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Saturday, June 4, 2011

A gigantic ball of irritation...

That's what I had created by Friday morning. I was holding this ball so close to my chest that I could not see its contents. I am quite sure that I've created this ball, manufactured these feelings that I have about what occurs to me as our collective, institutional inertia.

I'm afraid of writing all these things because anyone who is participating in the faculty group could read these thoughts and imagine that I'm making some cloaked personal attack in these words.  It is not at all my intent. (I'm not sure this is a comfort, but when I personally attack someone, it is most certainly direct and there is no mistaking it for anything else.)

There is a way in which we made great progress this quarter in our conversations...we identified the structure that will work, given the comfort levels of the different programs. We also identified the set of courses that we'll begin with...this is a huge step forward, really.

The group is a mix of those who want to participate and those who are functioning as thought partners for the design. Unless we have the actual faculty participants in the room, there is no way that we could have gotten any further than we did.

Then why am I irritated?  There is real sense in me that the way in which we are teaching the students now is a great disservicie to them, to our society at large.  It feels to me that we are essentially burying people alive, yet unable to stop ourselves from this heinous act. You might think I'm being dramatic. No doubt I am. But as an educator, I really believe that everything comes down to education, that it is the means of the future that will be created. And it seems to me that it won't ever feel enough like an emergency to do something bold.

We are held to repeat the old way of doing things. For some of us, it is a genuine feeling of impossibility. There is absolutely no intellectual bandwidth to do anything differently.  We tried to create this for some people this quarter. I'm truly not sure that it created any "space" for them...we'll look at this next week. For others, they genuinely believe that something very valuable will be lost through change. But what is that valuable thing? For many of us, including myself, the valuable thing is my own imagined professional identity. Pete's comment was so insightful, "What is keeping us back is our fear."  It is the fear of failure, the fear of losing what little "expertise distinction" I imagine I have, my fear of looking foolish.  This is what I believe we are often managing, but doing it in a way that overtly appears as managing to "quality of education." Maybe we even believe we are managing quality of education.

Truthfully, I'm irritated with myself for my inability to honestly say what I was thinking in the meeting. Oh, if Matt were there...he has that visceral, guyish honesty that is missing from polite exchanges. I see that I'm afraid of stating how I feel because I'm afraid of offending people. And yet, I know that there is nothing "right" about the way I feel. At the same time, by withholding my thoughts, I am keeping things the way they are.

I feel I have a great deal of maturing to do.


  1. I've been thinking about some of these issues, too. Not so much with this project, but with other conflicts I'm having in other areas of my professional life. I had a conversation last week with a colleague who refuses to say anything that isn't true, which, on the surface, sounds good. But what that means in reality is that he sees only one way to reach a goal. I see many ways, and when possible, I try to avoid directly hurting an individual if I can. That's not always possible, and those conversations are always the hardest. I think that when you have those conversations, you need to plan what you are going to say rather than speaking on the fly. I try to anticipate ways the other person will react and think about how I might respond to those ways. But that's much harder to do in a larger group like ours.

    I also think that it's hard to build trust in one quarter. This isn't to say that I don't trust the participants in the room, but I don't know them very well, and so I am hesitant to "check in" with real problems at the beginning of our meetings. For me, the only way to build trust like that is to have it build over time, and we don't really have the luxury of that in the quarter system. I want to repeat that I don't distrust anyone in the room; but I also don't know them well enough to reveal things that might betray my department or myself.

  2. Kathryn, thank you for these thoughts. I have been thinking about the issue of trust. And I am embarrassed to see in myself that I don't have trust, really. This is why I am not speaking up, because I am afraid that the social fabric of the group is so tenuous that I will rip it by saying what I think. On the other hand, there is an arrogance in that thinking, ...that seems to be "what i am thinking is right." Where I am disappointed is that I didn't inquire into things I heard as differing from what I believe.

    I am not sure how trust is built. My model is that trust can only be given freely , that giving it is an act of vulnerability and faith. In my model, one has to start with believing others are trustworthy, rather than seeing over time that they are. But I freely admit that this is only an espoused model. I can see that I lacked trust, particularly in the last meeting. hmm..