimate goodness of God. Or to exclude those who want to dream impossible dreams. Or to exclude those who want to dream.

Recall Habermas. The legitimacy of public discourse will depend on the right of each citizen to be heard in good faith. If we exclude citizens, we have already lost the war. Discussion with those who agree with us is good. It gives us practice, confidence, support. But is not public discourse. It is limited discourse. Public discourse will never be any neater than the learning which engenders it. Public discourse is learning, not performance. Performance is neat. Performance is well -timed. Performance has an opening and a satisfactory end. Public discourse is messy, sometimes cantankerous, sometimes disruptive. But public discourse is the forum in which our most precious dreams must strive to come true.

Peacemaking as Exclusionary
Need for Self-Reflective Approach

Students who have been intensely active this semester in peacemaking methodology expressed surprise at how little the Town Hall Forum turned out as they had anticipated. I'd like to address that here, especially so that our colleagues in Wisconsin, will have a chance to react to this.

Minutes and comments will give you the background from this face-to-face meeting at CSUDH. Here I would like to summarize the reactions, as I have heard them. I accept full responsibility for any misperceptions, and I invite you all to add your perceptions to this thread.

Keith Morris asked during the meeting itself, "Jeanne, is this what you wanted to happen?" Before I could think of a good answer, Keith had jumped back into the discussion. Joe Harris asked during the planning meeting, "What do you want me to do? How can I help?" Before I could think of a good answer, Joe, Jaime, and Michael were caught up in intense discussion. Jaime continued to offer the floor to Cliff, but before Cliff jumped into downsizing, he couldn't resist a comment to the earlier discussion thread, which led again to intense discussion.

I never really got to answer those questions, so I'll try now.

  • Keith, all I expected of this meeting was discourse. It's hard for me to be more specific, because I don't think I've every really seen public discourse happen at a university. At least not in recent times. Discourse assumes good faith listening, and that assumes that we will help each other voice our validity claims. We have to do that because our objective is to "hear" each other. And since you raced back into the discussion, it seems that discourse was something we all needed to have.

    Some of you are trying to leap from first try at public discourse to a better world - you want to complete the discussion, come to a consensus, and move into action. You want a syllabus! But peacemaking doesn't come as a syllabus. These are not mutually exclusive linear steps. Peacemaking is a process, a self-reflexive process, an ongoing process, in which we must go back to discourse again and again, in which we will try for consensus again and again, in which we will take action and correct our course many, many times. This forum was one initial step. We actually listened to each other. We had a hard time doing it, but we did. Some of us (I recall Michael Planck specifically doing this. He helped Bernard explain his frustration with so much talk, so little action.) tried to help others express their frustration and their consequent validity claims. That is good faith, listening. And yes, Keith, that's a piece of what I wanted to happen, an important piece.

    . . .

The Incorporation of Distance Learning
Stories from the Project

. . . This is where we will put your narratives of how the Internet helped let us remove some of the structural violence.

  • Shenell Weaver, please share your story on class times spread over four hours of idle time on campus.
  • Qiana Bush, please share your story on ability to take Women and Crime.
  • Valencia Ross, please share your story on how this permitted adaptation to your baby sitting needs.
  • Jerry Gilmore, please share your story on how this permitted you to come into the Internet class late, and to plan for next year.
  • Chandra Robinson, please share your story on how this permitted your students to take part in university discussions.
  • Send in your stories, all of you.

Here's Valencia's contribution, already in on Saturday, May 20:

At 10:29 PM 5/19/2000, you wrote: Note the time!

