Shared Reading as a Foundation for Inclusive Democracy

Shared Reading as a Foundation for Inclusive Democracy

This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of John Dewey’s classic book, Democracy and Education. While much has changed in the last century, much has not: his voice continues to inspire us today as we think about the role that adult learning can play in shaping democracy. Dewey’s lesser-known friend and colleague, Jane Addams, provides important practical perspectives as she combined theory and practice in work that shaped the lives of individual people in Chicago and far beyond for many decades.

Dewey and Addams believed that democracy depends on providing opportunities and resources for every person to build his/her own capacity to contribute to the work at hand in their families, in the workplace and in the larger community.

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The Power of Unexpected Questions

The Power of Unexpected Questions

Three unrelated experiences came together in the last few weeks that led me to revisit an idea that has stayed in the back of my mind for quite some time: MIT Professor Edgar Schein’s notion of “humble inquiry,” which Schein defines as “the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, or building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.”

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Learning Life History: Revisiting the Past to Build a Better Future

Learning Life History: Revisiting the Past to Build a Better Future

In Learning from Our Lives, Pierre Dominicé suggests that our life history, especially the history of our learning, can be a powerful resource for understanding the future we want to build. Dominicé exhorts educators to encourage adults to explore their educational biography. When adults reflect on their “life journey in learning,” he says, they “become authors of their lives.”

Each of us is a product of our biography. Can we seize on our learning life histories to learn more about ourselves in the present?

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Learning: It’s Not Just What You Know

Learning: It’s Not Just What You Know

In a TED talk that has been viewed almost 50 million times, Kenneth Robinson says that education “goes deep with people” when it taps into their innate desire to learn and grow. We start with creativity and curiosity that motivates our learning – but too often we lose much of our enthusiasm for “education” along the way. I like to think that each of us actually is an expert on learning. We just need to step away from the idea that learning is simply mastering new information and skills and think back to times when we learned things that really mattered to us and the people around us.

But what is learning if it’s not just the acquisition of new knowledge?

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The Search for Beauty: One Voice, A New Perspective

The Search for Beauty: One Voice, A New Perspective

More often than we may realize, one person’s voice, quietly asserted in a moment, changes how an entire group sees things. I witnessed such a moment a few weeks ago during a Books@Work session that brought together police officers and community members to discuss Gabriel García Márquez’s story “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World.” The story is a classic example of the literary genre known as magical realism – but this moment in the discussion gave new meaning to that term.

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Beware the Bullet Point: Critical Thinking and Well-Told Stories

Beware the Bullet Point: Critical Thinking and Well-Told Stories

At first, some are skeptical of the role literature can play in corporate settings. After all, a novel (or short story or play) can take a long time to make even a single point about human experience. In Hamlet, for example, Shakespeare expends 30,000 words to provide a window on the pitfalls of decision-making. Wouldn’t a short article (or even a PowerPoint presentation) more efficiently summarize the salient factors that produce good or bad decisions for work teams? But what might we miss?

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A Meeting of Minds: Shared Reading and Lifelong Learning at Work

A Meeting of Minds: Shared Reading and Lifelong Learning at Work

Who doesn’t enjoy a lively conversation? Mortimer Adler, the co-founder of the Great Books program, wrote, “Of all the things that human beings do, conversing with one another is the most characteristically human.” Adler’s How to Read a Book is a literary classic, but less well known is his 1983 companion volume How to Speak and How to Listen. Conversation – speaking and listening – is part of the normal activities of life, but Adler describes a kind of communication that goes deeper, a “two-way talk [that] can achieve a meeting of minds, a sharing of understandings and thoughts, of feelings and wishes.” This kind of conversation is pleasurable and satisfying – but why is it so rare?

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That Can Be Me: How a Genuine Literature Discussion Can Lead to Self-Discovery

That Can Be Me: How a Genuine Literature Discussion Can Lead to Self-Discovery

In a recent post, I explored the subject of listening as understanding, and ever since I have had a heightened awareness of talking and listening in the public space – and, more importantly, in my own social interactions. The current public discourse displays a flood of talking and a drought of listening, but I have been surprised at how much private discourse (including my own) suffers from the same conversational excesses. We seem to listen so poorly, in fact, that we no longer notice how little genuine dialogue is happening. If listening does lead to the “miracle of understanding” described in my earlier post, how do Books@Work discussions make that miracle happen?

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Listening: A Miracle of Understanding

Listening: A Miracle of Understanding

On some level, everyone thinks they know what it means to listen. You pay attention (at least a little). You allow other people to speak. You don’t interrupt. When they finish, you know what they said. Most of us acknowledge that it is important to listen – if only to be polite. But listening can be much more than that when it goes beyond just allowing others to speak and moves toward what the philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer called the “miracle of understanding.” What happens to our own ideas and ways of thinking when we listen for understanding?

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It’s About Time: Speeding Up By Slowing Down

It’s About Time: Speeding Up By Slowing Down

Every day at work, at home, at leisure, hardly an hour goes by without a comment or two about time: “I don’t have time to get everything done” or “I’d love to do that but I am busy then” – or less frequently, “I was so absorbed that time just flew by.” Time has become the ultimate scarce resource; and we use financial words to describe it. We budget time, invest time, allocate time and waste time. And like money, we always seem to wish we had more of it.

So what happens when we take time out of the work day to slow down, read and share ideas with colleagues?

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