Introduction: Why Question This?

I’m questioning things in this blog and hope you will, as well.  

It’s Fall, 2020 and I’m writing about Education as a white person, a teacher/learner, and a Jew. Questioning is central to Jewish thought and our sense of intimacy — with the divine, other people, and everything.  There is a tradition, called midrash, of annotating a text, literally writing all around it with commentary.  The midrash becomes part of the text, opening it to ongoing interpretations.  

Question This means I invite skepticism by readers and try to practice self-skepticism — as a white person in a world built by way of racism and Anti-Black violence to naturalize and increase the power, wealth, and ignorance of white people.  Question This also means I am proceeding with a sense of generosity of meaning, against austerity and absolutism; for clarity, but not bought with certainty.

Thomas Pynchon wrote in Proverbs for Paranoids, If you can get people asking the wrong questions, you don’t have to worry about the answers. The field of Education is usually preoccupied with the wrong questions:  Who is the smartest?  What language should be allowed?  May I be excused to go to the bathroom? Should I risk my life to teach or pandemic during a pandemic?  What technology will solve teachers’ problems?

As a professor of Education and teacher educator, as well as an academic administrator leading an Education program and an office of global learning, I am writing at a time when Education is under pressure.  A good time for better questions. For example, this spring many schools (secondary and college/university) gave students the choice of a grade or pass/fail for a course.  A good question now: what’s preventing this from becoming normal?  

One of the questions I’m going to study this fall while on a research leave is what it will take to establish the introductory Education course I teach at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges as one that can only be taken pass/fail or credit/no credit (the two institutions do things differently) — with pass or credit meaning 2.0 or what is called a “merit grade” in institutional parlance. I know it will take marshaling evidence about what peer institutions are doing.  I know it will take making proposals to committees.  I know it will take assurances that this change won’t disadvantage students, erode their investment in the course, or harm the legitimacy of our program.  I also know that several colleagues at the Colleges and elsewhere are interested in doing this or, in the case of elsewhere, already doing it.  What will I learn from them, and what can we gain from working together?  

I really don’t want to give grades anymore.  That’s why I’m doing this research.  Questioning grading, I arrive at a sense that my own human growth is pushing me to push my workplace to grow.  Could this be a way of understanding education?   Shouldn’t Education courses act as studio spaces for experimental, creative education praxis?  

In a future entry, I will write about work a grassroots group I am part of on campus — the Campaign for Anti-Racist Literacy at Bryn Mawr College (CARLA-BMC) — is doing to push our workplace towards becoming a just and joyful place.  Could this be a way of understanding work?