Beside/s: Who is an Education For?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the question, What is an Education For? I was reminded by Joy Castro that another question must necessarily be placed beside it: Who is an Education For?

Is humanities education a human right? Thinking about class & social-justice implications of #highered admin decisions to reallocate funds in favor of more immediately, obviously practical majors, departments, & programs. You know the Ivies won’t be cutting the humanities. So whose kids will still get to engage with all the provocative ethical, aesthetic, & historical stuff in college? Who’ll miss out (@_JoyCastro)

My answer to the question, Who is (should) an Education (be) for? EVERYONE.

Beside/s: Big Questions

Some questions make us curious and invite us to engage or compel us to act while others assume answers, shut down discussion and evade responsibility. How can we develop and pose questions that do the former instead of the latter? As one answer to that question, I want to put an example of the latter (a question that assumes, accuses, evades) beside an example of the former (a set of questions that inspires, invites, compels).

Is There a Right Way to Protest?

During my daily scroll through Facebook this morning I encountered an open letter from DO! (Differences Organized!) about the University of Minnesota’s first event for their new “Big Questions” series: Is There a Right Way to Protest? The open letter, which is addressed to the “complicit, complacent, and the comfortable,” argues that such a question is “fundamentally flawed” because it places “the responsibility of effecting positive social justice squarely on the backs of organizers, while ignoring the role of systems of power and domination that create socially unjust conditions making protest imperative.” It “makes a value judgment,” functions as an “excuse to neglect student protestors demands,” substitutes conversation for actual change, absolves responsibility for creating conditions that necessitate protest, and creates divisions between protestors with different approaches and tactics.

In place of this question, DO! offers some questions of their own:

  • Why is dissent criminalized?
  • Why do we only ask whether the actions of victims and survivors of oppression are “right” when the causes of such protests are so blatantly wrong?
  • Why are the Ethnic Studies departments perpetually underfunded and understaffed?
  • Why do Black and Brown students rarely feel comfortable, safe, and supported on this campus?
  • What message is the University trying to convey to its student body and surrounding community [by the posing of their question]?

As a strong proponent of asking and “feeling the force” of questions that make us curious, unsettle us, and provoke/inspire us to act, I find the questions posed by DO! to be far more compelling and helpful than the U of M’s singular (and designed-to-be-divisive) question.

As a final note, I love DO!’s last line:

we will remain #UMNDrivenToUncover the racist, sexist, classist, heteronormative practices of the University and disrupt said practices until they cease to exist.

#UMNDrivenToUncover Yes!

Follow-up: Here’s an article about the event and DO!’s protest. The article also has a link to a recording of the event.

And here’s an article that discusses the DO! protest and larger concerns about “commodifying diversity” at the U of Minnesota.

Beside/s: What’s the point of a professor?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what a professor is and does and what their relationship to their students should and/or could be. This exploration is highly personal.  I’m in the midst of a lengthy book/story project in which I critically reflect on my past life as a Professor and struggle with how and if I want to ever teach or be an educator again. Is there space for my type of teaching, where I am not the Authority/Expert who bestows knowledge on my passive students, but does something else? What is that “something else’? Does it count as teaching?

In the midst of my ruminations, I encountered two online essays that prompted/provoked me to push at the limits of my tolerance for the idea of Professor as Expert and Supreme Authority and reminded me, once again, how embedded arrogance and hubris are in academic culture. In anger and frustration I wondered, Is it possible to be a (flourishing) professor without being an Asshole?

Mark Bauerlein’s What’s the Point of a Professor?
Keith M. Parsons’ Message to My Freshman Students

These two essays bothered me a lot. I was angered by their wistful and exasperated nostalgia for a time when Professors were gods, revered for their wisdom and adored by their students. And saddened by their contempt for their students as spoiled and lacking in proper values. I was so bothered that I spent the rest of last week thinking and trying to write about them.

I became stuck, jotting down page after page of notes (14 pages so far!) with ideas of how to respond, but never being able to convert those notes into a cogent argument. Did I want to crank about Bauerlein’s and Parsons’ arrogance? Challenge their elitist vision of who/what a professor is? Reflect on how their toxic hubris was too familiar to me, having witnessed it repeatedly at the “fancy” research University where I taught for almost six years?

