[This semester went fast, felt slightly more familiar than the very strange last couple years, and featured some wonderful individual moments that exemplified why I do what I do. So this week I’ll highlight one such moment from each class—share your own Fall moments in comments, please!]
On two important types of challenging questions that will help push my ideas forward.
There are lots of reasons why I love teaching in adult learning programs—so much so that I’ve remained connected to four such programs over the last decade, teaching consistently in two (ALFA and WISE) and always looking for further opportunities to work with the other two (BOLLI and Beacon Hill Seminars)—but if I had to boil it down, I would definitely emphasize the incredible perspectives, experiences, voices, knowledge and ideas that adult ed students bring to our conversations together. That includes them offering something I understandably don’t get quite as often from undergraduate students but always appreciate whenever and however I get it: direct, probing challenges to my own ideas, and even to the frames for the classes themselves. As I wrote in this Fall semester preview post, I decided to focus my WISE and ALFA classes this semester on a preliminary idea for a future book project; and as a result, the students’ challenging questions will be even more helpful as I continue to think through these ideas and that potential future project.
As I wrote in that preview post, the basic (but somewhat complicated) idea for this project is that while white supremacist voices and forces have consistently claimed to love and uphold various American ideals, in truth they have worked to undermine those ideals, not only for other American communities but ultimately for all of us and the nation as a whole. Some of the challenging questions I got in these courses came from those who disagreed with my ideas, including for example the self-identified “one conservative plant” in my WISE course who made the case both for the American ideals themselves and for my arguments as comprising the true underminings of those ideals; those perspectives are very important for me to recognize and engage, not least as potential future readers and audiences. But to my mind the most important challenging questions I got were those which offered complications to my overarching frame, such as the students who questioned whether the American ideals are worth working to uphold at all (or, alternatively, if they have always been limiting and/or exclusionary). If I’m going to keep developing my critical patriotism and critical optimism, I’ll have to do so in direct conversation with perspectives like that one, and as ever these adult learning classes will be a vital resource as I work to complicate, refine, and strengthen my own ideas and voice.
Weekend post on what’s next drops tomorrow,
PS. Fall moments you’d share?