Half Nelson

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Half Nelson (2006)

Communication is a system where ideas are exchanged between a sender and receiver. In educational theory, knowledge is grasped based on the way authority is exerted inside the classroom; a space where ideas, perspectives, and facts, constantly circulate and grow. Charles Bingham introduces his two communication theories; the sender-receiver model and performative model, discussing his ideas of authority enactment in pedagogy. Bingham’s performative communication model, in particular, is thoroughly explored in the film ‘Half Nelson’ (2006) by Ryan Fleck, where a teacher, Dan Dunn, encompasses a dialectical teaching approach in educating his students about history.

‘Half Nelson’ (2006) delves into the performative teaching practices of Dan Dunn, a White American eighth grade history teacher in Brooklyn, whose class is majority of African American students. Dan disregards the curriculum when teaching about the Civil Rights Movement, and instead, teaches his students the role of power in shaping the society they live in. In one scene labelled ‘Opposites,’ Dan walks into the classroom and drags a desk to the front of the room and writes on the board before sitting down on the table. By observing Dan’s position inside the classroom, he has arranged himself that allows for first-hand communication to travel back and forth effectively that supports his performative pedagogy.

Bingham’s performative communication model recognises that differences in communication occur as a result of verbal and non-verbal staging. Dan’s amiable and laid-back character supports his dialogical teaching approach that favours performance. His edgy attitude liberates the stereotype of an educator with moral authority, and as a result, authority circulates the classroom that creates a welcoming environment to nurture communication and relationships. Dan’s language is articulated in a clear and concise manner that consists of appropriate terminology and is moderately paced with pauses to allow students to reflect whilst listening. By emphasising on the saying itself as much as what is being said, such performative interventions influence the way students gain authority, not merely through listening, but with interpretation (Bingham, 2006, 58).

Bingham’s sender-receiver model, on the contrary, suggests that authority is understood by a rational community and assumes that communication is established when the receiver understands the speaker’s single intention (Bingham, 2008, p 56). “What is history?” (Fleck, 2006) are Dan’s initial words to the class which immediately ignores the sender-receiver communication model. His question promotes a vague intention, however, a sense of authority is embraced due to the fact that he has said something rather than ‘what’ he has said, hence communication still occurs (Bingham, 2008, p 59).

Dan introduces his students to the meaning of ‘history,’ by breaking down the broad concept into basic elements, written on the board that reads “1. Opposites,” while leaving “2.” and “3.” blank. Bingham (2008), states that “differences in understanding are as important as consistencies in understanding” (p 59) and Dan is initiating a conversation from scratch. Preceding his question, a student yells out “Opposites” and Dan mocks, “You can read the board, so happy to see that” (Fleck, 2006). It is evident that Dan establishes a sense of authority by instigating thought though the word “Opposites,” however avoids the sender-receiver model when he uses wit to recognise the student’s submissive response. He attempts to pass authority onto his students by exposing them to an open-ended question and his incomplete list on the board.

Dan instigates a second authority by stating “No what is it, what does it mean?” (Fleck, 2006) and a student raises her hand and hesitantly suggests “Change.” By expressing perspectives on a broad topic, the students embrace authority by offering him material to teach; hence...
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