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 From Now On
The Educational Technology Journal

Vol 9|No 2|October|1999

Students in Resonance:

Provoking Fresh Thought
and Deep Reasoning
with Dissonance, Contrast and Juxtaposition

by Jamie McKenzie

(About the Author)

How can we be sure our students are doing fresh thinking?

How can we create learning experiences that require deep reasoning and originality?

The answer lies in understanding the interplay between dissonance2, juxtaposition1 and resonance3. 




Note: The ideas in this article first emerged as a keynote address I presented for Museum Victoria in Australia, a global leader in the sharing of digital images to support student thought and exploration.

Click to enlarge "Juxtaposition"
Painting © 1999 Sarah McKenzie

-- there is no wisdom without it.
Resonance is a natural phenomenon, the shadow of import alongside the body of fact, and it cannot flourish except in deep time.

We can employ juxtaposition1 as a strategy to provoke dissonance2.

The two photographs above show two very different coffee experiences. They stand side by side in juxtaposition. Their placement is jarring . . . unsettling. One is immediately tempted to compare and contrast them.

Click here or on the photographs to enlarge them and read how one person might compare and contrast then.

Notice how sharply contrasting images can create dissonance.

We expect that the need to resolve this dissonance will lead to resonance3 and, ultimately, to insight.

As teachers we help our students to identify the choices, quandaries and dilemmas embedded in life. They wrestle with the important (essential) questions. They manage irony, paradox and ambiguity.

We give students skills to create meaning where many would find nothing but fog.

When we set two or more ideas, paintings, poems, leaders or cities side by side, we provoke thought and comparison.

idea vs. idea
beach vs. mountain
painting vs. painting
road vs. track
poem vs. poem
leader vs. leader
digital vs. analog
city vs. city
writer vs. writer
freedom vs. license
browser vs. browser
cola vs. cola
cafe vs. cafe
trend vs. fad
bar vs. bistro
investment vs. scheme
proposal vs. proposal
suitor vs. suitor
Internet stock vs. Fortune 500

When we place them thus in juxtaposition4, we set in motion thoughts of difference - cognitive dissonance. The sharper the contrast, the greater the dissonance. We can feel the vibration, the conflict, the discomfort.

We are thrown off balance. Our minds are intrigued . . . our curiosities awakened. We want to resolve the dissonance . . . bring things back into harmony5 or resonance.

Too much school research and thought has suffered from a singular focus. Topical research (Go find out about California!) lacks the energy and excitement of comparison and choice.

Which city should we move to?
Which job shall we take?
Which neighborhood will make us happy?
Which roommate will endure beyond the first month?

Dissonance and Juxtaposition in ART

The vast digital resources available on the Internet provide countless opportunities to inspire original thought. Examples of dissonance and juxtaposition can be found within images. And images may also be placed side by side to set up the juxtaposition.

Within Images

How do dissonance and juxtaposition add to the meaning and impact of each of these paintings?

© 1999, Sarah McKenzie, all rights reserved.

How does dissonance add to the meaning and impact of this painting by Russell Drysdale?

Click here to view painting, "The ruins, Lake Callabonna."


Comparing Images

Which of these Goyas available at the Thinker ( - The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco - better shows courage? Click here to search for a list of Goya "COURAGE" images from the Thinker. Enter "Goya" and "courage" in the Search box mid way down the page.

Francisco José de Goya y
Los Desastres de la Guerra,

Las Mugeres Dan Valor (The Women Give Courage)

Click above to find the image at the Thinker

Francisco José de Goya y
Los Desastres de la Guerra,

Que Valor! (What Courage!)

Click above to find the image at the Thinker

Thumbnail images used with permission of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Choices provoke dissonance

Which of these jobs would you prefer if you were living in Victoria in 1890 - 1930? Why?

Coal Mining
Gold Mining

Explore the digital resources available from Museum Victoria to make your choice. The Biggest Family Album in Australia
Thumbnail images used with permission from Museum Victoria.

Which of these jobs would you prefer if you were living in the States in 1890 - 1930? Why?

Coal Mining
Gold Mining

Explore the digital resources available from The Library of Congress to make your choice. Detroit Publishing Company
Thumbnail images used within copyright guidelines at Library of Congress site. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

Dissonance and Juxtaposition in Poetry

What examples of dissonance and juxtaposition can you identify within the poem below?



