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.
The truth is, I have nothing to say. It’s not that I don’t have words, or that my thoughts do not fly up. It’s that the angry stare with which I must now consider you—an unknown stranger who may have used your vote as a hate crime—is too firm to let out anything but vitriol. And there cannot be more vitriol. The air cannot bear it. Nor do I know if anyone deserves the thoughts I am thinking.
I don’t know who you are. Are you on Twitter? Are we friends on Facebook? Did you know when you voted against her that you were threatening my marriage? Threatening my child’s health insurance? Did you bother to look me in the face and ask whether your vote would hurt me? Did you want to imagine it wouldn’t?
I have been a teacher for sixteen years. I have worked long days and nights to encourage people—anyone who found their way into my classroom. I have never tried to silence anyone, even if their ideas ran contrary to my own. That is the job of education, and of educators: to foster thoughtful exploration, to encourage and support voices. Plenty of teachers don’t think that’s the job. They’d rather tell you what to think; they’d rather not bother themselves with opposing opinions. They, like you, want to feel safe in the world, and they feel safer when they exercise their authority than when they offer authority.
But in doing so, they make the world unsafe.
Ideas were never meant to calcify. Nor were they meant to as blunt weapons for argumentative warfare. Ideas were meant to be doorways leading to greater ideas, deeper explores, better understanding of oneself.
Whoever you are, education failed you. At least in part, that’s on me. Because work as I have to spread practices that could make you a reader of your world—unafraid and full of agency—that message didn’t reach you. You weren’t helped into your own power, and so you felt you had to aggressively assert it. This is the action of a person terrified of losing their agency. But you were never in danger. You didn’t have to be afraid. I wasn’t going to hurt you. My child wasn’t going to hurt you. My ideas weren’t either.
Now I have a choice: to be afraid or to be a teacher. When I see you on the street, will I worry you might lash out at me and my husband? When I send my kid to school, do I have to be concerned you might see him, sit down by him, talk to him? What do I need to do to be safe now?
I don’t know. For now, I have only this angry stare. But maybe tomorrow I’ll start talking again. Maybe tomorrow I’ll write a treatise on the way universities and colleges have stripped the humanity out of learning by focusing on data; or how academic neutrality is the original sin of intellectualism; or how the morbid desire to make learning efficient has made it possible to elect the least qualified person to the highest office. Or how the failure of education has led to the failure of the presidency.
Maybe. But until then, I’ll watch my back and keep my thoughts to myself.