Kyle Bjorem COM5600 Edwards Teaching/Learning Moment

Dewey, Kierkegaard and Indirect Communication: Teaching as Performance Art When thinking of what education experience has been truly transformative for me in my lifetime, I had the realization that it had nothing to do with the direct depositing of knowledge into my consciousness. Rather, it was an elaborate presentation of many theories/concepts/views coupled with the encouragement to make a thoughtful choice on my own concerning them. These theories/ideas were not simply “explained”, but instead were illustrated and demonstrated to me via a method of being placed into what a given ideology or mode-of-being would actually result in or look like in action. This was done many times via rhetoric, but also even more effectively by what I can only describe as parables and other art forms (film, literature, drama, etc.) that provide an insightful subjective experience rather than simply an “objective presentation”. The teacher that I have in mind was a Philosophy professor during my undergraduate days who would enter into dialogue about various ideas by telling a story and by “explaining” the ideas of the philosophers by first immersing us in who this person was, what his society was like, and what personal factors may have lead him through the process of finally arriving at his particular worldview. Selections from art forms that applied to the ideas being discussed were used just as frequently as the source material itself, and the contrasting views

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were always given credence and time as well. Nothing was ever allowed to rest on a stable conclusion, further inquiry and contrasting anti-theses were always hailed not as a destructive force, but as “creative conflict” that would engender further growth. What I wish to do with this essay is to show that this pedagogical method I have just explained is closely related to the thought of John Dewey as well as to the thought of Soren Kierkegaard. Then I will show how Kierkegaard‟s thought provides an example of how this pedagogical creed can be practically applied – using “indirect communication”, which I believe was modeled by my former professor (though he never claimed this). Dewey‟s work followed Charles Peirce who claimed that the “The irritation of doubt causes a struggle to attain a state of belief. I shall term this struggle inquiry” (1877). This restlessness is at the very core of Dewey‟s pragmatism and theory of education. He viewed all of reality as an unceasing process of becoming – both on the biological and the sociological level. All our knowledge about ourselves and the world is a result of the social communicative process, and it is ceaselessly refined and renewed. Unchanging, objective systems of thought or dogmas are anathema – for they encourage stasis and finally do not have and validity in relation to a universe and a civilization where “Change is God”, in the words of Heraclitus. Instead, we must have an attitude of “suspended conclusion” in order to “maintain the state of doubt and to carry on systematic and protracted inquiry” (Dewey, 1991, p. 13). This experimental approach was not itself a dogma of prescribed steps, but an “experimental attitude or way-of-being that Dewey seemed to value, one that constantly scrutinizes, critiques and actively experiments … emphasizing firsthand experience” (Webster, 2011, p. 523). Dewey criticized institutional education as continuing down the path of being unenlightened by thoughtful inquiry and as continuing to prescribe fixed conclusions to its learners – thus doing nothing to activate and

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develop their intelligence. In a world where “objectivity” is a chimera, Dewey proposed that the only way to go about truly educating the young and continuing the unceasing progression was to base it in first-hand experience and inquiry. He states that “we never educate directly but by means of the environment‟ (Dewey, 2011, p.23). What I propose is that a large part of “the environment” is a rhetorical one, and ultimately a rhetorical environment that must speak to the individual student and make it apparent that they have an active role to play intellectually that many times students ignore – instead waiting for “the answer” or, through inquiry and experiment, thinking they will even arrive at “an answer” at all, thus becoming susceptible to accepting a fragment for the whole (the whole being infinite becoming). A valuable resource to look to in trying to comprehend how this rhetorical environment can be constructed and what things can be done to put it into actual action is the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard also understood that direct communication had “little effect on getting people to change their mind” (Webster, 2011, p. 526) and stressed again and again that changing how one actually is and experiences the world cannot be prescribed from without – it must be an active choice that one makes with total commitment: “Kierkegaard left his reader in an unfinalized state, ready to make a decision” (Hermann, 2007, p.83). He refused to give direct “answers” in his writing, but rather kept the reader in a deliberate state of disequilibrium in order to promote this active decision-process. He wrote almost the entirety of his voluminous “authorship” under a series of pseudonyms, characters he created to present a different points of view and theories of life (the result, oftentimes, is as rich an investigation into a consciousness as anything written by Dostoevsky). He wanted the pseudonyms to be seen as legitimate authors, “concrete and separate individuals, living and writing from their own experiences, philosophical worldviews, and religious positions” (Hermann, 2007, p. 79). Like Dewey, Kierkegaard also

