bad academics · empowerment

What David Gilmour Teaches us about the Importance of Education, Community, and Collective Action

Today’s post comes from Jana Smith Elford, who has written for Hook and Eye before.
Last week Margrit approached me to write a post about the (sometimes uncomfortable) intersections between theory and praxis. 
I was going to elaborate at length about my recent research on late-nineteenth century British feminism and socialism, and how my investigations of these historical social movements had suggested to me the importance of (in the words of one of the authors I study) “joining something, siding with somebody, letting your comrades have the strength which added comradeship brings, identifying yourself with the side you wish to win, and not being so cowardly as to wish for victory without daring to fight for it.” My intention was to suggest the importance of creating vibrant communities of passionate individuals who can effectively advocate for structural change through a combination of education, community-building, and activism. I was going to discuss how the women I study managed so effectively to advance both the idea of social change and actually effect its becoming, and then muse on how these principles might influence our efforts today.
Like most of you, I was initially shocked and dismayed by the views espoused by Gilmour in the interview. I mean, my very first response was complete disbelief that this guy was for real–I thought the article had to be satire, from The Onion or the like. When I got over my disbelief, what was left was something very close to despair. After this many years of feminist activism, the academy still privileges someone like this? With all the excellent, well-trained PhDs out there who are chronically underemployed and underpaid? 
But then . . . David Gilmour was totally schooled. Again, and again, and again.
In fact, he was so quickly and collectively castigated by the wide literary and academic community that my despair turned into heavy relief, followed by a warm, fuzzy feeling in my stomach that I subsequently identified as “joy”.  (You’ll forgive me: I don’t always feel this way about the literary and academic community.) My take-away? Yes, there are professors (and colleges) out there who privilege this kind of misogyny and racism, but there are many many more who simply won’t stand for it. 
Honestly, I was really heartened. And I think the crux of why I was so heartened comes back to theory and praxis.
I often feel that we in the academy have issues with connecting our research to our practice–that we’re too isolated, that our ideas sometimes remain within our own heads, that we fail to adequately advocate for the importance of an education in the humanities, that we miss how important it is to actively participate in wider movements, activities, and organizations. 
But this whole debacle has motivated a beautiful dovetailing of education, community, and collective, cohesive action. David Gilmour was TOLD (helped out *gasp* by the National Post). Members of the progressive literary community mounted excellent defenses of the way they read, and write, and teach. Many, many individuals across Canada and beyond joined together–online and in person–to remind each other and the wider community of what it is, exactly, that the humanities stands for, and advocates against. 
Yes, it is unfortunate that it took Gilmour’s deeply troubling remarks to get here. But occasionally this kind of event is the type that motivates further activity and action. Let’s hope our responses can continue to, as a friend of a friend of mine put it, “out-good Gilmour’s bad.”

(And, Toronto friends, if you can, please attend this event!)