Cycle of Liberation

Chart developed by Bobbie Harro (School of Human Services, Springfield College), circa MM.

The hub of this freedom wheel brings me back to one of my favorite Alan Watts essays, “Play and Survival,” in which the great Zen guru defines his version of the “spiritual base” like this: “Each one of us is a flowing, and if you resist it, you go crazy. You are like somebody trying to grab water in his [sic] hands — the harder you squeeze it, the faster it slips through your fingers.”

We’re daily reminded of our perpetual “flowing” when the efficiency gurus push us ever closer to the crazy zone. Of course Watts is talking here about a different kind of “resistance,” the kind that makes it tough (down in the core) to engage in this struggle with any kind of sustained energy. Key to our process (and therefore our “cycle”) is knowing when to go with the flow — maintaining balance — and when to do whatever it takes to stop (obstruct, derail or at least slow) the action.

Anyway I like this liberation rubric and the overall flow from “critical incident” to spreading hope — with solid stretches of coalition building, action planning, anger management and policy transformation along the way.

Watts would remind us to enjoy the ride, too. Play and survival. Or this earlier in the same essay: “Life is like music for its own sake.”

You Say You Wanna (Blog) Revolution

Spent some quality downtime with the team last night. Despite deep fatigue and occasional waves of frustration, the mood overall was positive and like usual we couldn’t help but get to work, dreaming up possible futures over cheese tray and dark chocolates.

Below is a kind of draft mission or prospectus for a new blog dedicated specifically to radical education research and writing:

Teach 4 Democracy (dot net) [working title]

Some of us have had enough and are ready to start blogging! The proposed site will do many things — report out, analyze, catalog, document, clarify, unravel, situate, record, summarize, interpret, explain, consolidate, review and respond (among other things).

The main focus (if I understood right) will be community college education in the context of larger historical and institutional forces.

The rationale (mood) informing the effort goes roughly like this: We stand witness to some pretty bad times in higher education, and there are forces at work whose scientific value (see quote upper right) remains to be seen. The goal for T4D (tentative domain) is to document those forces and report on the action, as we see it, while also pointing the way forward for educators committed (despite the odds) to teaching for democracy.

Audience: We will research and write for interested readers (in education and beyond) and for ourselves. The site will function as news source, research center, information clearinghouse, but also as a channel for venting frustrations, unraveling ideas and exploring the dark complexities of today’s reformist agenda.

Caveat: We understand that community college education is not one thing but many different things (institution, culture, labor environment, industry, political arena, academic setting, social space, and much more). It is also a place where much good can happen, particularly where learning is taken seriously as critical democratic practice and transformative process and not just (or merely) a means to some other end.

We also recognize that what’s bad here is a lot worse elsewhere, and some evil in our world has no scientific value. It’s important to know one’s place and be real about what the real threats are and who, really, stands to suffer most when bad things happen to real people. That tension will also inform the reports in this blog.

Should it ever happen.

Against Misery

Often most upsetting is the yawning divide separating their vision from ours. We use the same words but with different meanings. Action verbs signal progress and movement for us, for them hurdles and obstacles. At heart are basic ideological and philosophical differences. Scanning their presentation slides is often like reading a language beamed in from another planet.

Talking it through with C__ the other day we realized the utter futility of our actions. D__ insists we are winning, will win, and there’s a refreshing humor in his bold refusal to take seriously their diurnal attempts to throw another wrench into our design initiatives, which on the surface at least they have accepted, but even that’s another word whose meaning is up for grabs.

But even if we do ‘win,’ where will that leave us? To win with this regime may be just another form of losing. To survive is to harvest yet another day on a path that leads nowhere. Everything has changed, very basically, as the result of a fundamental shift in purpose. We ride along and do our best to fight the good fight, but now we’re starting to see the fight itself is just another symptom of a disease out of control.

So we settle on our own preferred metaphors — the dark lord, the undead, the plague, the Borg — because we want to isolate an external, archetypal, primeval cause against an otherwise banal landscape of business-as-usual. But the dreaded illness is not out there or down there (downtown) but everywhere, and we in our concerted efforts are also carriers. In short, we want to pretend we can stop change that has already happened. The sun has set and yet here we are trying desperately to spoon the Night back into the void.

Therein lies our miserable condition. But obviously we’re against that. We have different plans and those plans are like the party favors of our foolish, undying optimism. If nothing else we’re putting a lot of TIME (on their dime) into squaring a curricular future for the oblong holes of their whacked out reinvention. Our version of all this may not fit, in the end, but our design choices and practiced maneuverings up against the stultifying crap they’re proffering will at least leave something for the next group to chew on. Hence the ultimate importance of, if nothing else, getting all this on record.

Slip & Slide

We feel the need to get things done, and quickly. Time may not be the enemy, but it is of the essence, and we’re running out.

And yet our working meetings, always launched with the best intentions, keep morphing into strategy sessions required  to fend off the latest volley from downtown. Their goal, as always, is to stave off even the smallest accomplishment, so our work gets swallowed up, disappearing down the maw of institutional inertia.

I guess operational momentum requires that kind of constant slippage — the slow slide (drain) from one day into the next, never really getting anywhere, but always giving the appearance of making enormous strides.

Hence the need on their end to coordinate lots of EVENTS, RETREATS, DISCUSSIONS, and of course never-ending MEETINGS to keep the slide nice and slippery.

And I can’t help but return always to the language. To an emerging glossary of the critically undead, let’s add:

  • educational coherence
  • streamlined requirements (and program streams)
  • reduced redundancy
  • predictable schedules
  • smart offerings

Words in bold are the fuel cells for their off-world battlestar.

There’s nothing like a rhetoric of smart coherence to mask the incoherent short-sightedness of a broad-based dumbing down — because ultimately that’s the goal, to make life easier by reducing and narrowing choices, meanwhile marketing the whole thing as a shift toward ever-greater abundance, as a streamlined path to getting exactly what you want, when you want it.

The Walmartification of higher ed, wherein “Save money. Live better” translates to “Save time. Learn better.”

Slip sliding away.