Dialogue is also a way that academics such as Freire have wrestled with tough pedagogical issues. He uses the term “problem-posing” education as an alternative to
“banking” education; “problem-posing” education utilizes dialogic techniques (rather than one-way communication) (1970/2000). His belief is that true critical reflection can only be conducted through dialogue between and among students and teachers. In Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope (2003), hooks encourages people “to decolonize their minds, to maintain awareness, change behavior and create beloved community” (p. 40). Through authentic dialogue, she asserts solidarity will emerge (hooks, 1994, p. 110).
Freire (1970/2000) proposes a method for dialogue that he calls “thematic investigation circles” (p. 118) in which participants are broken into small groups to critically analyze popular knowledge. Freire found that in these circles, participants “externalize a series of sentiments and opinions about themselves, the world, and others that perhaps they would not express under other circumstances” (p. 118). By utilizing these learning circles, educators may co-educate with participants, further breaking down the power differential between teacher and student.
A famous dialogue between Freire and activist Myles Horton, who founded the Highlander Education Center, has affected the way in which the C.O. course attempts to operationalize these Freirian principles (Horton, Freire, & Bell, 1990). Horton and Freire discuss how the purpose of education should be freedom. Their discussion explores how people have been conditioned to fear freedom and change; however, it is in being free and taking risks that real transformation and progress occur. They speak of this as “the paradox of education” (p. 220). Education for liberation and social change is dynamic and unpredictable. The process takes time, might be met with resistance, and certainly calls for reflection and reinvention. Freire and Horton believe, as does Boal in Theatre of the Oppressed (1979), that educators must understand how educational institutions have been used to perpetuate systems of oppression. Only then can educators truly transform education to be an instrument of social change.
The course is organized into Freirian small group learning circles (Lee, 1996) in which students analyze their experiences; generate themes through posing problems in a question form; codify common themes that occur on a personal, cultural, and institutional level; and use the themes to generate steps for taking action. Every class session begins and ends with a “talking circle” in which students dialogue with each other about current events relevant to the course and about concepts and techniques they learned. During the talking circles, Martell participates alongside students. Eventually, students, to varying degrees, stop looking to her to provide validation for their input and reflections. Instead, the class creates a less hierarchical investigation into course themes where everyone's views, experiences, and knowledge are valued as important learning tools.
Students are organized in learning circles for two of the assignments discussed previously; the first is to jointly organize and present a unit of the course syllabus through analysis and synthesis of readings. The second is to work together on the community profile. Working in small groups throughout the semester also allows students the opportunity to analyze and discuss the community organizing concepts presented in the lecture and readings. The discussion is initiated with an exercise or series of questions relevant to the day's syllabus topic. Initially, it is the faculty and graduate assistant who develop the topical questions. Later, students are given the opportunity to produce their own questions based on assigned readings.
In addition, the small groups initiate students into actual community organizing experiences as various students assume the roles of group facilitator and recorder at least once during the semester. The purpose of the group facilitator role is to give the students the opportunity to learn and exercise the skills of a community organizing group leader. The responsibility of the facilitator is to bring his or her group members through the steps of the week's exercise and to analyze the process and their performance. The purpose of the group recorder role is to encourage students to learn minute-taking skills while witnessing group process dynamics in action as a political, strategic process rather than a clinical, administrative function (Mizrahi, 2015). The group recorder's responsibility is to submit a one-page synopsis of his or her group's experience and success with the exercise the following week.
The role-playing aspects of the group offer students the chance to build organizing skills in a supportive environment. The roles of facilitator and recorder require that each student become actively involved with the group's activity rather than wait for these roles to evolve out of the group process. Initial experiences with these roles begins to bolster the confidence of some students who might otherwise not engage in discussion. Assignment of different roles in part ensures that every student's contribution is captured by the group, a fundamental tenet of community organizing practice (Hardina, 2013).
The time spent engaging in discussion and activities in small groups also allows the students to develop their emotional intelligence or the ability to monitor their emotions while cultivating awareness of their peers' emotions. Emotional intelligence promotes students' social and intellectual growth through understanding emotions and eventually using them to access information through self-reflection (Mayer & Salovey, 1997).
The group work/learning circles allow for reciprocal learning and teaching to occur. For some students, this is their first chance to actively participate in their own learning and to value the contribution of peers as well as teachers, becoming what Freire (1970/2000) calls “student-teachers” and “teacher-students” (p. 83). According to Lee (1996), small groups “promote motivation, problem solving, and psychic comfort, [which] contributes to [students'] self-direction and empowerment” (p. 234).