In the third quarter
Before their time
They sit with crossed hands
Watching the game
The fast breaks
Dribbles behind the back
And hook shots


Their eyes shift back and forth
Following the play
Up and down the court
Judging every move
The back door play
Charging violation
And ensuing foul shots
Careening off the rim

They sit quietly
Not wanting back in
Knowing the score
Afraid they've lost the touch

They feed pigeons
Read the paper
Compare grandchildren
And ignore the ghetto blaster
The couple in love

They await the final whistle
Of the final game
The hot shower
The long ride home

Poem and sketch © by Jamie McKenzie

Dissonance and Juxtaposition in Datasets

Huge datasets such as this one from the Department of Justice listing populations and numbers of homicides for the largest American cities are jammed full of comparisons just waiting to be explored. Any time we put information in grids we are juxtaposing information - setting up a comparison.

Population Homicides
City 1985 1985
New York, NY
Los Angeles, CA
Chicago, IL
Houston, TX
Philadelphia, PA
San Diego, CA
Phoenix, AZ
Dallas, TX
San Antonio, TX
Detroit, MI
Honolulu, HI
San Jose, CA
Las Vegas MPD Jurisdiction, NV
San Francisco, CA
Baltimore, MD
Jacksonville, FL
Columbus, OH
Memphis, TN
Milwaukee, WI
El Paso, TX
Washington, D.C.
Boston, MA
Nashville, TN
Denver, CO
Cleveland, OH
New Orleans, LA
Oklahoma City, OK
Fort Worth, TX
Portland, OR
Kansas City, MO
Long Beach, CA
Virginia Beach, VA
Albuquerque, NM

(click here to download EXCEL file with complete dataset)

  • Which city had the worst homicide rate in 1985?
  • Which city has the fastest rate of decline in its homicide rate today?
  • Which regions of the country are most dangerous?







Stilling the Narrative Voice: Explanation and Explication as Enemies of Thought. . .

We must still the narrative voice . . . at least part of the time.

The voice at the front of the room.

The voice on the museum's guided tour cassette.

The labels next to the paintings. The Cliff Notes. The sound bites. The mind bytes. The eye candy and mind candy.

When we explain everything to young people, they do not learn how to interpret for themselves. They yawn. They memorize. They yawn some more. They take notes. They daydream. They yawn. But how much do they remember? Are they growing mentally strong and independent or flabby and dependent upon others to do their thinking for them?

Those of us hoping to enhance the thinking skills of students often focus on the importance of teachers learning to pass back and forth through a spectrum of teaching styles that range from "sage on the stage" to "guide on the aide." It is unlikely that students will learn to make up their own minds or think for themselves if someone stands at the front of the room day after day explaining life, content and curriculum to them.

We have growing evidence that "traditional" teachers (as defined by Hank Becker) are much less likely than "constructivist" teachers to allow students to make frequent and meaningful use of information technologies. Concern about curriculum standards keeps many of these earnest professionals in the role of information provider and wisdom dispenser. Students in such classrooms are restricted to consumption of insight rather than construction of insight. They consume a steady diet of secondary sources and other people's interpretations. They are raised on the educational equivalent of fast food.

We must still the narrative voice . . . at least part of the time. We must construct information challenges for our students that put them in the roles of Sherlock Holmes and Nancy Drew. We must provide teachers with robust professional development so that they will be skillful in their efforts to require fresh thinking from students.

We don't need more classes in software. if we expect to witness "standards-based," curriculum rich integration of new technologies with classic classroom content, then we must show teachers how to employ learning strategies such as the ones outlined in this article to set up juxtaposition - carefully structured comparisons, contrasts and choices that will provoke thought and inquiry.









The act of placing two or more ideas, paintings, objects, choices or options side by side so as to encourage comparison.

FNO Press® Dictionary of Trendy Terms©





(dîs´e-nens) noun
1. A harsh, disagreeable combination of sounds; discord.
2. Lack of agreement, consistency, or harmony; conflict.
3. Music. A combination of tones conventionally considered to suggest unrelieved tension and require resolution.
The American Heritage® Dictionary





(rèz´e-nens) noun
1. The quality or condition of being resonant:
2. Physics. The increase in amplitude of oscillation of an electric or mechanical system exposed to a periodic force whose frequency is equal or very close to the natural undamped frequency of the system.
3. Acoustics. Intensification and prolongation of sound, especially of a musical tone, produced by sympathetic vibration.

The American Heritage® Dictionary



1. Agreement in feeling or opinion; accord: live in harmony.
2. A pleasing combination of elements in a whole: color harmony; the order and harmony of the universe. See synonyms at proportion.

The American Heritage® Dictionary



1. Understanding

2. The ability to look past mere information to ask "So what?"

FNO Press® Dictionary of Trendy Terms©

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Credits: Photographs by Jamie McKenzie.

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