Rethinking

So, I’ve done a bit of reading, and a bit of thinking, and taken a nice shower, and cleared my head a bit. And I’ve got two somewhat contradictory things to say now.

The first is that I now understand, viscerally, how my American Government professor, Wayne Parent, felt that morning in November 1984 when he walked back into the classroom and said, simply, “I don’t want to talk about it.” And then proceeded to go on with his originally scheduled lecture.

The other, though, is that — and I sincerely hope this isn’t just the desperately rationalizing part of my brain, trying to find ANY POSSIBLE GOOD THING that can be taken from all of this — I now have an even deeper sense of how much what I do (what so many of us do) matters. Early glances at the exit polls (and yes, I do recognize the irony involved in basing any conclusions on the exit polls, today of all days) suggest that educated voters largely went for Kerry, and voters with lesser educational backgrounds largely went for Bush. Add to this the data released over the course of the year about the relationship between educational background, FOX News viewership, and radical misunderstandings of issues on both the national and international levels, and you can begin to piece together a sense of the desperate need for decent education in this country — and especially for improved media literacy.

The results of this election — which now appears to be over, and much sooner than I expected it to be — don’t exactly give me hope, but they do give me purpose.

What I need to ponder is ways to pass that purpose on to my students, students who have been genuinely politically committed during this election, who cannot allow themselves to fall into despair over this result. I need to pass on to them the commitment not simply to their own educations, but to educating others. I need to impress upon them — and I begin to believe this, at a deep level — that the most important thing a media studies student can do is to pass their knowledge on, by teaching.

I’d love, as my knee-jerk response from this morning suggested, nothing more than just to escape the whole deal. Pull up stakes and move to Canada. Hell, Paris.

But the battle’s here. And I’m not running away from this fight.

7 thoughts on “Rethinking

  1. (P.S.: the word i had to submit to process my comment above was “justice.” never thought about how anti-spam devices author blogs until i realized i’d been staring at the word for 30 seconds before clicking, because it had such an unexpected effect on me. the weight of one word –)

  2. Thanks for that, KF. I do believe you’re right. I’m glad that I don’t have to pretend to try to teach on Thursday, but I’ll keep fighting.

    I do believe deeply in media literacy. I’m staggering today, like I’ve taken a massive series of punches, but I’ll get off the mat soon.

  3. I had to teach today. Unfortunately, I took the Wayne Parent approach. I really can’t handle being here right now–having lived in California for most of my life, I still find it hard to believe that a top-ranked public university can be this conservative. So many undergrads with Bush/Cheney stickers. I’m afraid I’m going to do something today that’ll get me kicked out of school. Like punching a fratboy in the face.

  4. I don’t know. I don’t want to punch a fratboy in the face, even if only in my imagination. And I fear that the desire that many of us feel to strike out – at what we see as ignorance, laziness, or deceit – I fear that this desire gets in the way of a much needed self-examination by the Left. It leads the Left towards a strategy of blaming the populace and merely castigating the opposition instead of seeking ways to persuade the populace into embracing its perspective.

    Like so many others, my wife and I have been talking today about what this election means for us, our family, and our work (we’re both academics). Although deeply disheartened, she finds reason in it to become further engaged and more of an “activist” – in the sense that one way to battle the anti-intellectualism that seems to be running rampant in this country is to demand more rigorous argumentation/thinking/writing from her students. I think that this echoes what you’re writing here Kathleen.

    I understand this. Just yesterday one of my students wondered at the end of a difficult but fruitful class discussion whether we were intellectualizing the book too much and if there wasn’t some other – less academic – way to discuss it. A second student chimed in and said that he wished we could delete the moments in class when we speak of a text’s weaknesses and instead focus on the positives and what is good about it. I responded to both of them that one of the things that is central to my teaching is that I am helping them learn critical thinking skills that will help them make informed decisions in their lives. The process of analyzing texts, synthesizing responses and critiques, and integrating them into our own way of thinking, are part of the process of moving toward reasoned judgment (thanks go to Bloom’s taxonomy!). This is what we must value and privilege as educators, no matter the discipline or the content.

