Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Delicacy of Nuance

A favorite education blog of mine is Bridging Differences, penned by Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch.  A recent post by Deborah however, interested me less for its actual subject than for the issues it raised in how we all communicate to each other.  The thesis of her post was that in many ways the modern school is like a prison.  The students are forced to attend.  They are not allowed to leave.  They must generally listen when spoken to and register any protest in strictly muted form.  In the post she used words like "abuse", "torture" "coercion" and "justice".  These terms all have a rather large spectrum of contextual meanings, and Deborah's use mainly resided in the less-severe form.

One of her commenters took offense at her choice of words, pointing out that what she was describing seemed not to warrant such hyperbolic language.  Could one not get the wrong impression from such heated words?

I think that might be true, but I can completely relate to Deborah's style of thinking - even though it constantly gets me in hot water!  It's all in the nuance.  Because from another mouth, those words might indeed sound really terrible.  But if you "get" what she is trying to say, there is a very powerfully spoken emotion in her language that might be sacrificed in a "tidier" version.  The danger, of course, is in this type of language being misread, especially as it can sometimes sound like the sort of cynical rhetorical device used by propagandists, in that the intent (consciously or not) to deceive or manipulate.

To elaborate, this is how I at least defend my own style, which I think is similar.  There is a certain faith that is placed in the listener that assumes they are interested in taking a kind of walk with me, that they too are operating in good faith and are willing to possibly forgive the inaccuracies implicit in what I am saying in order to, with me, understand a deeper meaning that may not otherwise be understood.

The reader is in this way thought of as a serious and capable participant.  In the same way a poet might choose beauty over specificity, or a musician might choose dynamism before harmony, a leap is being taken with the hope that the listener will follow.

Obviously, this technique requires delicacy, and could easily slip into laziness.  Yet for those to whom this type of writing - thinking, really - appeals, it is in their DNA to carry on this way.  In the same way a more literal or linear thinker's lack of nuance, or "art", must be overlooked in order to appreciate their special focus and well-chosen delivery, the abstract, impassioned speaker must be indulged to reap the charm of whatever new and delightful dalliance they might take.

So, are schools really like "prisons" for children.  Often torturous, or abusive?  Well, yeah.  I know exactly what she means!

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