The Art of Robust Conversation
As a society we have, of late—and wherefore I know not—lost the ability to engage in civil discourse and are supposedly experiencing a crisis in democracy. We seem to have lost the ability to have difficult conversations, reflect on our own positions, and modify them as we encounter new and challenging ideas. Perhaps we have grown too reliant on a narrow range of sources for ideas about the world—after all algorithms, not conversations, direct us to online posts with which we already agree. Without the ability to challenge these ideas civilly, they become doctrine. While this might paint a sad picture of confrontation, vitriol and uneasy disquiet, there is a better portrait—one that we are painting at Girls Grammar in our English classrooms.
Let me paint you a picture of the English Extension classroom. Students engage in robust conversation about the social and cultural artefacts that we value. Girls Grammar English Extension students place what French philosopher, Louis Althusser calls interpellation—the notion that we are ideologically compelled to conform to a narrow range of choices—into sharp focus, engaging with the so-called ‘big ideas that rule the world’: patriarchy; anthropocentrism; and nationalism, among others.
Students decorate their conversations with a broad range of self-selected texts that allow them to engage with new ideas about the world. At the moment, there is a particular focus on feminist philosophies, as the girls explore novels such as The Handmaid’s Tale and The Penelopiad.
The robust conversation of the English Extension classroom is not an isolated masterpiece though; it is the culmination of the Girls Grammar English program. Our students’ palettes have been filled through their engagement with the construction of identity in Mulan in Year 7, through to their exploration of what it means to be human in Bladerunner and Never Let Me Go in Year 11.
There is no crisis in democracy at Girls Grammar, where robust and respectful conversation lies at the heart of the English Extension classroom. We are determined to paint the future of conversation in a different light.
Mr Anthony Cupitt
English and Literature Extension Teacher