Educating Our Youth, Parenting

The Art of Conversation- Fifth Grade Style

Written by Rob Campoli Posted in Educating Our Youth, Parenting on


If you’re talking about what’s in your own head, or without thought to what people looking and listening will feel, you might as well be in a room talking to yourself. Dylan Moran

I was observing a Fifth Grade class meeting today. The topic was “How to Have a Conversation.” The ground rules were reviewed by the students – listen actively, respond to the speaker only when you think the speaker has finished their thought, avoid whispering to others while a student is speaking, and, finally, have something important to say (don’t be boring!).

I asked myself why this was important. Where was this in our curriculum? Don’t kids know how to talk with each other? Then I began to wrack my brain trying to remember when I had a real conversation with someone. At this point, this Fifth Grade “lesson” took on more meaning and jarred a memory.

In the 1981 film “My Dinner with Andre” two friends who hadn’t seen each other in years get together and, well, just talk. No bombs explode, the earth isn’t saved by super heroes, blood isn’t spilled and the volume never rises above the conversational level.

They engage in a two hour tête-à-tête which is so engaging that you don’t really notice how long the film lasts. They discuss their travels, people they know, their spouses; the kinds of things most of us talk about in the first few minutes of an encounter.

But then the conversation veers off into the connection between science and mythology, chance encounters with people who changed their lives, consciousness vs. unconsciousness, the relationship between being actively engaged with the world and withdrawing from it, what it means to have a successful marriage, the thrill and fear associated with confronting someone with uncomfortable truths. In other words, they have a conversation worth having.

When was the last time you had a real conversation with someone? It seems that the “art” of conversation has devolved into a war of declarations. We are increasingly shouting at each other through social media…but not conversing. Our culture is becoming a society of “silos” in which we speak and hear our echoes but can’t hear what someone in the other silo is saying (not that they care what we think!).

We aren’t in a polarized world. We are in a world lacking intersections; a world that seems to discourage the exchange of opinions, the give and take of conversations, and the respect for what others have to say.

Perhaps the age of conversation is over. We must make decisions quickly. We experience multiple forms of communication, all of which seem to be happening at the same time. We are flooded with information…but bereft of understanding.

In the world or elementary schools, however, there is always hope. Let’s slow down and “converse” with our students.

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Blog Author:

Robert Ciampoli
Headmaster, Andrews Academy, Lake St. Louis