Confronting and responding to haunting questions from academic life
the point of the question is not to turn the question, “What does it mean to ask questions?” into an intellectual game, but to experience the force of the question, experience the challenge it offers, experience curiosity, and demonstrate it to the students (Freire, Learning to Question).
In the midst of all of my experimental wondering and wandering, I felt compelled to revisit my life as an academic and to confront and respond to some haunting questions from my life as a student, scholar and educator. After years of encouraging students to “feel the force” of the questions that their education and resistances to it prompted, I was finally really doing it myself. I was claiming my education: paying attention to it, practicing it, not just teaching it and taking it seriously by listening to the demands it made of me and attempting to respond.
First in the winter of 2013 and then again, since the fall of 2015, I’ve been examining my own archive of academic life—papers, notes, exams, syllabi, assignments, handouts, evaluations and more—to explore, experiment with and confront some questions that haunt me: What happened to my promise as a scholar? Why don’t researching and writing academic essays thrill me anymore? If not this, then what? And, am I still a Teacher?
I have been confronting these questions publicly by posting my processing notes and reflections on my blog, Tumblr and Twitter, and by giving two academic talks about my struggles with them. I am making them public partly as a way to hold myself accountable for my ideas and feelings, partly as an invitation to others to engage in their own examinations, and partly to offer up a model of one possible, not necessarily always advisable, way of being and engaging.
Lists! Some Questions that Haunt
- Am I still a teacher? Do I want to be one? (Where) can I be one?
- Was I too irresponsible as a teacher?
- Do teachers have to be experts?
- Does the academy turn (almost) everyone into assholes?
- Is higher education too broken? Too expensive? Too out-dated? Too exploitative?
- What do I tell or advise my kids about higher education? How can I express my conflicted feelings about it?
- Was it a mistake to run away from the academy?
- Is it possible to reclaim education as a practice of freedom?
- Who is an education for? What is an education for? Where can an education take place?
- Why am I spending so much time on this project? Does it matter at all?
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