Carol A. Hand
This post is a farewell to a vocation I have loved – teaching. I awoke this morning with a clear answer to a question I have been pondering for several weeks, “Should I resign from teaching, perhaps this time with no intention of ever returning?”
Yes, it’s time. Although I love working with students, the context of teaching at the post high school level has increasingly provided too little space for liberatory praxis.
Photo Credit: Graduate Celebration – 2009
It’s the structure of education, not the students, that has been the determining factor for my decision. During my brief time as an adjunct for a private college, I have witnessed the transformation of a program originally based on emphasizing critical thinking and experiential learning based on social justice to a “feeder” program preparing students for a clinical master’s degree. The transition didn’t occur over night, but it’s clear that soon textbooks and assignments will be dictated to conform to this new “mission” in order to better dressage students to accept a deficit-focused medical model designed to medicate or imprison those on the margins. It’s a mission shared by an increasing number of social work programs, making me remember my reluctance to enter this discipline when I returned to college many decades ago.
How will this focus do anything to help the residents in Detroit who are without water or sewer service because of dehumanizing corporate forces outside of their control? How will it end the outrageous killing of Palestinians while the world watches from the sidelines? How will it help us address the threat of climate change and corporate domination? My answer is that for me, clinical practice represents yet another means of oppressive social control. How will my decision to stop teaching change any of these seemingly complex, insoluble, immobilizing forces at play in the world today? Maybe it won’t. But betraying one’s values and principles teaches something as well.
“My role in the world is not simply that of someone who registers what occurs, but of someone who has input into what happens… No one can be in the world, with the world, and with others and maintain a position of neutrality. I cannot be in the world, simply observing life…. It is not by resignation but by the capacity for indignation in the face of injustice that we are affirmed…. Transformation of the world implies a dialectic between the two actions: denouncing the process of dehumanization and announcing the dream of a new society.” (Paulo Freire, 1998, Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage, pp. 73-74)
I ask “What do my colleagues love to do?” I honestly don’t know because it’s not a subject we speak about. But I can answer this question for myself. I love to teach because it gives me an opportunity to keep learning, and “teaching” has taught me more than all of the textbooks I have read, and I have read too many as my ever-worsening eyesight has frequently reminded me throughout the years. Yet even without teaching, I know I will have many opportunities to continue gaining knowledge, and if I continue to live by ethical principles, there is also the chance to gain wisdom.
To all of the students I have worked with, I say miigwetch (Ojibwe thank you). I have learned so much from each and everyone one of you. Maya Angelou eloquently conveys the most important of lessons I hope we shared with each other.
“I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
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