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considered doubt to be essential – to be willing to live a life of precariousness, of being suspended between dialectical tensions and never truly being at rest: “one who is existing is continually in the process of becoming … the perpetual process of becoming is the uncertainty of earthly life, in which everything is uncertain” (Kierkegaard, 1992, p.86). Dewey, in comparison: “[Man‟s] existence involves … a gamble. The world is a scene of risk; it is uncertain, unstable, uncannily unstable. Its dangers are irregular, inconsistent, not to be counted upon” (1958, p. 41). Kierkegaard advocated the development of cognitive processes in order to deal with such a world as an individual – rather than on the “end products” of these processes. Those who have found a resting spot on these illusory end-products were in Kierkegaard‟s view mindless followers and unaware of themselves. They were being lead along by the nose by social custom or the dead thoughts of others without taking responsibility for their own lives. Ultimately, for Kierkegaard, knowledge is a process that is “lived, practiced, and actualized rather than an end product reached through esoteric reasoning” (McPherson, 2001). Subjectivity is the only true knowledge, for an objective fact (even if we assume they could possibly exist) cannot be an existentially lived experience. Education must “offer more than „instruction‟, more than mere offering of facts … for Kierkegaard the true purpose of education is the discovery of „self‟ and the freedom of becoming self-defining … a key aspect of which is free choice via the process of exploration” (Walters, 2008, p. 14). How then can we better communicate in order to give students opportunity to explore various subjective experiences? Harry Broudy (1961) enumerates some problems for communication if we take this as a serious goal: “1. Making the effort to communicate subjective truth itself makes no sense. 2. Fixed concepts or ordinary referential discourse cannot capture process in process … 3. Direct communication utilizes, or tries to utilize, unambiguous symbols.

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Existential thinking, however, is ambiguous and dialectical …” (p. 228). Luckily for us, Kierkegaard, in his journals, speaks about his own method which he calls “indirect communication” while Dewey, as well, advocated an “indirect communication” approach. As Zigler (2001) states: Dewey most forcefully distinguished between direct and indirect instruction. In making such a distinction, Dewey sought to emphasize the extent to which indirect instruction had a more profound influence on the lives of young people than formal, direct instruction … indirect instruction was that which what was conveyed by the incidental circumstances of life in a classroom and a school. As Dewey wrote it was the “larger field of indirect and vital moral education” which had the most profound impact on the child (p. 280). Before jumping totally into what “indirect communication” may actually look like in the classroom, some more background knowledge is in order. McPherson gives us this insight into Kierkegaard‟s vocabulary: “[His] word for communication is Meddelelse. This is the Danish cognate for the German Mitteilung. The associations here are with being in the middle or between connect with notions of communication as exchange, sharing, reciprocity, or dialogue” (161). He is engaged in a co-creation, a Socratic style dialogue, not a lecture of any sort. In fact, many of his first writings were focused on Socrates, and McPherson (2001) states that “In Kierkegaard‟s mind, there is a pattern of three analogous oppositions, that is, Socrates versus Plato, Kierkegaard himself versus Hegel, and Jesus versus the Christian church … Kierkegaard wants to be a student of, or witness for Socrates and Jesus (162).” The basic polarities here are the between the questioning teacher trying to rattle the student‟s lived experience into radical new modes and experiences versus the transmissive teacher building objective systems that

