[This week I start what is unquestionably the most distinct and strange semester of my 20+ year teaching career. So for my annual Fall previews, I’ll be discussing some of the ways that my classes will and won’t be different this time around. I’d love to share some of what you’ve got going on in a crowd-sourced Fall 2020 weekend post!]
On continuity and clarity at a chaotic and uncertain time.
For obvious and necessary reasons, I’ve spent the week writing—like I’ve spent a good bit of the summer thinking—about the many ways in which the Fall 2020 semester will be different from all those that have come before (and, I urgently hope, all those that come after, other than perhaps Spring 2021 when many of these factors will likely still apply). The critical part of the critical optimism I’ve tried to both preach and practice for so long requires that we recognize and engage with realities, even the hardest or toughest ones, and there’s no doubt that these deviations from the norm, these changes to many if not all of the essential elements and experiences of teaching and learning and education, constitute inescapable realities in Fall 2020. Moreover, precisely because they are different from most of our prior experiences, they require collective attention and engagement if we’re gonna respond to them as successfully as possible (which is why I’ve asked for your thoughts all week, and will share lots of them in the crowd-sourced weekend post).
But at the same time (in every sense), a moment like this also demands that we remember and celebrate those things which have not changed, those essential elements which not only endure but remind us of why we do what we do (now more than ever). This past Sunday, as part of my August “one good thing per day” series, I highlighted one of those enduring essential elements: my awesome, inspiring Fitchburg State students. That hyperlinked Twitter thread says much of what I would want to say here, so I’ll just reiterate how much I expect those students to rise to all the challenges of this moment—not in idealized or superhuman way, but precisely because of all the evidence I’ve accumulated across my 15 years of experiences with this community. Whenever I see fellow professors or teachers criticizing students, at any moment and doubly so in a moment like this, it just makes me sad, as it feels that that person has lost a core (I would argue the core) element to what makes this gig so important and so damn great. To quote Samwise Gamgee, I don’t mean to.
If our students comprise one clear continuity in this chaotic moment, another is what our communal conversations (whether on Zoom, in a Blackboard Discussion Forum, in person, or any other way) can and do model. I try not to idealize or mythologize what happens in college classrooms, as of course those spaces and discussions are in no way immune to the same divisive and destructive forces we see at work throughout American society in September 2020. But nonetheless, and notwithstanding the bullshit conservative critiques of academic indoctrination and the like, the goal of our work in those classrooms is indeed an ideal, and a particularly crucial one at this moment: to pursue together inquiries and conversations that can strengthen both our individual voices and skills and our collective, communal knowledge, understandings, and dynamics. Do we fall short of achieving that goal? Hell yes, every day and every semester. Does every week 1 represent another moment in which we can begin pursuing that goal once more? Hell yes it does.
Crowd-sourced post this weekend,
PS. So one more time: what are you teaching or working on this Fall? Let me know for the weekend post!