Steven Volk, December 30, 2018 (a version first published December 7, 2014)
[In memory of Jakelín Caal Maquín and Felipe Alonzo-Gómez, two Guatemalan children who died in December 2018 while in the custody of the US Border Patrol, children who will never sit in our classes.]
Semesters can feel like ocean journeys. Sometimes the seas are choppy, sometimes calm. Sometimes you’re relaxing on an ocean liner, sometimes pulling the oars of a rowboat. And when land is once again in sight, it often feels that it’s you, teeth gripping a tow-rope, who hauls the ship into port. I was reading something the other day, don’t even ask me what, that called attention to the words we use to talk about what it is we do as faculty members. When asked about our “load,” we understand the question to be: How many courses do you have to teach each semester? When asked if we’ve had a chance to get to our “work,” we know we’re being queried about our research, writing, or creative production. Outsiders could ask why we have developed that vocabulary to talk about what we do, but we know the answer, so I won’t bore you.
Teaching, of course, is far more than a load, an 80-pound pack that we hump up endless hills, and the end of the semester is always a good time to remind ourselves what we can and should be about. Teaching, as Maxine Greene once put it, is possibility. My wife, a professor of early childhood education, turned me on to Greene some time ago, amazed that I didn’t know her writing. As much a force of nature as a human being, Greene, who died in 2014 at the age of 96, taught for nearly 50 years at Teachers College (Columbia University). TC proudly claimed her as their “Philosopher Queen,” and a rightful heir to John Dewey.
In a 1978 essay, Greene observed that too many people in modern society feel dominated and powerless. But rather than become pessimistic, she suggested that “such feelings can to a large degree be overcome through conscious endeavor on the part of individuals to keep themselves awake, to think about their condition in the world, to inquire into the forces that appear to dominate them, to interpret the experiences they are having day by day. Only as they learn to make sense of what is happening, can they feel themselves to be autonomous. Only then can they develop the sense of agency required for living a moral life.” She called this sense, “Wide-Awakedness.” Continue reading