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CONVERSATION AND DIALOGUE IN THE HUMAN SERVICES CLASSROOM

Of course, conversation and dialogue do not just happen. People make them happen.

Brazilian educator Paulo Freire (2000) argues that all people bring a problemsolving orientation to their lives. Much of this begins through dialogue in which we take part in a mutual learning relationship (Habermas, 1981). Yet to do so, we must have an equal chance to enter into dialogue. This requires a breakdown in the rigid hierarchies between teachers and students, as well as among students. Dialogue cannot take place between those who have no right to speak and those who would deny others the right to do so. It is therefore a foundation of a democratic society and effective social work education. Such a situation extends beyond traditional social work pedagogy, helping us explore misunderstandings and contradictions and barriers and develop possibilities. Attending to basic active listening skills, we must make a concerted effect at hearing each other (Freire, 2000; Habermas, 1981).

“[A] humane collective life,” Habermas writes, “depends on vulnerable forms of innovation-bearing, reciprocal and unforcedly egalitarian everyday communication” (as quoted in Smith, 2001). For students, the collective effort oflistening, of actively attempting to hear and learn from one another, marks the beginning of holistic engagement, which it is hoped is mirrored with clients. Through these conversations, students reflect on their practice and communities. Such dialogues help us build a community in the classroom and neighborhoods beyond the campus walls (Smith, 2001). As John McKnight (2014) explains, “People who come together to pool their capacities are the real community builders.” Through these alternative requirements on students' engagement, holistic engagement really begins, as students connect ideas and people, experiences and understandings.

 
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