How we reimagine assessment when sick and dying dogs, sleepless nights, and cleaning up dog fur are as much a factor as whether or not a student did the reading or writing may be the most pressing question we face as educators.
On the last day of the year, many of us tend to look back, to see again the people, the gifts of time and talent, the serendipities, the various sparkly moments that we are grateful for. The New Year is a time to be uncritical, to pleasure in a nostalgia about the past and about the future. We reminisce and we make resolutions. For this particular year, the first year of an American administration that has abused its own and many other peoples, some of us come away with a gratitude for surviving the nail-biting, exhausting, appalling, and horrifying days following January 20. We will toast the end of 2017, and go hopefully and courageously into 2018.
As part of this movement into the new, I was asked to consider what wish I have for 2018. What thing did I want to bring about, or have brought about, in my life? The semi-Buddhist, agnostic, skeptical, critical pedagogue, even in moments like that, I responded that I have no wishes. I am fortunate, and I know I am fortunate. More fortunate now than I have been at any other time in my life. Though I come from a childhood of low income, at times poverty-level, struggle, chronic anxiety, and a history of choosing work for subsistence (starting in grade 5), today I have a career, a recognized voice, close family, a loving marriage, shelter against the weather, financial security, creative possibility, my health... and the wisdom to stop asking for more.
More than these, though, I recognize that there are many people who have helped me get here. To have become the founder of Digital Pedagogy Lab, to have had the opportunity to be an international visiting fellow at the University of Warwick, to have worked next to some of the most brilliant educators of our time, to have traveled across this country and abroad to speak and teach and learn, a lot of people had to believe in me.
I learned early and quick that academic life operates on an economy of prestige and opportunity. The more prestige one has or gains, the more opportunities; and more opportunities lead to greater prestige. Publishing moves toward tenure. Promotion leads to speaking gigs. Speaking gigs move toward greater capital in the economy. Prestige and opportunity. If you're a director of something, you are more likely to be acknowledged than if you're an assistant director. If you're a professor, you have more clout than an adjunct. If you earn your PhD, doors will open to you that MA-level students don’t know exist. At every level, there's somewhere we're struggling to rise from, and a level further we hope to rise to.
This economy of prestige and opportunity makes less room even for people of color, women, queer folk, people with families, and people with disabilities. Cisgender, straight, white men have more ease in this economy than any other demographic.
While I pass for straight, I am gay. While I pass for neurotypical, I am neurodiverse. I have a Master’s degree, but no PhD. I worked as an adjunct for five years. As I have written before, I long considered myself the horse that didn’t make the derby, and for years I watched others run in a race I felt qualified for. I have sat at dinner across from well-known, vaunted, PhD-titled academics who chose not to speak to me. I have been passed over for keynote opportunities with the idle question, “Who is he? I’ve never heard of him.” I can't apply for teaching positions at universities—despite my long work, writing, and publishing on pedagogy—because I lack a terminal degree.
Even with all these academic debts I carry, there were a few who invested in me—for who I am, how I see and write, the insights I am capable of. And so I am grateful too at the end of this year. Specifically, I must acknowledge:
- Jesse Stommel: who dredged me out of a strange alternate career path and back to a world of pedagogy and social justice, and who, in 17 years has never stopped believing I had something to offer.
- Amy Collier: who didn’t focus on my CV when she hired me to my first academic post, but instead trusted that I had a mind and heart equal to the challenge of a prestigious, small liberal arts college.
- Audrey Watters: who, despite her rigorous criticality and insight, still sees me as someone doing good work in the world.
- Cathy Davidson: who barely knew me before she wanted the best for me, and who has unflaggingly supported Hybrid Pedagogy and Digital Pedagogy Lab.
- Bonnie Stewart: who persists in her battles as I persist in mine, and whose work as a human being will always be tied into my work as a human being.
For some of these people, there was never a reason to believe in me; and for others, there were reasons to stop. But they have consistently supported my work, kept an open hand extended, and offered opportunities that academia would never.
In return for believing in me, I offer belief in others. This is my currency, my economy: trust and belief. I said once about my role as managing editor at Hybrid Pedagogy that “I prowl the gates of this journal, I do—but to keep them open, not closed; to invite in rather than keep out.” But this is not work restricted to that of a journal editor: it is work we can all do in whatever role we occupy. It is the work of teachers, scholars, administrators, provosts, executive directors, instructional designers, technologists, writers, and more. For myself, I will always keep an eye open for new voices, voices that education and academia might not take seriously for whatever reason, I will listen carefully to what they have to say and I will offer them whatever platform I may.
In part, this means not speaking. Not writing Twitter threads. Not occupying any stage alone. The work others have done to give me opportunities must turn into work I can do to give others opportunities. I can be silent and listen. I can retweet. Hold the door so someone else might walk through, just as the door was held for me. And I hope, in my silence, I inspire silence in those who have the privilege—the leaders of the critical pedagogy and digital pedagogy conversation—to make way for other leaders. Because that is leadership in critical pedagogy.
Because critical pedagogy, digital pedagogy, #digped—none of these is our community. Increasingly, I recognize that there is no “us” when “us” means “our.” Should we find ourselves saying that someone is a good fit for our community, we are also saying that someone else is not. Some have seen me as a poor fit for their communities; and so how could I turn around and guard the gate in that fashion? Generosity of spirit, generosity of dialogue, generosity of justice, cannot be exclusive.
In the end, our only legacy will be the people we have loved, the voices we have amplified, the kindnesses we have offered and which echo out ongoingly. A published paper will be forgotten. A hashtag will disappear even more readily. A MOOC, a community, a conference… These all have end points when they disappear or disintegrate. But if in that published paper we cite a student or an adjunct; if across that hashtag we promote lovingkindness and encourage people to speak and listen; if in that MOOC, that community, or at that conference, we meet humans where they are and give them whatever doorways to discovery we can build—then something sustainable, something lasting might come of it.
If I have a wish for the new year, it is not for my life to improve. It is that, through whatever power I have, I might improve the lives of others. This is what Digital Pedagogy Lab is for. This is why I write. This is why I teach. My voice pales in comparison to the cacophony of voices waiting to be heard. I want to hear them. And I believe we all will be better off if we let that cacophony rise.