    None of the students in this class will go on to graduate school, I suspect, though a few of them will become teachers in elementary or secondary schools. They will all go forward to be citizens, however, and the work I can do to help them move toward stronger reasoned judgments will prove fundamental to how they enact their citizenship. No matter what they do after college, my class can and should serve as a lab in which I can challenge them to do the work involved in moving toward informed judgment. in fact, I believe that my class MUST serve as a space in which I challenge them to do this work.

    Perhaps I feel this way more today than I did yesterday. But certainly in the last few years, I have perceived the growing rejection of intellectualism, and the rhetorical figuring of it as weak, corrupt, naive, and elitist. It is our responsibility to battle this directly in our teaching, not by hectoring students, striking out at them, or preaching at them, but by embracing a pedagogy that values the process of moving toward judgment and that enacts that ideology in its workings. And oddly enough, I think we have a unique opportunity to do so – right now. And especially now.

    The Left needs to demonstrate not that the oppostion’s way of thinking about the world is wrong, but that its way is better. This is not mere semantics. The former approach is failing, as the majority of people don’t seem ready to agree. The latter approach offers opportunity.

  5. My revealed password is “least”. Very New Testament … the least among you from Luke 9:48.

    Welcome to a Toronto-of-the-mind.

    As I mention at the blog hosted by George Williams “The view from Canada … press and media and general talk across the confederation is that the USA is a country divided. And some of us are trying to find ways of finding how to move the discourse away from certain sorts of demonizing identity politics. In Canadian tradition, we tend to stress the hyphen to build bridges. Evangelical environmentalists; Vegetarian fundatmentalists; Pro-family trade unionists; Pro trade union pastors.

    Michael Adams, author of Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values, was interviewed on the radio this morning. Intereting how he characterized the American divide: between Old Testament and New Testament. Watch the Sermon on the Mount become a key text šŸ™‚

    http://ghw.wordherders.net/archives/002965.html#10415

    Here’s hoping in the year ahead you enjoy the Paris-of-the-soul.

    In the history of imagined geographies and utopian literature, some American cities played vital roles of inspiration too. There was the San Francisco of Armistead Maupin. And I’m sure there are non-urban spots that occupy similars spaces.

    New Jerusalem, eh?

  6. Thanks indeed, Kathleen, and Steve. It’s hard not to imagine a retreat at this point, a hardening of the sense that the country is irretrievably gone to the Dark Side. But while I’m going to honor my own mourning period for a bit, that’s obviously not a long-term option.

    I’ll throw in my two cents, from a perspective that’s not so much about pedagogy and the classroom (since I’m currently not in front of one): I think that as lefties/Democrats or Democrat-supporters-by-default/progressives what have you, we also need to summon the same energies that we marshaled to push this year, toward some long-term ends.

    *Congress: blue-state lefties should look at congressional races outside of their states as opportunities to get involved. We’ve been unable to build widespread grassroots efforts to retake the house, but that’s what we have to do if we are going to break the political gridlock. This can begin with 2006.

    *Governors: ditto. Governors are the stock from which successful presidential candidates are most frequently generated. That’s even harder to focus on from outside the state in question, but I think it can and should be the focus of all of the progressive 527s that sprung up.

    *Staying with the moral questions. This acutally builds on Steve’s point. After all, much of what the Bush administration is doing is not conservative. It’s “conservative” — i.e. radical. I’m convinced that many of my values are startlingly conservative: preserving Constitutional liberties and keeping the government out of our private lives; preserving our environment; keeping corporate power in check so that ordinary people have a say in how their communities are run; putting restraints on the Imperial President’s power, even in a “time of war.”

    I don’t have the answer on how to translate that inner conviction into a way of getting the alliance of those who voted for Bush this time around. But it gives me a place to start from in terms of attitude.

    Most importantly, this is long-term stuff. I’m saddened and astonished that fear, bigotry, and emotional manipulation by the GOP did so much to swing so many toward a decision to support an administration that’s done everything possible to discredit itself.

    But now that that’s a done deal, we have to come to grips with the idea that while a reversal of the damage is still possible, it won’t happen quickly. It’s going to be a rest-of-my-lifetime trip, and we’ve got to think in terms of the total journey, not just the next obstacles.

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