Bullying and interpersonal conflict from a “dialogic event” perspective

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Through discussions in class meetings of “concrete situations” experienced by students in their lived experience in and out of the classroom, educators have been encouraged to guide students to understand how bullying applies to their lives, and to learn the degree to which bullying is present or absent in their relationships with their peers (Olweus, 1993). In observations of and interviews about the class meetings at a private, progressive U.S. middle school, student and teacher discourses in response to students’ interpersonal dynamics are found to exist within separate, parallel universes. The teachers’ discourse universe presumes that the lived experience of students can be understood through and guided by abstract, Kantian-like moral universal imperatives – specifically, the imperative to “feel good” and the imperative not to bully. These imperatives supplant dialogue on the events of students’ experiences toward a focus on who the students are becoming rather than who they are now. This discourse of “half-being” maps the students’ experiences upon what is known, predictable, universal, unsurprising and imagined, and assumes that students are not fully responsible for their own or each other’s well-being. By contrast, the students’ discourse on their interpersonal dynamics is characterized by Bakhtin’s (1993) notion of “being-as-event” discourse, which is highly contextualized, unpredictable, and focuses upon everyone’s responsibility to ongoing dramatic and ontologically charged events (either immediate or recursive in nature). The students’ discursive universe is conducive to dialogue, whereas the teachers’ discursive universe supplants the students’ messy, unpredictable and dialogically responsible discourse, thus arresting the possibility for teachers and peers to provide meaningful and authoritative guidance to dialogic events. The reasons for teachers’ attraction to Kantian-like abstract moral universals as well as the consequences of the supplanting of students’ event-filled discourse with the discourse of bullying are discussed.

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Dialogic Pedagogy

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