I’ve been struggling the past week or so with this short piece that I’ve been working on for a book.  I just can’t seem to write anything that comes out making any sense — or doesn’t sound totally grandiose and weird.  I really just want to write a few pages about where love belongs in the academy, and the role of forgiveness in learning — not just about social identity but about everything.  Maybe I’m trying to tell too complex a story.  This is a function of my reflection on the past few years, the fact that living in this town means the past knows where I sleep at night and can come bother me at all hours of the day.  I’d really like to spend some time away, take a vacation from myself.  It’s not to be.  Some parts of me wish there were more people here for me to be around, some parts really want to be alone with the task of reconstituting the most insane four years of my life so far in ways that make sense and are completely translatable into a series of vignettes and anecdotes.

Writing is, at the moment, being alone.  I am trying to write about the schism in my experience at Michigan between being a philosophy major and being a dialogue practitioner — the kinds of inconsistencies that I began to detect in my junior year and weren’t resolved until this past semester.  I am trying to write about how dialogic pedagogy doesn’t need to be reserved just for social justice education, and how what I learned about being an educator at Michigan is going to apply not just to my continuing education but also to my life.

I think that part of the reason radical pedagogy really resonated with me was because I had been feeling pretty alienated by a lot of things that go on at the university at large.  I disliked being asked to check my identity at the door, even though leaving behind “identity” didn’t mean that I wasn’t expected to answer prying questions about who (what?) I am/was/will be.  I was irked by the refusal to recognize the weight of human experiences and identities in society in the formulation of philosophical disciplines, especially ethics.  While I imagine it would be easy to chalk up a good deal of this to the fact I’ve been working in a heavily analytic department, but I notice it in other places, too.  On the other hand, I found anything that smacked of “applied philosophy” to be uninteresting and kind of petty.

What’s interesting is that in the past year I’ve been shown or been figuring out ways to use radical pedagogical models to teach subjects other than social justice education.  Working with Jennifer this past semester was kind of revelatory in this way — I discovered that the principles still held in her classroom.  Her transparency about her goals, plans, and pedagogical choices was refreshing.  I felt invested-in, challenged, and also supported and affirmed in ways that I generally don’t associate with academic coursework.  She’s also been very supportive of my own linking of my subject to a kind of Freirean praxis.  Maybe I am off on the right track.

On the other hand I’ve always been troubled by the lack of intellectual rigor in a lot of social justice education.  I think that intellectual rigor is really important to me not just because of my academic background but because I have always thought that way.  (I have been cleaning out my old bedroom at my mom’s house and reading some of my early philosophical writing and, damn, boi knows how to construct an argument.)  I dislike engaging with people who are unwilling to engage on the minimum level of not changing the premises of their argument spontaneously, fallacious lines of argument frustrate me to no end.  I resent skepticism about people who are well-educated, well-spoken, and well-read.  I don’t see why we can’t enjoy both rigor and love in our academic and social justice work.  This is another thing that I saw in action in Jennifer’s class.  For a while I didn’t think it was possible, but under the right circumstances it really allows people to flourish.

What I’m trying to write about is the path to an inclusive, supportive, but intellectually and personally challenging classroom.  I don’t think it is by any means easy, but I do think it’s possible.  Incredibly, there are people out there doing this kind of work already, but I don’t think they get the credit they deserve at all.  I also really want to write about how important it is to change the game in this way.  This is about institutional diversity at the broadest but also the most personal level.

I guess I didn’t realize until now how alienating I found a lot of the experiences I had my freshman and even my sophomore years at Michigan.  Not just in the typical ways, like campus housing and having to explain myself to faculty, but also in the sense that so many things didn’t make any sense to me, and I wasn’t allowed to work those things out.  I didn’t find out until years later why they didn’t make sense and I’m kind of angry — or maybe disappointed — about the whole situation.  It’s a lot of stuff for two or three pages, but I can’t seem to get past framing this in terms of education being an act of love.

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