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Pedagogy of Dissent or Pedagogy of Consent?

In one of my classes, my instructor introduced an intriguing concept that has since been a source of personal rumination: the concept of "pedagogy of dissent." This concept has been explored in many different ways, but I would start with the linguistic one. As meaning is usually provided by the confrontation between opposite poles, it may be here a good idea to try and define the opposite of "dissent," namely "consent."

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED 2022), in fact, consent comes from consensus, indicating in Latin something like a 'common sense,' and is defined as general agreement; a general opinion, position, or determination reached by a group as a whole, while dissensus, with that original disjunctive Latin prefix 'dis-', represents its exact antonym. It is defined as the absence of consensus; a lack of agreement or harmony between two or more people or groups. The implications of these notions, despite having been debated for centuries among intellectual circles, are not only restricted to sciences. Stretching the boundaries of these categories, their significance may somehow relate to pedagogy.

Coming from the Italian academic environment, and having experienced several teaching and learning contexts, I am intrigued by the differences in approaches. Leaving aside the purely theoretical aspect of that discourse, I know teaching always echoes the culture of a given country. Italians are oriented toward the catholic-like idea of recta lectura, which may be historically motivated, and value oral rather than written examinations, but are really concerned with adherence to well-established authorities and do not let enough space for one's own opinion. This is entirely consistent with the very concept of consensus I was previously talking about. In that specific learning environment, although personal autonomous reworking of teaching materials has been never discouraged, not so much space is left for students to choose their own interpretation. A single reading is therefore superimposed and the development of a true critical spirit is a privilege restricted to only a few students with the result that consent completely triumphs over dissent.

Reviewing the literature, I thought that the most insightful could have been Robert J. Marzano's work "Dissent as Pedagogy: Using Disruption to Foster Democratic Education" (2015). Here the author argues that dissent can be a useful tool in teaching, stating that dissent may be used to create a learning environment in which students are encouraged to think critically and challenge accepted ideas. He further notes that dissent serves to foster an atmosphere of dialogue and inquiry in which students are motivated to engage in meaningful and critical conversations. Apart from the political conclusions of the author, who claims that dissent epitomised a democratic education in which all students are respected and encouraged to contribute to the learning process, is also something else.

To me, dissent may represent a feasible path towards a postmodern readjustment of teaching methods, against a necessary chain of being between teacher and student. It can facilitate subjective (co-)construction of knowledge instead of mere objective transmission, creating learners who are accustomed to the complexity and therefore more aware of the fact that reality is way more complicated than one may think.


"consensus, n.". OED Online. September 2022. Oxford University Press. (accessed December 04, 2022).

"consent, n.". OED Online. September 2022. Oxford University Press. (accessed December 04, 2022).

"dissensus, n.". OED Online. September 2022. Oxford University Press. (accessed December 04, 2022).

"dissent, n.". OED Online. September 2022. Oxford University Press. (accessed December 04, 2022).

Marzano, Robert J. “Dissent as Pedagogy: Using Disruption to Foster Democratic Education.” Educational Theory, vol. 65, no. 5, 2015, pp. 523-536.

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