From Valencia Ross
Hi Jeanne. I saw the message, but I do not know where to start. I have hit the delete key so many times . . . It seems like I could go on and on about distance learning. The internet class has allowed me to cope with being a new mother and a full-time student all at once. When I am too tired to attend class or unable to find the baby-sitter, I do not feel stressed out, or like I am going to miss something. I am always up to date and on task, thanks to a simple click of the mouse. I do not feel left out, and I am actually in contact with you, Jeanne, more than any of my other professors. I can always contact you either via computer, class, or office. Since we do all of our assignments over the computer, I am able to learn computer skills, and I am also being exposed to a wide variety of knowledge. I also love the way that you allow us to be ourselves and express what ever we want to. In other courses, I find myself feeling uncomfortable and unattached because in most cases there is a lot of lecturing, papers, and exams. You provide a lot of different topics and assignments that allow the students to pick what they want to learn, as opposed to other professors who go strictly by the syllabus. Your classes have allowed me to become aware of a lot of political issues as well as art work that I probably would have never known about. I thank you for that, and wish that we could have more like you. I don't know if you were looking for this type of comment but this is how I felt about distance learning. Oh, yeah, I do not think that it should be called distance because we're never really apart.

On Saturday morning, jeanne responded:

Valencia, you never cease to amaze me. You were the one who informed us that lifetime learning meant the whole lifetime, for all of us. And how right you were. Now you remind us that there is nothing distant about our distance learning. Again, I think you're right.

I didn't have any particular kind of comment in mind. I just wanted all of you to be able to add your voices to the presentation for Albany.

love and peace, jeanne

On Wednesday, May 24, Valencia Ross wrote:

Hi, it's Valencia. When are you going to put up the pass or prepared for why we need public art? Can you please put up your course reference numbers for next semester? You should probably have the field trip on June 16th or the 17th since the 18th is a Sunday and, not to mention, Father's Day.

On Wednesday, May 24, jeanne commented:

Valencia, I put up the Fall 2000 Schedule on the main page of Dear Habermas. Reference numbers are there, except for Love and Peace and Undergraduate section of Distributive Justice. I'll have to get those numbers from the Dean when I get back.

Now as to public art. I was planning to discuss murals as a public art form that includes everyone. For that, check out the file on SPARC, California Murals. Look particularly at SPARC's objectives, such as that art is for everyone, and everyone should be able to participate. I have several new books on public art, and I'll put up essays on them when I get back from Albany. The link to our program is the collective art projects we've been doing on field trips. We'll do that with each field trip, and I want you to know the theory behind our approach to public art. More soon. jeanne

Here's Marlene Veliz' contibution on "distance" learning, on Sunday, May 21:

Comment on Valencia' Ross's comment.

Hi Jeanne, I just wanted to say that Valencia is right about distance learning.  I feel that distance learning is great for us in several ways. I feel that it is a great opportunity for us to learn how to use the computer more efficiently, but overall it is a great way for us to learn to communicate with our professors.  Many us cannot attend school every day for one reason or another, and by having distant learning, it is easier for us to know what has been going on in class while we are not there.

On Sunday, May 21, jeanne responded:

I agree, Marlene. I think one of the greatest advantages we've discovered in this project is the flexibility it gives, and the sense of security that we don't have to miss out on the discussions or the interactions, even if we aren't physically in the same space. Witness this discussion, which began with a random call to five people to whom I knew it mattered. The call went out on the site last Friday. None of us have met since then. Yet the discussion goes on. jeanne

Here's Lisette Garcia's contibution on "distance" learning, on Tuesday, May 23:

Jeanne, after reading Valencia's and Marlene's comments on distance learning I couldn't agree more. Distance learning is convenient, and it really works! I know I have read a lot more through your Love1A and Juvenile Justice class than in any other class I've taken, and the best part is I've really enjoyed what I have read, like Holes and Living, Loving, and Learning. I also agree with Valencia in that it shouldn't be called distant learning because we are never distant from you, the professor. On the contrary it brings us more together, and by the time we get together to discuss we don't have to worry about trying to be someone else because you already know the real us! You become familiar with our faces and our personality, unlike other professors that never even knew we existed. Lisette Garcia

On Tuesday, May 23, jeanne responded:

I think you've made a very good point about my knowing the "real you." I think it was Michael Planck who said that I was trying for authenticity. I think Michael's right. I don't want to be impressed by pomp and circumstance; I want to share the joy in your learning, because I'm sure it's there, if we can just get this project down right. Isn't it strange how much it seems to have mattered to us all that I learned your names and your stories? And you all teased me so about that all semester.

