Envisioning the First Educational Discussion

30 Jun

In preparation for a book club discussion, I realized that I know nothing about the genesis or evolution of discussion-based academic study. I also realized something else. My investigation would probably make a pretty good blog post. Then I realized another thing, that the success of a blog post is mostly out of my hands, even when I’m the author of the blog. It is the same way with discussions.

I started my journey toward understanding the genesis of book clubs, seminar-based classes, etc. the way everyone else who wants to get a basic understanding of any subject does. I googled a bunch of random terms. Well, not completely random. No “hemroid cheese clown pancake buy one get one free” and then the I’m Feelin Lucky button. No, ma’am. Instead I used key words like “education, development, genesis, book club, history” all in various permutations and combinations. The results were astounding. As in, there was nothing about what I was thinking about. Afraid, I immediately went to Wikipedia, reminding myself with soft, sweet murmurings that I could find an answer to my query like I had before. I was wrong. There was diddly, bo diddly, which isn’t even a euphemism for nothing. That’s how bad it was. Wikipedia did have some enlightening stuff, though. Ever heard of the term andragogy? What about heutagogy? Same here.

Since I cannot find anything, I will do what any good student/philosopher/writer/public thinker/human being stuck in a situation that David Bowie and that guy who was the lead singer of Queen sang about in the song “Under Pressure” would do. Instead of knowing the terror of what this world is about, I’ll just make something up. Here’s how I think the first discussion-based educational moment went down in the history of humanity. It was probably something really simple, really pragmatic. Something so easy and pragmatic a caveman could do it. Perhaps like this?

“Hey, you, you old looking ape-thing. I’ve seen you looking at that fire. Why do you think it does that?”

“I dunno. Let’s figure it out, buddy.”

“Cool, haha. Get it? Cool. We’re talking about fire.”

“Yeah whatever. Let’s just talk about the fire.”

“Oh, ok. I see how it is.”

“…”

“Fine. Let’s talk about the fire. But don’t call me ‘Buddy.'”

And in that beautiful moment, or something like it, something changed. Something magical happened. Two or more single people realized that knowledge is a fruit best savored with someone else. Or maybe it’s like an inside joke, one that can only survive if it has enough people on the inside. That simile works better, I think. The two people were on an even playing field, so to speak. They both wanted to know something about something and were willing to talk to each other about it, without any force guiding them other than their own innards.

But, if we look at the system of education now, or even at such educational greats as the early Greek philosophers Heraclitus or Socrates, etc., there were intellectual guides. These guides pointed people in certain directions, much like high school teachers and college professors point us in some direction today. This, then, means that the seeming equality between the two Cro-Magnon instigators of this human notion of discursive education was only just that. A seeming equality, not a real one. Someone must have always-already had an upper hand in intellectuality. Someone who studied more, someone who I’m guessing called a fellow discusser “Buddy” in a more and more pedantic way. That someone is the modern day prototype for today’s discussion leader.

This means we have a problem. I should know more about the book than anyone else in the group. That assumes, of course, that I’m the leader of the group. But honestly enough, I appointed myself. Seems a bit like a fascist dictator, though. Am I right? A bit random and unmerited. But what about the first instructors? What were their credentials? It could have been the case that they were in the exact same position as I am––not necessarily smarter or more knowing, but maybe more confused or opinionated than those around them. What would be cool to know is if these first instructors were selected by the group or self-selected? And better yet, does either method produce a better discussion?

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