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Dynamic Dialogue

05/02/2012

The essence of teaching is conversation, not monologue, according to Dr. David Langston. "Students learn best when they engage in a dialogue. Those who show up in class expecting to be told what they need to know will not learn much, and students who never take risks with their learning are shortchanging themselves." 

A professor of English at MCLA for the past 27 years, Langston aims to conduct his classes as discussions as he promotes a classroom environment where students are encouraged to take risks and learn from their mistakes.

"Teaching literature is exposing students to an arresting series of case studies in recurring human dilemmas and watching the protagonists succeed or fail in resolving those dilemmas; we learn, as Aristotle has it, vicariously through their actions," he explained.

His specialty is the Romantic Movement - the effort by post-Enlightenment writers to articulate how language, and all cognate sign systems, establishes and re-forms the basic contours of our thought and the human prospect. 

"As I envision the Romantic Movement, we still operate in a profoundly romantic age, and the terminology we toss about to characterize our moment - modernity, post-modernism, contemporary, millennial, etc. - are simply journalistic concoctions that restate a basic controversy that sits at the center of almost every human enterprise: do we step into a world already made or do we make it?  Obviously, every answer will include both elements, but our disagreement over the ratio between those elements fuels the political arguments, philosophical and religious controversies, and cultural clashes that mark the past 250 years," Langston said.

In addition to his bachelor's degree and Ph.D., Langston holds a degree in theology. An active participant in college curriculum planning for 40 years who's served as a core curriculum coordinator at MCLA, he feels that he best contributes to his field by advocating for a curriculum and an institutional style that prepares students for taking responsibility for the world in which they are becoming adults.

A former chairperson of the English/Communications Department and director of MCLA's Honors Program, Langston teaches courses that "clarify the fundamental outlines of the epistemic choices faced throughout life."

"I see public education as indispensable for the cultivation of sound citizenship, and promoting citizenship should be the agenda for public schools," Langston explained. "That principle means that education cannot address every aspect of human experience, although every aspect of our experience is potentially affected by our education. My belief in that purpose for public education has led me to be involved in the local public schools as a school committee member and community spokesperson on various committees and task forces over the arc of my career."

Each year, MCLA holds an Undergraduate Research Conference, which Langston sees as a "special moment when we celebrate and highlight an indispensable approach to teaching that should be woven into all of our educational experience, from kindergarten on through post-graduate work." 

Involved with both undergraduate research pursuits and the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC), Langston's activities include directing the COPLAC Undergraduate Research Conference at MCLA in 2010. Last fall, he co-directed the College's participation in the COPLAC Undergraduate Research Conference, held at Keene State in New Hampshire. 

He explained, "We usually think about research as an activity for advanced students, but in fact, we should be using an 'inquiry-based' mode of learning from the very beginning of anyone's schooling. ... Undergraduate research is one way to reach a more expansive goal that should inform the entire curriculum: learning that grows out of careful question asking, understanding the rigors of a particular method, and revising one's conclusions to conform to the results the investigator has worked out."