This would seem to be a good example of the importance of social bonding in later socialization processes. We traditionally emphasize the importance of bonding in infancy, but we forget how much it matters to older children, to adolescents, to grown up children, too.

Here's Elaine's contribution, on Sunday, May 20:

I just had to tell you about the African Graduation Celebration. It was okay, but I was very disappointed. I feel that things could have been a lot better, because certain rules that were placed in the registration form were not implemented. In the registration form it noted that we could only wear a Kilter scarf, but when I arrived just about everyone had on regular scarves.

The most upsetting thing to me was the programs that were printed. I paid $50 and placed an ad, and when I participated in the ceremony, I discovered that my ad was not in the program. Upon discovering that my ad was not in the program, I overheard other students stating that their ad was not placed, also. The program that was put together was put together poorly, and you could tell that it was done at the last minute. There were a lot of misspelled words, and the program was about 4 to 5 pages. Tony a Crankshaft was very upset also because her name was misspelled and it read Tony a Continue Crenshaw. We both feel that the African American student body should have informed the students before the ceremony about the discrepancies in the program. There was enough time before hand to let everyone know that their ad was not placed in the program. It was very unfair, and I will never recommend anyone to participate in the ceremony. PLEASE REPLY!!!!!

On Sunday, May 21, jeanne responded:

Elaine, I'm sorry. I am glad that you wrote. Remember that Hal Pepinsky says that before dialog can begin, we need to let the anger out. I know that you and Tonya were hurt. I'm sure the others were, too. And it is important to be able to express that hurt to someone who knows and cares. (Now aren't you glad I insisted on having faces for all the names?) I can see you now, that lovely hair swishing, (You did wear it down, right?), and the hurt that comes nearly to tears, as you realize that it was structural, and there was no perpetrator to blame who meant to hurt you and the others. I remember seeing that hurt not too long ago, as we dealt with another structurally violent situation.

The context: We have a whole set of new administrators. Procedures are not quite set; new ways are replacing old; and bureaucracies adjust slowly.

I wanted to go to the African Graduation Celebration, but with Albany coming up on Friday, I knew I was just too tired. Now I'm sorry I didn't go. I wish I had been there for you. I know that many of you won't be here next year, but there are probably many caring things that we could do to ease the hurt. Is it possible to re-issue the programs, corrected and done to make all of you happy? Not quite the same thing, but your memories could include what you had wanted. With the time constraints over, I'll bet that could be done.

Also, those who put together the celebration need help. Like us all, they are over-worked and under-loved. Would a group of you be willing to be on a committee to help them plan next year, so this won't happen? I'd love to have you, and I have some experience in setting up such things. Then we could be there when next year's group needs help.

Would you like to pursue some non-violent responses that might give you all happy memories and replace the disappointment?

love and peace, jeanne

Impediments to the Peacemaking Identity

We have been making an unstated assumption in our discussions of structural violence. Because we began to look at violence in terms of "structural violence," "the internalization of that structural violence," and "personal violence," and the social psychological constructs those entail, we were more focused on these theoretical constructs than on the manifestations of affect.

What do I mean by that in plain English? That we were trying to understand violence, and that we recognized three "kinds" of violence: structural violence, internalized structural violence, and violence. And that we were paying more attention to how to define these different types of violence than to the emotions they engender and how those emotions impact us.

  • Structural violence
  • Structural violence is violence that results from simple bureaucratization, rules set up to run families, schools, parks, classrooms, businesses, government. The harm comes not from the family, school, park, etc. intending to punish you specifically, but from the fact that you don't fit the rules, and that the family, school, park, etc. is treating you as though you were fungible, i.e. replaceable with any other individual they deal with, like a spare car part.

    The harm is in your being treated like a number, instead of as a unique human being, with a unique story. The harm to the institutional group so treating you is that it begins to function as a non-learning sub-system that heeds only its own rules, and does not take into account those who are harmed in that process. This is a very rough approximation, as I understand it, of Habermas' "auto-poietic non-learning sub-system." (Habermas, Between Facts and Norms, at p. 49, ff.)

