It’s been nearly two months since I started my doctoral program, and as I expressed in social media last week, I am more fulfilled cognitively and emotionally in my professional and public lives than I have have ever been. As I reflect on the sort of work I have engaged in, I can see several things at play. For one, it’s clear that I’m gradually being apprenticed into the world of academia and that my “lens” in being stretched through both Prosem and Research Methods. Underlying the intended curriculum is the development of a lexicon and mental model that is more compatible with the work that is done in this field. Ben noted it last note when we were at Treat Dreams and I was describing my (hypothetical) mini-research proposal and was very carefully choosing the words to describe the constructs of my proposal. He said, you know you’re in a doctoral program when each word matters (to paraphrase). And it’s true, especially after spending the past two weeks gradually creating and tweaking this proposal. Another instance is based in a discussion that I had with a new acquaintance, Nat, that I met on Wednesday when I popped into Java Hutt to visit Nikia. I kept the two of them company during a smoke break, and ended up inquiring into Nat’s educational program, in which she is pursuing pre-med. As she described her anatomy class and the ways in which it didn’t naturally match up with her ways of learning, I found myself thinking through the matter through the heuristic we’ve developed in Prosem, to consider the ways in which economic goals, ideologies, and schooling collided to value or devalue her as a learner.
Today, I found myself reflecting on the sort of path I’m currently wandering down in my research interests. A few weeks ago, I had to put words to what my research area is, which was interesting since I hadn’t had to that since August. I think it’s still fair to say that I’m still interested in supporting veteran teachers in developing language/literacy practices that support the needs of diverse learners, and to do so in ways that value their expertise. Things like teacher identity/values, translanguaging, social justice, and writing have popped up as other areas that I’m interested in, but I haven’t tried revising my elevator speech yet. I think one of the things I’m really interested in is thinking about how the notion of translanguaging revises perceptions around language and literacy in general–not just for emergent bilinguals. I think about the book I recently read for the 901 Narrative Project, Voices of the Self, a memoir/research text that explores Keith’s language at home, in his neighborhood and in school contexts and how this supported or compromised his identity development. What would it have meant for him if his teacher and the classroom context reflected the language and literacy he brought with him? Would he have been as intent on transgressing social norms, including language, if there was evidence that his identity was valued and reflected in the classroom?
I told Ben a few weeks ago that one of my ultimate goals in the work that I’m doing is to contribute to a shift in teaching certification that requires training in working with emergent bilinguals–to help shift policy at MSU and in Michigan. I think along with that, I would love to push the idea that all teachers could be better equipped to promote language and cultural inclusion in their classrooms. This is a matter of making learning more effective and more equitable.
When I drill down to the reason behind the work I’m doing, it always comes back to promoting equity of access to learning and opportunities. That doesn’t mean I expect all students to pursue these things, but I most certainly want them to have the option. It means ensuring schooling doesn’t invalidate their identities, languages and cultures. It means supporting the sort of critical thinking and openness and ability to accept and support plurality of ideas and values. This election season makes me feel like this goal is all the more needed. And whenever I come back to this thought, I find myself thinking about the immense weight of it all. Which is good. But I have to keep it in perspective.
I’ve got my ever-developing “Writing” playlist cued up, an assortment of old and and new music that represents my evolution in musical taste as well as the decade-long development of the sense of agency I feel in forming my musical tastes and identity in ways that match my desires and expectations (and an attempt to avoid socially constructed desires and expectations). I’m sitting in my living room, my living room in my house (ok, Ben’s house, but I can claim ownership over it). My view to the left is the open window and light yellow curtains, a soft breeze gently whispering against my skin. (The cat is perched on the back of the couch, so he can peer out and enjoy the breeze, too.) My view to the right is the large bay window with window seat, Joe’s beautiful wooden record cabinet, and shelves and shelves of books–a dream of a living room if I do say so myself. It’s a lovely space that is a mishmash of hand-me down furniture along with Ikea and garage sale finds, but it is ours and it is warm and cozy.
My calendar dings to remind me that it is my personal reading and writing time, and though I have been fairly loyal in honoring this time to devote to personal reading, I’ve been neglectful of my personal writing. Opening a pulpy novel like The Dresden Files is just so much easier, when I know what sort of reading and writing awaits me throughout the rest of the day and the week (and that’s not to say I don’t love it, because I do). For instance, sitting on the coffee table to my right is my unopened Literacy Research Methodologies textbook, which I’ll dig into in a bit and learn about another research method. Listed on my to-do’s are several writing assignments that I’ve started, but still have plenty of work to do on them still, particularly since the due dates are actually looming. (The cat just walked in and meowed his discontent, a wish for me to follow him to his food bowl and watch up eat for the 42nd time.)
But I’m going to sit right here and write. It’s been a full morning morning already and it’s only 8:30. The coffee is probably nearing lukewarm at this point since I poured the hot water into the French press almost two hours ago. I’ve got pumpkin chipotle chili brewing in the crock pot (with bits of foraged mushrooms that were gifted to us from Nikia’s friend Rivka) and corn muffins cooling on top of the stove. The litter box has been freshened, and the garbage is curbside (along with the broken down boxes from finally recovering and unpacking Grandma’s china last night). Any other Monday, I would be geared up in my running apparel, ready for a run to the yoga studio, but today the water has been turned off in preparation for the plumber’s arrival.
