Neoteny, Dialogic Education and an Emergent Psychoculture : Notes on Theory and Practice
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This article argues that children represent one vanguard of an emergent shift in Western subjectivity, and that adult-child dialogue, especially in the context of schooling, is a key locus for the epistemological change that implies. Following Herbert Marcuse's invocation of a ‘new sensibility’, the author argues that the evolutionary phenomenon of neoteny—the long formative period of human childhood and the pedomorphic character of humans across the life cycle—makes of the adult-collective of school a primary site for the reconstruction of belief. After exploring child-adult dialogue more broadly as a form of dialectical interaction between what Dewey called ‘impulse’ and ‘habit’, three key dimensions of dialogic schooling are identified, all of which are grounded in a fourth: the form of dialogical group discourse called community of philosophical inquiry (CPI), which is based on the problematisation and reconstruction of concepts through critical argumentation. As a discourse-model, CPI grounds practice in all of the dialogic school's emergent curricular spaces, whether science, mathematics, literature, art, or philosophy. Second, it opens a functional space for shared decision-making and collaborative governance, making of school an exemplary model of direct democracy. Finally, CPI as a site for critical interrogation of concepts encountered in the curriculum (e.g. ‘alive’, ‘justice’, ‘system’, ‘biosphere’) and as a site for democratic governance leads naturally to expression in activist projects that model an emergent ‘new reality principle’ through concrete solutions to practical problems on local and global levels.