  • Internalized structural violence
  • In the next construct we considered, the internalization of structural violence, we need to reintroduce the uniqueness of individual response to the social context. In early childhood, frustration is a part of our daily growth. We encounter barriers, we encounter language, we encounter the need to persuade others to do what we need. Some of us are aggressive and demanding; some are relatively unruffled, happy, and find pleasant ways to meet our needs; some of us do not have our needs met. These early experiences shape our response to frustration.

    Criticism entails frustration. Having made the effort to do something I am now told that effort was not as it should be. We speak of learning as one uses the criticism to correct the effort. But we do not all learn in this way. If the criticism is painful enough, the lesson learned may be internalized anger. And if our coping mechanisms have not kept apace with our intellectual growth, it may be anger not learning which is internalized.

    To the extent that the criticism is perceived as violent and unjust, i.e., not taking into account the effort itself, the internalized response is likely to focus more on anger and frustration than on learning. The present school system does no formal evaluation of effort, and no formal attempt to understand the student's response to correction. We propose in this paper that such inattention to underlying processes is one of the major causes of violence as a response to frustration.

    • Example: Student follows what she believes are instructions for essay. Student gets a C. Other student writes essay of similar length; but other student gets A. consider the following scenarios of Student response:

      • Student sees problem of writing as simply stringing words together coherently on paper. I wrote a paragraph. Other wrote a paragraph. You said write a paragraph. I did. But I only got a C. Other got an A. Why?

        Student in this analysis is not getting past the requirement "write." That's not unusual. For the student who has never mastered writing skills that require extensive practice, the objective to writing an essay is often just to fill up the page. If one essay is unsuccessful, that student merely starts over and writes another essay.

        Although the student's question, "Why?" sounds simple, it is not. Getting words down on paper is one way to start an essay. But there are other essential steps, like identifying the topic, building an argument, drawing a conclusion. Few teachers, given work overload, and lack of prior training to build on, break down their evaluations of students' essays into the elements that are missing, and what could be done to incorporate them. Most teachers, faced with this conundrum, offer off-putting disclaimers such as "This is not college writing," if you're in college, or "Other wrote a better essay." Both statements are conclusionary, and offer no clue as to what they mean.

        The student who has accepted the legitimacy of the school's evaluation of her, goes away hurt, but resigned that if she could just understand it, she could "write." But there's something about "writing" she just doesn't get.

        The intuitively bright, or the intuitively angry student, may not accept the legitimacy of the school's right to evaluate him. He goes away angry, sure of his own ability, and sure that his failure at this task is "their" fault.

        Neither of these students has had a valid learning experience. The school has labeled them. At best we have labeled them from the perspective of the advantaged student who had extensive writing practice in a privileged classroom of limited size. She blames herself. He blames others. But both have experienced only labeling, not learning.

        Race, gender, and class are relevant here, but only to the extent that social learning teaches those of minority groups, women, and workers to accept the legitimacy of such labels to a greater extent than those with power will generally accept. The confusion of the structural violence of institutional measures of success (generally paper and pencil tests) with actual learning and performance affects all. The privileged student, caught in the structural violence of the system, suffers the same harm. The difference is that the privileged student has more access to resources to protect her from such violence in her specific case. I.e., parental influence, parental knowledge, legal support, privilege gained from prior status, etc.

    • Violence, Personal

      In this project we have distinguished structural violence from violence by the personal nature of the construct. If person A behaves violently toward person B with the intent to hurt or with the disregard for any harm to person B, we consider that violent. But if person A behaves to person B as she would behave to any other person coming within her circle of power, that is structural violence. To the extent that person B could have been any other persons (fungible) with person B's non-unique characteristics, i.e., or race, or religion, or color, or gender, or accent, whatever, person A is structurally violent to such people as person B is categorized with by person A.

      Thus violence is aimed at a unique person.