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“explain things” and are to be “understood”. With Kierkegaard‟s direct influence from Socrates, it would be fruitful to take a quick look at his dialogic technique. Socrates utilized maieutic dialogue, which is a pedagogical method based on the idea that the truth is latent in the mind of every human being due to innate reason but has to be "given birth" by answering intelligently proposed questions (or problems). Kierkegaard believed that all individuals possess equally the capability of becoming ethical and living ethical lives, and the direct communication of knowledge is ineffectual to impart this type of knowledge (there will be more later on the correlation between Kierkegaard‟s “ethical individual” and Dewey‟s ideal of one who constantly engages in free inquiry toward a freer and better functioning democracy). Kierkegaard (1978), in his journals, states that “Virtue cannot be taught; that is, it is not a doctrine, it is a being-able, an exercising, an existing, an existential transformation, and therefore it is slow to learn, not at all as simple and easy as the rote-learning of one more language or one more system. No, in respect to virtue there is always particular emphasis on the internal, the inward, “the single individual” (p. 463). The primary task of philosophy is to the individual and for the individual to live, enact, and bring into being an authentic and ethical life. What Socrates did was engage in dialogue – asking questions, feigning ignorance, utilize humor and irony, until his conversation partners came to realize that what they thought they understood they did not understand and were thus left standing on sand instead of their previous (illusory) rock. More inquiry was required, and Socrates demanded that they must continue to inquire, now that their ready-made assumptions have been dashed. The Socratic Method and Kierkegaard‟s use of pseudonyms are directly correlative. In using the psuedonyms, the danger of there ever being a “doctrine of Truth” that he is trying to convince people of is eliminated (though, mistakenly, scholars in the past have missed this point

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and tried to create a system out of Kierkegaard). The best example is in perhaps Kierkegaard‟s most famous work, Either/Or, in which two fictional geniuses write correspondences to each other – one is promoting the “aesthetic” way of life and the other “ethical”. Also, throughout many other books and many other pseudonyms, various “authors” respond to other “authors” in other books. “Kierkgaard‟s dialogic communication draws readers into these dialogues. Kierkegaard‟s indirect (ambiguous, existential, and self-reflective) communication allows reader the space for his or her own walk along the „narrow ridge‟ [a term used by Buber] while examining the text” (Herrmann, 2007, p.79-80). For Kierkagaard, maieutic dialogue leads to edification and that brings about individual transformation. To build up the individual, communication must unequivocally demand something of the reader. Again, from the Journals: An opinion, a conviction, a belief – in all eternity, that I cannot do. But one thing I can do … I can compel him to become aware. That is a good deed, there is no doubt, but neither must it be forgotten that this is a daring venture. By compelling him to become aware, I am compelling him to judge. Now he judges. But what he judges is not in my power (Kierkegaard, 1978, p. 538). Dewey, through his process of continual hands-on inquiry and questioning of everything at all times in deference to the inexorable evolutionary process that is happening on all levels of existence (biological, personal, societal, etc), would approve of this sort of method. Education as a way of being: “Education is not a means to living, but is identical with the operation of living a life which is fruitful and inherently significant, the only ultimate value which can be set up is just the process of living itself.” (Dewey, 2011, p. 234)

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Hermann (2007) sums up what I have been building here perfectly: “If direct communication is what we offer or receive as the product of communication, then indirect communication is constituted by the process or processes of communication” (p. 165). Through indirect communication the learner is forced to take personal ownership of their opinions, they are more hard wrought, and how they arrive to them is a much more difficult process – and finally they are encouraged not to rest upon them but to wrestle with and synthesize more and more, in every subject, in every aspect of their lives. Both Dewey and Kierkgaard understood the importance of starting with the individual, and where that person was in their life at that time. For a novice, a lecture on quantum physics or Hegel‟s Phenomenology of Geist is going to meaningless gibberish using direct communication: Communication must be more indirect where, with reference to self and others, the relevant abilities are less equally shared and more self-conscious. It follows that indirect communication will be more needed by parents communicating with children and by teachers, trainers and educators communicating with learners, or wherever else there may be similar contrasts of ability. Thus, indirect communication can often only be pursued by putting oneself in question with and on behalf of others, beginning again where learners are.” (McPherson, 2001, p.166). This is a part of the “performance” aspect of indirect communication. The teacher must “feign ignorance” of the things they know, and begin a dialogue with the students on their level and begin the process of upbuilding through questioning, irony, examples, experiences, and things that can connect directly to the lived experience of the student thus-far. Kierkegaard states in his Journals:

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To be a teacher does not mean simply to affirm that such a thing is so, or to deliver a lecture or so on. No, to be a teacher in the right sense is to be a learner. Instruction begins with you, the teacher, learn from the learner, put yourself in his place so that you may understand what he understands and in the way he understands it, in case you have not understood it before. Or if you have understood it before, you allow him to subject you to an examination so that he may be sure you know your part” (1978, p. 29). I believe that once this initial step is taken, the process truly begins by having them understand that everything is open for inquiry and there are no sacred cows: “The very maximum of what one human being can do for another … is to inspire him with concern and unrest” (Kierkegaard, 1992, p. 346). Following this, indirect communication can bloom, it tries to “say something to a passer-by in passing, without standing still and without delaying the other, without attempting to persuade him to go the same way, but giving him instead an impulse to go precisely his own way” (Kierkegaard, 1979, p. 247). But, you may ask, after this environment is enacted, how can so-called “indirect communication” actually be implemented in the classroom? As we transition to action, another quote from Kierkegaard to contemplate: “Does or does not my personal life express what is being communicated? As long as my life expresses what is communicated, I am a teacher.” (1978, p. 192). If one were to implement a Kierkegaardian “indirect communication” style in the classroom, I believe that teaching, in the abstract, would be best considered as an artform, and the act of teaching itself as a performance – supplemented by other works of art. I want here to concentrate on three aspects of what such a performance could be: Action/Behavior, Art, and Rhetoric.

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Concerning how one should act and speak, Herrmann (2007) states: Certain utterances are more than simply a saying of something; they are actually a performance or a “doing” something. Getting married or making a promise, for example, are performative utterances. A performative utterance is the performing of an action. In order to successfully perform or enact a promise, an individual must make the promise and then must undertake an obligation to do the promised thing. Performatives are not based on objective or impersonal truths but are personal commitments and actions (p.85). According to Kierkegaard, a person‟s subjective commitments are demonstrable in his or her performances of that commitment. One does not merely “believe” a thing to be true, rather commitments are enacted, and therefore embodied, lived, and performed. The teacher must live his commitment to the students and make it apparent to them. As well: “Kierkegaard‟s use of pseudonyms, his utilization of Socratic maieutic, his belief in reading aloud, and the carnivalesque aspects of his writing are all appropriate starting points for a full-fledged exploration [of putting his method to use in the classroom]” (Hermann, 2007, p. 85).. The dialogue, lectures, and interactions with students must be ethical commitments that are performed with all earnestness. By calling teaching a “performance art”, I do not mean artifice, but rather a mode-of-being that you enact that differs from your daily life. It is not a “job” but a total shift in consciousness. Part of this performance/action is a genuine attitude of care and concern for the lives of the students, helping to create a genuine community of learning, eye contact, asking questions, immediacy, and being seriously involved in their performance at school are all aspects of this.

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Kierkegaard was no stranger to the arts, and his journals burst with allusions and references to many works of literature and dramatic performances he witnessed at the theater in Copenhagen. His constant allusion to works of art and his actual authorship being a work of art in itself may be the most important key. Fiction, metaphor, painting, music, and other works of art have a way of communicating emotional states, ideologies, and modes-of-being in a way that the basic expository text simply cannot reach. They make you able to inhabit a different consciousness, make ideologies and theories come alive, what could be dead knowledge with one straight path to an answer is now a phenomenological labyrinth with many different paths to explore. My ex-philosophy professor would always use slides of the works of art which were around in the time and place of say Kant, or Aquinas, as well as artists who were directly inspired by philosophers such as Richard Wagner with Schopenhauer – and how Nietzsche, once a disciple of both, ended up violently rebelling against them both in the poetic Thus Spoke Zarathustra. As much as you can read “information” and try to wrap your head around the thought of others, this sort of visceral experiential application can bring the consequences of thinking in such a way into much greater clarity – and leave you in limbo between dialectical opposites, giving you the freedom to go one way or another, synthesize them, or live in perpetual dissonance. In my opinion you couldn‟t get a better understanding of what it was like to live in fear of the rise of Hitler until reading The Death of the Adversary by Hans Keilson. In all classrooms, even math and science, art should be utilized. A method inspired by Kierkegaard‟s pseudonyms, and unites Art and Rhetoric and Action is the idea of the teacher taking a position and acting it out in his/her speech, being totally sure of it, and letting the students debate him on any issue they wish to. An interactive Shakespearian play of a sort… Hamlet or Iago having a dialogue instead of a monologue.

