Thursday, April 11, 2013

Productive Dissent

Students in #WoCo311 examine a map of nearby neighborhoods with a local non-profit leader (Mar '13)

“Ooooh, I know! Our theme could be ‘make your mark,’” exclaimed one student, suggesting a common thread to run through a class video production.

“Wait,” said another, “wouldn’t that sort of suggest a ‘white savior’ attitude?” The video project focuses on bright spots of collaboration between Wofford College students and residents of two economically marginalized neighborhoods nearby. The White Savior reading from earlier in the semester surfaces again.

“Oh my gosh, you’re right.” Others chime in, and the discussion takes another turn.

I watch, leaning against the wall of our seminar room. They're all turned away from me, attention directed toward a classmate who plots thoughts about the video on a huge banner “storyboard” taped to the blackboard. Another jots down ideas in chalk in the margins. Another leaps up to the computer station to show a video that might serve as an example of theme and technique. Yet another converts the timeline to digital format on her laptop and loads it onto Piazza.

This semester I’ve had the privilege to watch productive dissent. Collaboration. Students stretching their communication skills to make a critical contribution. To engage in that kind of dialogue where you add a different perspective to build on the ideas of others, where you dissent in ways that underscore a shared purpose and a respect for the ideas of the original contributor. They’ve run their ideas by each other; solicited input from peers outside the class; and used conversations with interlocutors in Latin America, through the Talk Abroad service, to discuss topics we’ve covered in class and the subject of their video.

It’s midterm, and I’m beginning to fade into the background. I’m thrilled. By the end of the course, if I’ve done my job right, I’ll need only to recount their successes to them and cheer them on as they tackle what comes next for each of them. And I’ll know that their future collaborators —supervisors, friends, clients, constituents— will benefit from what I’ve witnessed them practice in our class, with each other, with members of the diverse community in which their lives, our lives, unfold.