      Structural violence is aimed at anyone who falls within a given category of the perpetrator's organized thought. A rule-breaker, a trouble-maker, a smart alec, a racially identified person, a gender-identified person, an age identified person, or any other.

      Institutionalized structural violence is violence aimed at anyone in specific identified categories, when that violence is simply the results of the way things have always been done, or of the "rules." Institutionalized structural violence is violence without a perpetrator. (Citations, Joe Feagin.)

    Structural Violence Internalized from Tradition

    Since violence tends to beget violence, survival in a violent social context tends to teach us violence through modeling, whether we so choose or not. (citations omitted - much in death penalty literature on this) the two examples given are taken from transactions in the project this semester. They are enough to give a sense of what we mean here by the internalization of the structural violence of tradition.

    • Defensive by taking offensive

      In an adversarial environment where the student is seen as having to prove that he has learned, as against the institution's assumption that the average student does not learn unless forced into it, students have learned to be defensive. Any negative criticism is perceived as prosecutorial, and the student often expects not to be heard in good faith.

      We saw this in the project this semester whenever jeanne asked for some indication of what the student was learning. Several times the student gave dozens of defensive answers, put off talking to jeanne, until finally, in anger, he wrote what jeanne called a "foff memo." Often, in anger, the student began to enumerate what he had in fact been doing, which is precisely what jeanne had been asking for.

      It appears that we have internalized the old adage that the "best defense is a good offense." So that very often in response to a request for some communication of learning, jeanne got, and so did Susan, messages about what they had done wrong, or failed to do, or not done well or clearly, or expected unreasonably. This appears to be hostile. It is not. The anger at the moment is real. But the student is terribly confused by the simplicity of being asked to explain what he has learned, where it fits into his knowledge base, how he can incorporate it.

      Once jeanne began to share the "foff" memos, and students began to catch on, we discovered that students were far more capable than we had ever imagined of real communication on their learning. For example, look at the extraordinary job of reporting that Cloyd Barnwell did.

      This would seem to suggest that we can begin to actually eliminate some of the structural violence in our own classrooms if we will just listen to the students in good faith.

    • Long latent learning curve - hesitancy to act

      Another way in which the structural violence of traditional learning manifests itself is the hesitancy that some students have to respond at all. Students with a particularly long latent learning curve simply do not perform well until they have mastered more than most students. This is not a sign of perversity. To the extent that one's learning style is more holistic, one simply does not find performance in discreet steps possible. These are usually students who "freeze" on exams. One cannot ask them "why" they freeze, anymore than once can ask a seriously depressed person "why" he is depressed. (Lear, Open Minded, et al.)

      The tendency to assume that all behavior is rational, and thus that the person who engages in it can give a rational explanation for it, is structurally violent and dangerous. We know that people learn in different ways, at different speeds, in both affective and cognitive domains. Why, then, do we persist in demanding that our students all adhere to one testing system? Why do we test at all in this way?

      Why don't we grant validity to what the student says? If we expect him to be a trustworthy citizen tomorrow, how can we so mistrust him today? (Citation, Catherine MacKinnon, on granting validity to what women say.)

Conclusion: Cloyd Barnwell Summarizes Our Learning

On May 25, 2000, jeanne adds a comment:

I'm working on grades and projects, and this paper, and there isn't enough time to do everything. But I stopped this morning to put up Cloyd Barnwell's latest comments on the project, because I can't stop just because the school says classes are over. That's the part of this project that translates into my need for a forum where someone is listening in good faith. Valencia is, Cloyd is, and listening means participating, asking when the next piece will go up, wanting someone to hear, irrespective of artificial categorized constraints on time - like classes being over.

