First off, I was amused to see in a recent newsletter that Somerville has reduced its speed limit. In this particular instance I’m firmly in the “YES!” camp. People drive insanely fast around here, despite the large numbers of pedestrians and cyclists (and small children and dogs!). Simply trying to get around my densely-populated neighborhood can be extraordinarily stressful and dangerous; hopefully people will abide the new law. Now that that’s out of the way…
**WARNING: LIBERAL-MINDED POLITICAL RANT AHEAD**
I’ve had a hard time focusing over the last few weeks as my election anxiety has been ramping up. I had already fallen behind in both this class and my other class, and now that the election is over, I’m so stunned and defeated that I continue to find it difficult to concentrate. Intellectually I know that paralysis is counterproductive and that life must go on no matter who is president. But I also cannot stop thinking about the many people I know and love who no longer feel safe living their day-to-day lives, and my heart hurts so much that it overtakes any other thought in my mind.
It’s appropriate that we have learned about transformational learning theory at this particular moment in time. Mezirow emphasized that “helping adults learn how to move from an argumentative mindset to an empathic understanding of others’ views is a priority” (Merriam & Caffarella 134)… that discourse ideally occurs under conditions of “having complete information, being free from self-deception, being able to evaluate arguments objectively, having empathy, having an ‘equal opportunity to participate in the various roles of discourse,’ and so on” (ibid.)… and all of it just seems so far removed from what has been happening around me lately, especially given how convinced many people are that literally no mainstream media source is reliable. Rampant ignorance and a fundamental denial of reality has been cropping up on both sides of the aisle, and my frustration has rendered me nearly unable to engage in productive discourse myself. As a woman, as a survivor of sexual assault, as a survivor of stalking and assault and emotional abuse from an ex-partner… I feel as if I have been silenced. I am exhausted. And I don’t know how to muster the energy to make myself (or members of other marginalized groups) heard again.
I got into a minor conflict on Facebook earlier today with a middle-class white man (currently in medical school) who posted a rather vicious rant about how institutions of higher education need to stop coddling students and offering them safe spaces because it doesn’t help them prepare for the harsh realities of the “real world.” I kept thinking about my visit to UMB campus when I took the MAT, delighting in the immense diversity of the students on campus—about half of whom are minorities. I thought of Wednesday’s email from the Division of Student Affairs, offering support to those students, letting them know they’re not alone, that the university supports them. I thought of the many, many times—even in these allegedly progressive modern times—that people of color, Muslims, women, and other marginalized groups have been accused of exaggerating or even fabricating their stories, have been made to feel like they must keep their heads down and play nice even when they’re being harassed. If they can’t be safe on campus, the place where civil discourse is absolutely essential to learning, where millions of young people come together to gain wisdom and insight, where they begin their journeys into adulthood… then where can they feel safe?
And then I thought of Whistling Vivaldi, a book that very neatly lays out research on how minority groups of all stripes don’t feel intellectually safe on campus because stereotype threat has ground them down to the point of self-fulfilling prophecy. Steele makes it crystal clear that institutions absolutely MUST cultivate an environment of inclusivity if they want their minority students to succeed academically (and, ultimately, professionally). But yeah, sure, providing a safe space for these students is preventing them from functioning in society after graduation…
I won’t launch into a summary of Chapter 6 in Merriam & Caffarella, as you’ve all done the reading and you know what it says, but I want to put it on the record that I could go on for many more paragraphs (hah) about how much this chapter spoke to my concerns and interests around the intersection of education and social justice, and to warn you that I may have more thoughts on this in the coming weeks. (Aren’t you excited??) Toward the end of the chapter, they ask what the role of the educator is in fostering transformative learning and whether it’s ethical to tamper with a learner’s worldview at all; my gut reaction is that it’s not only ethical but a moral imperative to foster transformative learning as much as possible—not even necessarily to perpetuate my own agenda (I’m not a total psycho) but to push learners to critically examine their own biases and beliefs. Isn’t that the root of learning, anyway?
Disclaimer: I acknowledge that I may be particularly fired up at this moment and perhaps I need to undergo some transformative learning of my own. 🙂