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Other a ways Rhetoric could be used to communicate indirectly instead of simply providing information lay in using irony. With irony, you are saying something by not saying it – the student, though the direction of the thought is pointed to, is given an open space to work with mentally. Also, the method of constant dialogue, of asking questions, no matter where it leads, is essential. The student, with loose guidance and informed, intentional questioning comes to new answers by themselves, as an individual… but then of course there are always more questions to be asked. The teacher must act as though they are an integral member of the community of the classroom instead of an authority whose words are gospel: “If you can do it, if you can very accurately find the place where the other person is and begin there, then you can perhaps have the good fortune of leading him to where you are” (Kierkegaard, 1978, p. 46). What Kierkegaard is speaking of here is not making the students clones of you who adhere to some set ideology. Kierkegaard saw that “we must edify others, encourage them, affirm them, and support them, without attempting to control them. Organizational communication scholars have found encouragement and confirmation, the opportunity to realize their potential, grow, and develop as immensely important to employees [and students]” (Hermann, 2007, p. 87). This is also something I saw at play in my example of the philosophy professor. Even with the students in class who seemed totally lost, the encouragement to break down complex things into smaller steps and trying to make concepts understandable in a personal way (using real-life examples) was always used. In my case, taking to philosophy rather naturally, it was a more aggressive edification – encouragement to challenge the things that I worked through and that I then declared to be “True”. “Oh, then, perhaps you might like to read this…” and I was forced to let

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go of the systems and concepts I had previously accepted – not wholesale, but by synthesizing into them the things in the new texts that I thought were an improvement. The correlation between the aims of education for Dewey and Kierkegaard seem awfully similar to me. For Dewey, it is the greater freedom of the individual and for free inquiry into everything and following this a freer and better functioning democracy. For Kierkegaard, it is for the “aesthetic person”, one who lives in the moment, blindly, following trends, blaming his problems on outside sources, and delighting in trivial matters that relieve his boredom – to transform himself into the “ethical person” who gains control over their own lives, inquires incessantly into the world around him, and makes conscious, informed decisions about everything. Neither of these ideals (Dewey‟s freedom / Kierkagaard‟s ethical mode) can be forced upon anyone. Rather, they can be prodded along to take more interest in themselves and the world around them, but finally the decision (if it is to stick) must be made in free-will, it must be entirely owned by the individual. I believe that Dewey and Kierkegaard, put together, lead directly to this idea of teaching being a type of performance art, with the “goal” not being the imparting of a “true idea”, but more along the lines of the goal of all true art – of presenting an experiences that can alter that which you may already have reified in your mind. By persistently engaging in this act, the student may become one who never rests on old ideas or on their own laurels of intellectual accomplishment, one who is always striving to understand and progress and move toward a greater freedom – and inexorably this leads to a greater freedom of community and a better functioning democracy.

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References Broudy, H.S. (1961). Kierkegaard on indirect communication. The Journal of Philosophy, 58.9, 225-233. Retrieved from:;2-0& Dewey, J. (1958). Experience and Nature. New York: Dover. Dewey, J. (1991). How we think. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books. Dewey, J. (2011). Democracy and education. New York: Simon and Brown. Herrmann, A. (2007). Kierkegaard and dialogue: the communication of capability. Communication Theory 18, 71-92. Kierkegaard, S. (1978). Journals and papers. H.V. Hong trans. Bloomington, IN. Indiana University Press. Kierkegaard, S. (1992). Concluding unscientific postscript to philosophical fragments. H.V. Hong trans. Princeton, NJ. Princeton Press. McPherson, I. (2001). Kierkegaard as educational thinker: communication through and across ways of being. Journal of Philosophy and Education, 35.2. Retrieved from: Peirce, C.S. (1877) The fixation of belief. Popular science monthly, 12. Retrieved from: Walters, D.A. (2008). Existential being as transformative learning. Pastoral Care in Education, 26.2. Retrieved from: Webster, R.S. (2011). Must Dewey and Kierkegaard‟s Inquiry for World Peace be Violent?. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 43.5. Retrieved from: Zigler, R.L. (2001). John Dewey, eros, ideals, and collateral learning toward a descriptive model of the exemplary teacher. Philosophy of Education. Retrieved from:

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