I could throw my hands in the air and shout in exasperation at being over-worked and under-paid. But that isn't what I feel at all. I want to throw my arms in the air and shout "Hallelujah! We have a community!" Just maybe, the goal of the second half of the 20th Century, to let machines work for us, was a cock-eyed goal. Every machine I've ever met gave me more trouble to keep it going, or the key I needed to do more. Why are we still asking how we can let machines teach for teachers, so that teachers won't be overworked? Didn't we learn anything from domestic appliances? Work, if it is structured humanely, provides meaning to life, for it is what we can do for the social world in which we live. But it's time to learn the lesson of the "long wall." (citations omitted) Work must be interdependently defined with the humans who engage in it. The process is as important or more important than that which is produced, for it is the process that gives meaning.

In this small project, in a small, urban, underfunded commuter college, we have found a way to change the categorization of time! At odd hours, without regard to the college's schedule, students are learning, teachers are teaching. And there is meaning to learning, beyond the structural violence of the school's prime beef stamp.

On May 25, Cloyd Barnwell wrote to share his frustration and confusion over the structural violence of exams.

The issue of testing is one fraught with affect. On the one hand, educators retreat behind the barriers of "standards," and on the other, students retreat behind cries of injustice. Each is a justifiable perspective, but there is no totalizing answer. One of the dilemmas here is that the academy for so long has sought some universal truth about learning. There is none. We learn throughout our lives, in the most unexpected ways, and we coordinate our learning to produce the most unexpected lifeworlds.

Exams are a very special form of testing, used generally to certify competence. What on earth does that mean? It means that when we give an exam, we are attempting to certify, to verify a person's knowledge within a given field. So, if sociologists in the real world should be able to discuss intelligently the theories of Durkheim, Marx, and Weber, an exam would ask the candidates to discuss a selection of the theories of Durkheim, Marx, and Weber. We would compare those answers to those we would expect our professional sociologists to give, and place the examinee somewhere on a continuum from "knows little to nothing" all the way to "knows at a level similar to those of professionals".

Cloyd Barnwell's Phrasing of the Validity Claim

On May 15, 2000, Cloyd Barnwell wrote:

Hi Jeanne,
I just read Exams! Exams! Exams!, and I found it to be very interesting. You spoke of teachers becoming immune to giving out grades to students, which makes them structurally violent. I agree with your report. I can tell from my experience that some teachers do not want to give or disappoint students with bad reports on their performance. I understand the process of this evaluation, but I would like to see more teachers resort to your methods. I know there are people who criticize the way you grade or the way your class is structured, but the way I perceive your system, is that the students must show interest. Then, ask questions along with comments to show you that they are interested. After all of this, the teacher will determine the grade of the student.

For instance, in my English 350 class, I had worked really hard this semester to improve my writing and the teacher knows that after this class I will continue the process. My point is that, I think from my effort I deserve an A+, but from my performance I am going to receive a B-.

Thanks for listening, Jeanne. Cloyd Barnwell.........

Jeanne's Rephrasing of the Claim in Academic Discourse

On Thursday, May 25, 2000, jeanne responded:

Thank you, Cloyd, for sharing your perceptions. I am impressed at how well you reported this data.
  • You started with the file you were reading. So I knew where you were on the site.
  • You found a point in that file that was a good starting point for what you wanted to tell me: good faith on the part of teachers. So you began with a point of agreement. Good negotiating skill.
  • You even said, "I agree," and then gave the evidence on which you based your agreement: personal experience. Good argument technique.
  • The suggestion you offered to solve the dilemma was non-violent assessment of learning, which is the technical name for what I do. So you offered a suggestion. Good negotiation.
  • Then you recognized the disadvantages of the solution, acknowledging that not all agree with it. Good argumentation, and good academic discourse.
  • Having set the social context, you then made your arguments in favor of non-violent assessment by describing the process as you understand it in your own words. Good technique to show grasp of a construct. Also shows confidence in your own understanding.
  • Your analysis of non-violent assessment places "student interest" at the focal point. I think that's a good analysis. It reflects Alfie Kohn's concern for intrinsic motivation in our learning.
  • Then you move your argument back to a situation that leaves you less than comfortable: a course in which your certification results do not reflect well the effort you put into that certification. This is a good concluding piece that comes back to your earlier solid recognition of the social context of the college. Which grade is primary? Which grade is fair? The grade that places your English writing on a continuum that covers the whole range of writing skills? Or the grade that reflects your effort? Are we grading you as a fungible worker to be snapped up, ready-stamped by the corporate or government world? Or are we grading you as a unique learner in a society that can be no better than the realized potential of its members?
  • Yes, there is extraordinary bias in the last sentence. I just hate being treated as fungible, and stamped as "prime" or "not prime" beef. "Fungible" may only be recognized as pejorative, if you have a large vocabulary, but it is pejorative. The "stamping of beef" connotes the most callous categorization, the grading of meat from killed cattle. These pejoratives are contrasted with "unique," with "learner," (not "student," since that brings in pejorative connotations in an academic context), and "realized potential." That's bad academic writing, folks. I could have suppressed the affect, made the argument, and let the reader conclude without my passion. Notice that Cloyd did not use pejoratives, did not resort to emotional appeals. Good academic writing, Cloyd.

