Carol A. Hand
It’s already late when I awake this morning, but it’s hard to kick off the comfort of the pile of warm blankets to greet the day. I can feel the cool air on my face. Yes, it’s that time of year. My room upstairs will be at least ten degrees cooler than the downstairs in this old house with rickety windows and no insulation in the walls. But it really is warmer than my bedroom in a cabin with no heat that I once lived in. I survived with a bigger pile of blankets, gloves, and a winter hat, being grateful for my relative comfort as I remembered the stores of elders. They needed to brush off the snow that covered beds in the drafty attics, hoping their parents had started a fire to thaw out the water so they could wash after they trudged to the outhouse through deep snow. (I’ve done that, too but that’s another story.)
I realize it’s the first morning that I didn’t automatically reach for the clip to hold my back my hair, forgetting that I cut it a couple weeks ago. Maybe it’s because I’m still lost in the first thoughts that were running through my mind as I awoke. Academia and the trauma wrought by gatekeepers! I’m not sure I will ever understand why some instructors feel it is their duty to protect the world from the dangerous classes – those who see the world differently and express themselves in unique ways.
Photo: Ava, Pinto, and Me – October 2015 (with shorter hair)
I had hoped that cutting my hair would reduce not only the physical weight of a heavy burden of hair I carried everywhere, but also would put to rest the memories my hair carried from the past challenges I encountered when I tried to buffer students from this particularly destructive academic trend. Yet today I find myself once again working through anger and disappointment as I prepare to meet with a former student who is dealing with a gatekeeper who seems determined to prevent degree completion.
What makes me both angry and disappointed is the failure of institutions to be honest about what they really value – graduating students who dutifully conform to standards that will make them docile workers incapable of critical thought and creativity. Those who will never question the legitimacy of authority or social conventions. Instead, these are the values the academic institution proclaims to the world as their foundation in their never-ending advertisements on the classical public radio station I listen to every day.
Image: Benedictine Values (Source)
I’m not a religious person. If I need to label myself, perhaps it would be as an eccentrically spiritual humanist. Nonetheless, these are certainly values that I can agree with outside of the narrow confines of religious doxology. There are many differences between this student and me, yet I respect her many gifts and in the past, worked with her to help her succeed with the tasks that she found difficult. I took time to get to know how far she traveled in life before she found the courage and passion to return to school in order to help others who were still struggling with challenges she had been able to overcome. My job as an educator was to help her discover and express her potential, not dressage her to fit into society’s notions or mine about what she should be.
When my former student and I met later, I discovered that the gatekeepers had eroded her passion and belief in herself. It’s how the gatekeepers remain in power. There was a time in my life not too long ago when I would feel the need to enter oppressive settings to try to model another path.
Now, I realize I did so at great peril, and I think about the symbolism of names. My name, carol, at least in my mother’s mind, meant “song of joy,” “the one bright light in her life.” There are few things that frighten gatekeepers more than kindness and joy. They form alliances to eliminate this threat to their control. I remember the “magic chair” I had in one university where students learned to laugh again. In another university, it was a hall of laughter that I was able to create with my friend Cheryl Bates, a “safe zone” in many regards where students could come for mentoring and advice.
Now, I write about oppression and possibilities, remembering the importance of modeling hope and joy especially in places and times of darkness. Joy and gratitude are states of being I need to cultivate within myself, but I feel the need now to surround myself with people who keep compassion and joy alive in their work. Thank you, my virtual friends. Your work gives me hope.
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