Last night, Ben echoed my thoughts with his words: “It was a good weekend.” And it was. It wasn’t filled with the revelry of Theatre Bizarre or a movie at the Redford, adventures that our roommates enjoyed (and a previous version of myself would be been drawn to as well). Instead, we grazed throughout our free time, slowly chipping away at work, brunching and drinking beer with friends, transporting couches from his grandma’s, and wandering into Ferndale for late-night cocktails and dinner. If someone asks me what I did this weekend, I’ll probably have to stop myself from telling them that I scrubbed down the bathroom and started organizing our basement. But those were my highlights.
(And in this time, I have moved to sit on the floor next to the cat’s food bowl, and he has already wandered away three times.)
Despite my contentment, I did find myself feeling restless yesterday, but it’s not the sort of restlessness that calls me to hit the road or start a new job. I think it’s the sort of restlessness that arises when everything is actually good, but I feel like it shouldn’t, because much of life is usually in flux, and I don’t naturally recognize that it’s perfectly acceptable for it to not be.
(And as if on cue, the cat meows at me for the 87th time even though I’m sitting next to his food bowl. He, too, doesn’t know when he just has it good. I attempt to distract him with catnip and the glove brush that he spends more time fighting with than I do actually getting to brush him.)
But it is GOOD. And so, I’m going to chalk up this mild restlessness to a trigger reaction ingrained in me to help me emotionally and mentally prepare for the discomfort that is more typical and regular. Instead, I’m going to breathe through it and remind myself to savor it.
This is science:
Climb into the sandbox of ignorance
Move towards grains of truth:
Pushing and prodding their theories
in the image of their elephants.
But it wasn’t a child’s game to
Push and prod Doris Buck’s Fallopian tubes
It wasn’t just a fable to name them ruptured appendix.
Yet they proclaim their work done:
Wipe your hands, sterilized
In the name of science.
Last weekend, Ben and I walked into downtown Ferndale to grab brunch. It was an early morning walk, warmed by the 8 a.m. sun and a heated conversation about the role of naming. Ben shared a Joseph Campbell quote, reminiscent of Kenneth Burke’s “parlor conversation,” to illustrate why he thinks humans rely on naming: “Life is like arriving late for a movie, having to figure out what was going on without bothering everybody with a lot of questions, and then being unexpectedly called away before you find out how it ends.” As a result, when we first show up to the movie, we need labels and categories in order to begin to make sense of the scene we’re entering, an entré into Bloom’s first level of “remembering” what we are learning, where we “name” in order to build schema around a new concept.
Now, I should back up and give you some context since you are being dropped into this scene: our conversation was inspired by a recent conversation with several of our close friends, several of whom are in the (perhaps never-ending) process of negotiating their sexual and gender identities. One, who I will call Our Friend, had shared that as she is beginning to claim “lesbian” as part of her identity, she is discovering a whole new world of identity-based conflict, from the fear of being viewed as a, “baby lesbian,” a burden that some are unwilling to take on when choosing a potential partner, to the complexity of potentially shifting sexual identities later on down the road, a decision that would lead to adopting the name of, “bisexual,” or, “heterosexual,” which some within her community view as traitorous.
As Ben and I talked through this on our journey to The Fly Trap, we found ourselves grappling with what seems to be a human propensity to name and the tension it poses in the context of accepting what is really actually more fluid and non-binary about human beings. We both found ourselves wondering why Our Friend couldn’t simply remain “nameless” in this regard, and as I read de Oliveira Andreotti’s piece, Strategic Criticism and the Questions of (In)Accessibility of the Other, I couldn’t help, but think back to this conversation. Like de Oliveira Andreotti, I wonder “[h]ow can we think differently about self and Other beyond the trends of fixing identities, forging new ‘forwards’ collectively without losing track of our past and the origins of our own underserved (i.e. historically inherited) epistemic privilege (so that we do not evade our complicities in structural/material and cognitive/epistemic injustices)?” (140) I have often wished to rip off the societal constructs that seem fixed to me, wondering what it would be like to be entirely free of the expectations that come with being viewed as woman, daughter, teacher, heterosexual, or young. Likewise, I have wished to disrupt the unconscious biases that I have absorbed over the years, to break down the imaginary constraints that have been built around my own perception of diverse identities, but to do so without presuming to un-name.
I am reminded of Madeleine L’Engle’s second book in her Time Quintet young adult series, A Wind in the Door, where “Naming” is an act of love, of recognizing and accepting another’s innermost self while “Un-Naming” is an act of destruction, of making others not know who they are. When I connect L’Engle to de Olivereira Andreotti, it seems that “Un-Naming” could be an apt term to describe the process of naming to separate: “Coalitions have fragmented/separated us–by naming, by signifying, and therefore creating these so-called differences. ‘As human beings we have a sacred connection to each other, and this is why enforced separations wreak havoc in our Souls. There is great danger then, in living lives of segregation’” (140). Seen in this way, the act of naming seems to be a presumptuous act whereby I determine that I know enough about the essence of another to grant it its signifier and thereby draw a boundary around it to separate it from me and the other ways I name myself.
To return to mine and Ben’s brunch-bound conversation, I hope that Our Friend can find a way to be named or unnamed in whatever ways reflect the fluid and boundless development of her identity. Like de Olivereira Andreotti, I believe, “Education should be conceptualized as coming into a plural and undefined world,” where, “the Other can teach us…the limits and thresholds of our own cognitive-affective-relational assemblages and the magnitude of an undefinable universe of unexplored possibilities” (144). Just as these false bounds of the identities we name limit our perceptions and expectations of what the Other is and can be, so too do these illusory definitions limit our capacity to see and understand the world.