    The only clue that Cloyd gives that he might share my bias is in that last phrase: "Thanks for listening, Jeanne." And that brings us full circle, back to structural violence. If our project does nothing more than provide a forum in which someone is listening in good faith, then the project has started us along the road to non-violence.

    Every great thinker I admire has suggested that "awareness" of both "self" and "other" is the point at which non-violence must begin. (Notice I threw in "admire" as an escape clause, since consideringRorty and Heidegger, I think Heidegger might disagree with me, but I don't "admire" his disagreement. Or maybe Heidegger just wouldn't mind the violence.

  • Cloyd's expression of thanks for a project that is "aware," that "listens in good faith," is an expression of a validity claim, albeit a tenuous one. And I think this is typical of how validity claims come to be expressed in public discourse. The need for "awareness," for the just "hearing of the validity claim" is there. But, faced with the overwhelming power of institutional authority which recognizes only the certification claim, it's hard to present the claim for recognition of effort, of other "learning," less easily quantified and categorized. This is the point at which Dear Habermas has insisted that legitimacy in public discourse demands that those with experience in discourse come to the aid of those who are tentatively making validity claims, well founded in the affective domain, but poorly founded in the more esoteric cognitive domain. In plain English, since I speak academic discourse, a part of what legitimacy demands of me is that I come to the aid of new colleagues, like Cloyd, to help them around the language of academic discourse to best explain their claims in the interest of justice.

    To this end, let me suggest that Cloyd has presented an excellent claim: that grades should reflect more than paper and pencil tests of competence in highly categorized, and consequently, structurally violent social systems. Cloyd has suggested that more sophisticated measures of learning should reflect the internalization of a willingness to learn, the effectiveness of incorporation of present learning into a knowledge base, a more effective use of a zero-point, so that present, not prior, learning is measured, and that such measures be used non-violently to serve the learner, as well as the hypothetical employer, as feedback and guidance into a satisfying role as a member of this society.

Drawing Threaded Discussions from the Process Text

Text Added in Albany on June 1, 2000
Part of Teaching Series
Copyright: June 2000: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata. "Fair Use" encouraged.

with Acknowledgment to Patricia Acone


Teaching love means sharing our knowledge in loving ways, wanting our students to have the intense excitement f learning. Teaching material that is beyond the comfortable disciplinary level of the student is structurally violent, for the student is treated as fungible, as though she had all the skills requisite to understanding the material, when in fact we know very well she doesn't. Our universities today ignore this deficit in praxis, and operate as though gaining practice in most academic skills is the responsibility of the student. Bourdieu, Passeron, and Martin, in Academic Discourse, state:
"Our survey reveals two fundamental facts: the importance of linguistic misunderstanding in higher education and the determining role of liguistic inheritance in academic success. . . . Using a word frequently or, even better, without stopping to define it or comment on it is the most objective measure of the lecturer's view that its meaning is understood, or any rate ought to be understood. Why the evidence of poor comprehension and manipulation skills is so important is because in their instructional practice teachers implicitly expect and impose a requirement of perfect understanding. (Compare to Minow's unstated assumptions.)