Some suggestions for answering the questions, Why bother? and What’s the point?, both in terms of an education and a life, which for me, are inextricably tied. These suggestions do not include a teleology and are less about growth or progress, more about survival and learning to live within precarity.
Ask these Questions About Your Education
- Does your education move you to struggle?
- Compel you to feel the force of ideas, theories, questions?
- Does it equip you with tools for being curious, listening and taking seriously the lives and worlds of others, and resisting and claiming your own voice?
Claiming an education is NOT
- Worshipping professors as exalted Experts and uncritically regurgitating their ideas.
- Perpetuating and protecting harmful academic values that ignore and exclude ideas, experiences, and voices that oftentimes by their very existence within the academy, question what and who education is for
- Rigidly fixing the relationship between teacher and students as one in which a Teacher only teaches and students are only taught.
Claiming an education IS
Practicing your pedagogical values, not just protecting them.
Students are NOT
- Butts in seats, or “butts with jobs”
- Faking anxiety
- Over-sensitive complainers
- Going to take it anymore
What is an Education For?*
- To develop new languages for understanding mySelf and the world.
- To connect with ideas, authors, other people.
- To cultivate and practice being curious and capacious.
- To be exposed to new ideas, new worlds, new ways of being.
- To harness passion and direct it in meaningful ways.
- To develop resources for processing and healing.
- To acquire tools for resisting and reimagining.
- To engage in/with LIFE.
- And to contribute to and sustain ongoing conversations that are bigger than any one individual or institution.
*Besides learning marketable skills, earning a degree and getting a job.
Who is an Education for? Everyone.
As a Teacher, I am NOT giving
- a Lecture
- a Sales Pitch
As a Teacher, I AM giving
- an Account of a teacher/person/thinker/troublemaker who is passionate about education
- Proof that other ways of being/engaging/teaching are possible (not always successful or recommended, but possible)
- an Invitation to engage, experiment, resist and unlearn unhealthy habits
On the Ethical and Intellectual Contract Between Students and Teacher
In “Claiming an Education,” Adrienne Rich describes this contract as “a pledge of mutual seriousness about students and about language, idea, method and values.” This contract is not simply one in which students work to take themselves and their education seriously and teachers work to help them to do so. Pedagogies need to be transformed. So do teaching practices and methods. Values. Teachers must do work, taking their own education as a learner and a teacher seriously and transforming how they understand what it means to be an educator and to claim an education.
The No Assholes Version*
- Become trained on how to read theory, how to use theoretical language, and how to write analytically and critically about social and personal issues…without being an asshole
- Learn various strategies for how best to have debates…that don’t involve being an asshole
- Develop a sense of community in which class members (students and teacher) all can critically explore a wide range of perspectives in respectful and productive ways…without being assholes to each other or anyone else
- Cultivate a community of learners…with no assholes
- Become skilled in experimenting with social media, such as blogs and twitter, and use those media for fostering connections and engaging in transformative practices…that challenge and refuse asshole behavior and attitudes
*Official goals from my syllabi…with the asshole clause added.
The Troublemaking Version
- Learn how to feel the effects of ideas encountered and the force of the questions posed
- Unlearn assumptions about ideas, about how to read, and about even how to be/act in the classroom
- Develop strategies for experiencing discomfort, not knowing and feeling trouble/d, be serious about your own resistances, and take responsibility as active participants and contributors to the class
- Cultivate an acceptance for questions without answers, problems without solutions
What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade/ Brad Aaron Modlin
Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen
to the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,
how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took
questions on how not to feel lost in the dark
After lunch she distributed worksheets
that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s
voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep
without feeling you had forgotten to do something else—
something important—and how to believe
the house you wake in is your home. This prompted
Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing
how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks,
and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts
are all you hear; also, that you have enough.
The English lesson was that I am
is a complete sentence.
And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation
look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,
and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking
for whatever it was you lost, and one person
add up to something.
What a class! The things listed here are impossible to teach, I suppose, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if our education gave more space for them to be considered? What if we took seriously the idea that the goal/purpose of education is to flourish and to learn how to be caring, responsible people in community with others instead of about individual success and competition and being better than anyone else? (from my RUN! log entry/ feb 10, 2021)
We do not need more successful people
The plain fact is that the planet does not need more “successful” people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these needs have little to do with success as our culture has defined it.
To Get Through and Lessen Our Suffering
For me, I’m aware of how life has been difficult, and because of that I’m acutely aware of the things that have felt to me like mercy, or felt to me like something that has helped me get through. I am very serious about honoring that getting-through and the tools that help one get through, because those are other things; that’s something else that is not promised. And none of us are promised to find a thing that will lessen our suffering. And so to find that feels vital — to uplift it when you find it.On Being Episode with Hanif Abdurraqib
Something must have made me keep going with it. Some atmosphere in my life must have shifted just enough for me to attribute it to the regular and concerted Doing of Nothing. A long-term sitting colleague of mine always says that people may start practicing because of a crisis, but they continue due to a profound ontological curiosity. More like making than fixing. How to Live. Why we’re Alive. What are Desire, Pleasure, Ethics and Self? I also like to quip, only semi-humorously—that when I sat regularly—I also didn’t want to top myself so much.Private Practice: Toward a Philosophy of Just Sitting/ Antonia Pont
I read my books with diligence, and mounting skill, and gathering certainty. I read the way a person might swim, to save his or her life. I wrote that way too.Upstream/ Mary Oliver