As educators, we work from a position of privilege. How our forms of privilege relate to those with whom we work may vary, as does the expectations our institutions hold for how that privilege should be used. But each of us — librarians, instructional designers, adjuncts, and administrators alike — brings a mantle of privilege to the work of teaching.
How we use our privilege defines us and affects students.
What we do with our position shapes who we are, not just as educators but as compassionate human beings. And compassion seems to be in short supply these days. Instead of compassion, we too often see greed and selfishness coming from positions of power and authority. We have an obligation to use our privilege to resist. In a conversation with bell hooks, Ron Scapp says, “Progressive educators, democratic educators, must be consistently vigilant about voicing hope and promise as well as opposition to those dominating forces that close off free speech and diminish the power of dialogue.”
Dialogue is the foundation of cooperation and a source of power. But educators, so accustomed to speaking and being heard, of having podiums, publications, and platforms at their disposal, all too often forget that half of dialogue is silence. For a profession often built on talking, we often fail to listen. Sean Michael Morris has said that “We amplify silenced voices by listening. By making space for them to speak. Not safe space, necessarily, daring space. Because it’s never safe to speak.”
To talk of activism in the latter half of 2020 is to think of protests. Of uprisings. Thoughts of law enforcement and violence, of riots and daring. Activism, too, can be silent: Wearing masks and staying home helps vulnerable populations. And with these silent acts, we make space for voices we should hear. Not safe space, but visible space. Places for people to stand up for their needs, resist the systems that surround them, and call out the oppressions they endure.
Yesterday, we spoke of agency. Much of it dealt with student agency within our classes. But what of our agency? How can we use our own determination and conscientiousness to support, promote, and amplify the vital work — and voices — of students?
The work of conversation, of education, and of liberation compels our activism.
Join us today at 5p EDT for a live #DPLintro Twitter chat about education as activism.
- Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed: Chapter 2
- DHSI 2018: Teaching Toward Activism: Empowering Students, Advocating for Change
How do we use the things we've discussed and created above to take action on behalf of those with less access, less familiarity with the systems, less confidence in their thinking? How can we use these tools to empower the less fortunate?
- What can students do with an empowering education?
- What responsibilities does education hold for allowing for, or providing for, student activism?
Quick Activity — Policy Reading
Find a policy statement at your institution that is in some way related to principles discussed during our week together. Within the policy statement you select, identify changes that should be made and identify the people who would benefit from those changes.
If you’re feeling particularly rebellious, identify some ways the policy could be subverted. For this approach, make suggestions not for changing the policy but for changing the response to it. How can education be a site of resistance? What actions would demonstrate the need for policy revision?
- Practical — After reviewing the “Application” section of the TTA site above, create an activist project in a medium of your choosing (video, website, Twitter bot, you name it). Be clear with your intended audience and desired outcome. Who will do what after encountering your project?
- Philosophical — Paulo Freire tells us that teaching is never a neutral act. Yet many in our society still hold to a banking-model view of education in which teachers and course content are to somehow be “unbiased”, and efforts otherwise are seen as “indoctrination” into a liberal viewpoint. How do we address this impossible dilemma? Craft either an institutional policy statement or an op-ed piece that states a position that should be held — by teachers, by institutions, or by the public.
- Technical — If our classes are to be platforms for activism, they must accommodate multiple use scenarios, allowing them to respond organically to student needs and uses. How, then, can institutions or organizations record/preserve this work? Select an activist moment and either create an archive of it or define the specifications of a system that could sufficiently capture that archive.