Yesterday morning I came to a realization: I’m tired of spending time with these arrogant assholes. I want to move on to better ideas and more compelling reflections on the state of the University and the role of professors. I want to read other perspectives besides this dominant narrative of the Professor as god and their students as spoiled and lazy brats. So I read Tav Nyong’o’s post on Bully Bloggers, Zareena Grewal’s op-ed for The Washington Post and Sara Ahmed’s article for The New Inquiry. 

All of these articles are written by professors who don’t envision their students as lazy, entitled and ignorant. They see them as courageous and smart resistors who are fighting back against institutions that do violence to them and that hypocritically preach values that they consistently fail to practice.

Tav Nyong’o’s The Student Demand
Zareena Grewal’s Here’s What My Yale Students Get
Sara Ahmed’s Against Students

I was inspired by these articles to move beyond my anger and frustration with the arrogant asshole narrative to think deeply about the role/duties of the professor, the relationship they have with their students and the values that they collectively (students and professors…and even the administration) develop and practice within academic spaces. I’m still unsure about how or if I fit in as a teacher or whether the Academy is worth fighting for, but I feel like I’m on a worthwhile path of reflection, one that will be more valuable than my initial cranking about Bauerlein and Parsons.

As I keep thinking about these issues, I have much more to write. For now, I conclude this post by placing a passage from Ahmed beside/s (as in, next to and in addition to) Bauerlein’s claims as one possible answer to the question in his title: What’s the point of a professor?

In the final lines of her critical essay about why students resist and the academic culture that is against them, Sara Ahmed writes:

We need to support, stand with, and stand by, those students who are fighting to survive hostile institutions.

It is our job (Ahmed).

Supporting, standing with and standing by students. That’s the point of a professor.

Beside/s: Wake up White Feminism!

  1. Nancy Fraser’s interview in NYTimes: A Feminism Where ‘Lean In’ Means Leaning on Others
  2. Brenna Bhandar’s and Denise Ferreira da Silva’s White Feminist Fatigue Syndrome

A summary of Bhandar’s/da Silva’s argument found in the comments (yes, comments can be helpful!):

1 — The White feminist position she [Fraser] writes from (and calls feminist) could not have been tricked by neoliberalism because it is no different ontologically. That their programmes and projects were appropriated is due to the fact that they were ‘appropriate’ to a liberal programme.
2 — The call to them was not ‘check your privilege’ but wake up and smell your fundamentally liberal ‘coffee’!
3 — We also say that the feminist predicament she describes — which is of a certain feminism — it is only that of a certain feminism which has refused to rethink itself even after over 100 years of statements, analyses, etc that show how limited its understanding of the construction of patriarchy it is.
4 — What we say then is not that Black/​Third World feminisms are better but that they have advanced (continually ignored) critiques of capitalism which, because of how (and that we didn’t say explicitly but is implied) racial and colonial subjugation, demarcate a political (as well as ontoepistemological) position that signals the limits of any emancipatory (racial, gender-​sexual, etc) project that is not a radical critique of liberalism.

Another Summer Ends

Summer is over and I feel a bit lost and overwhelmed. I tried a new experiment this summer. I didn’t work on any projects. I didn’t write. I didn’t create digital stories. I didn’t research. Instead I swam, biked and ran. And I read a lot of library books. I’m ready to get back into writing, storytelling and researching. But, having dropped the kids off for the first day of school yesterday morning, I’m not sure what to do with myself.

Where do I begin?

After sitting and staring at this computer screen for awhile, I’ve decided to revisit a project that has inspired my troublemaking work from the beginning: kids, troublemaking and moral education. I’ve been thinking and writing about kids and troublemaking since this blog was created. As my kids have grown older (they are now 11 and 8), my thoughts about troublemaking, both how kids practice it and how I model/teach it, has been evolving.

I’d like to turn my work into a bigger, more substantial project. What would that project entail? I’m still not sure. For now, I want to slowly get back into the habit of writing and thinking about kids and moral education. I’ll start by archiving some links about kids and moral education that I’d like to put into conversation with each other:

I want to put these above sources beside: