Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. On Ash Wednesday I wrote about plans to write throughout Lent, especially on liberation learning, and I said I’d cut back on social media. While I managed to stay away from social media I did not write much this season. Why?
Short answer: Too much and not ready. Meaning that I had too much to think about and that I’m not ready to share – at least not here. But the exercise worked in terms of getting to thinking. Lots of thinking, about me. Not about liberation learning, but about teaching and learning as it relates to what I do. I am exploring limits, contradictions, and uncertainties (doubts).
So what will I share? Human relationships are not just but are just. Human beings are not compassionate but are compassionate. Public education is transformative and respectful but it is also neither of these qualities. Life is meaningful but life is meaningless. Limits, contradictions, uncertainties (doubts).
I want to focus on doubts. When I was a labour organizer I felt certain about what I did. Now I don’t. Back then, I helped empower workers through narrative and relationship. I identified opportunities for a change of condition – including wages.
In this job I found a deficit (in certain power relations between workers and their boss) that could be balanced, and I worked with people to change the balance of power in the relationship at work. This resulted in higher wages and better working conditions. I believed that the process was centred on liberation, in thought and action.
Through critical thinking and intentional action, people could work together and make the world a better place. I believed that this was “just” – it was justified because it was the right, morally so, thing to do. I also believed that the work of organizing was sacred, as is all work, and that we did more than raise wages. We demonstrated dignity.
In my old job, I spent (almost) all of my time thinking about how to change the balance of power between workers and their bosses, or the institution that they worked for. This was both stressful and immensely satisfying.
I didn’t realize how satisfying it was until I quit doing it. Almost every conversation had a purpose and was with someone who was interested in what we, I, were taking about. Things were urgent and had to be done. My work style was built on objectives that were hard to meet and impossible for others to ignore. I enjoyed the challenge, the attention, the sense of doing right, and the power of it all.
But as with anything there were tradeoffs, and these went beyond “stress”. The work took me out of the moment and brought me into to conflict, most meaningfully into conflict with those whose pay and conditions would improve because of the work I did.
I mostly ignored this part of what I did, not in terms of not paying attention but in terms of not accepting. I told people what I did, but I did not ask permission. And even if I had asked permission, few could imagine what I had in mind. Every step and every outcome, to the day, was planned long in advance. When I stopped not paying attention I quit, rather than resolve.
But did I? Did I quit? Yes and no. I am a public school teacher now, working as part of another system that changes lives through education and empowerment. Unlike my work as an organizer, now I work in a system that is big, noticed, publicly accountable, and transparent in its intent. But like my work before, the public school system changes people in ways that you can only understand when looking back. Teaching is bound by ethics, ethics that I prefer to those of labour organizing (which was as much politics as education), but these ethics operate within a bundle contradictions.
What is teaching? Empowering students and communities through education, at its best. Oppressing students through compulsory indoctrination into a system that goes against the student as a human member of their community, at its worst. How’s this for a contradiction: Consent as continuum, ranging from recognized by the state as an individual right; the recognized and exercised right of the parent to raise their child; implicitly exercised by the student herself in the form of compliance; to explicitly exercised consent of the student who wants and understands the value of education, but does not understand until the process has run its course.
I feel less certain about everything. I imagine that this is a good sign. I hope that I am finally resolving, or responding, to the question of respect as response. I fought labour campaigns through narrative. I’d like to teach through dialogue. But I have so much to figure out first. We do. And that is, absent everything I am withholding from this blog, what I thought about this Lent.
To be continued…in good time.