classrooms · community · fast feminism · slow academy

New Year, Old Work: Some thoughts on the long game

January. For many people working in academia this month is the second opportunity to assess where one is, where one wants to be, and perhaps to think about how one might get from here to there. January is often a month of resolve: less of this, more of that. In previous years we have reflected on personal goals and professional aspirations. Last year, after a particularly formative December, I wrote about my resolve to see women. Rather than seek some new resolution I want to reaffirm and recommit myself to a version of that resolution I made a year ago.

December 2012 brought acts of national and international public activism that were flash-mobbing the country. Idle No More instigated actions, moments of solidarity, resistance, and possibility for a more just and sustainable future. It was a vital moment, and it was a moment in a long history of Indigenous resistance and activism in the midst of a country that still refuses to take responsibility for its colonial history. One of the crucial lessons I learned working with students, community members, and colleagues in the past year is that tenacity and resolve are fundamental to long-term change. Long after the media has turned to some new story the work continues.

For me, December 2013 brought another kind of reminder of the tenacity needed for the long game; of fundamental and deep changes that are needed in the fight for social justice. I was reminded in a much less public way of the necessity of seeing women. Discussions and arguments about gender and literary culture in Canada didn’t sweep the front pages of news media this winter, and they shouldn’t have. Not in the way that the work of Idle No More did. But reflecting on some of the events of this December and last December I am reminded of the resolve, dedication, and relentless actions big and small that are required of us if we are truly going to change this world.

Of course — and relatedly — January for me also means the beginning of a new semester. More so than ever I begin this new semester with the acute awareness that it may be my last one teaching for a while or, possibly, forever. Never mind the hysterics, this is realism: each month I watch more brilliant peers choose to leave this profession because there is no room for them in it. Their choices are sometimes deliberate and conscious, and they are sometimes simply choices that are made for them by outside forces. One of these days I will choose too, or the choice will be made for me when the work simply dries up. I used to be of the (narrow) mind that the pedagogical work I have been trained to do only functions in a classroom space. How wrong I am. Knowledge isn’t only made in a classroom, not by a long shot. It is passed down through conversations with elders and mentors. It grows through connections with people, with place, with land. In Canada the classroom is but one recent and all too often myopic space that is inflected with its long history of colonial imperatives, but it doesn’t have to be. It isn’t always. It is also a space for radical generosity and difficult urgent work. I resolve to continue learning.

I was also wrong in my former thinking that the professor is the conduit of knowledge. I forgot that a conduit is a container and that energy, or water, or knowledge can flow different ways. So this year as I finish my syllabi I have added a new component for myself and my students. I have the rare opportunity to collaborate on a syllabus with one of my colleagues and I have borrowed his template for an Academic Contract. The premise is simple and timely: both teacher and students write short resolutions to dedicate themselves to the necessary work of critical thinking in the service of intellectual freedom.

 As I walk into a classroom tomorrow, meet a new group of students, and work through the scope of the classes we’ll be experiencing together, I will also offer them my resolve to do the hard, vital work of critical pedagogy inside the classroom and outside it as well.