Sticks and Stones . . . and Trigger Warnings

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Why do we educate? To meet a demand? What kind of demand are we addressing? I’ve been thinking about what it means to educate as opposed to teach. And then as I read, yes, The Atlantic, there was an article  related to my ruminations. In “The Coddling of the American Mind,” Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt address the limitations that are being heaped on professors as they work to provide students with reliable and unabridged content in their classrooms. This is really a tangled and complex subject to discuss and cannot fully be addressed in a single blog post, but the core of the issue, to me, is this: Anyone able to access higher education (i.e., they have graduated from high school) is presumed to be old enough and academically experienced enough to engage in open discussion and debate in relation to specific subject matter that is voluntarily received (i.e., attending college is optional, not compulsory).

Even the required core courses can be dropped and taken another time or online if a student does not like the professor, classmates, or topics. So, is it really necessary, even logical, to put the onus on the professors to offer Trigger Warnings to students in case an individual has experienced some form of trauma that may or may not be triggered by a reading, discussion, or even word that no one not related closely to said student could possibly predict? Can the individual even know ahead of time that something may trigger him/her? If the student does know that they cannot tolerate certain subject matter, shouldn’t they be obligated to ask the professor the overall trajectory of the course’s subject matter? Isn’t that what the first day and the syllabus are for?

Now, for those who think in terms of difficult schedules and the student’s inability to simply drop or change classes without their entire academic or work schedule being dismantled or seriously affected, I ask: Isn’t life littered with such inconveniences and dilemmas? What happens if someone breaks their leg and their job entails moving around quite a bit?  Does this mean the employers change the nature of the job or the employee figures out how to do the job, take a leave of absence, or go on disability? The latter of course.

So, if a student cannot tolerate, for any reason, the nature of the subject matter in a course, the course does not need to change, the student must regroup and figure out how to work with the need for change. Like an employee, the student can always approach the professor or the Chair or the Dean and discuss possible alternatives. BUT if the alternatives change the nature of the learning outcomes for that course, the student then is not actually engaging in that class. This then means the student must meet their objectives for core coursework or major concentration by changing classes, period. The student must acknowledge that there is more personal work to be done before they can fully engage in their academic ambitions.

There is no law or rule that says one cannot return to school when more mature, secure, or confident. After all, putting education on your terms is not about treating learning like a commodity or creating a rigid protocol on what you are willing to encounter, but acknowledging that you have limitations to overcome and strengths to draw from and taking the responsibility to make the changes and adjustments needed rather than forcing very carefully considered and scheduled materials to be altered.

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Now Arriving, 7th Chakra

Trust. Faith. Courage. Inspiration. Devotion. No need to watch your step as you leave the elevator, you know you will touch solid ground.

Yes, messages arrive when you are ready for them. Looking for these messages is fine, but you can’t rush the connection. This resounded for me when I attended a workshop one Friday offered by a man named Dalien (aka Thirteen Hands: http://www.13hands.com) at Sphericality in Flemington, NJ. This building is an amazing place to study yoga as it reminds me very much of the wonderful old brownstones and pre-war buildings I’ve lived in Baltimore and NYC. Large windows. lovely wood floors, high ceilings. But even if the location were not ideal, the workshop would have made it so. I attended solely because I’ve been to one other workshop of his and loved it. I did not actually know ahead of time what the focus would be. This is my lax attention span, not his or the studio’s lack of info. Either way, I was gently elated when I found out we were going to work very much in faith and trust. My hardest nuts to crack!

Faith and trust. Faith in my ability. Trust in the outcomes. They can’t be man-handled into submission and agreement. They need to be allowed to form and be welcomed no matter their timing. I rely on them every time I begin a semester of teaching. Nope, not a wing and a prayer. I have too much experience to just hope it will all work out. My effort creates the results. The kind of effort is what gets particular results. I plan, revise, and remain flexible as I see the ability and interest level of my students. None of this can make it absolute that the semester be successful. I need to have faith in all of my experience and trust that I will continue to let myself learn from it. I trust that the students have faith in their own abilities and trust that I am pushing them for their sake, not for the sake of creating rules to enforce.

Courage is a tough one. We can believe that faith and trust will keep us focused and hopeful, but it takes a certain fortitude to actually act upon our mantras and intentions. Can you challenge your natural or learned inclinations towards self protection when your abilities and even your integrity are challenged? After all what happens when you have faith in your talents and trust in your learning and training and then bomb at your first attempt to teach, sing in public, even just speak up on behalf of an unpopular idea? This is where courage comes into play. There is no guarantee that your faith and trust are enough for success. Experience is important too. To be able to apply your talents strongly and consistently, you’ll need experience. That means making mistakes or being stumped and having to find solutions on the fly. This is where courage comes in. Face the possibility of failure and even embarrassment while you maintain your faith and trust in your ultimate success.

Inspiration. Perhaps this should be listed first, but as it does for me, it appears at many stages in your practice. My own journey of teaching did not actually start with inspiration. I did not have any intention of pursuing this aspect of my career. I kind of fell into it via a casual conversation at a conference with a colleague. That was 9 years ago. The inspiration came when I was assigned my first composition classes. It was time to create the best syllabus I could based on advice and experience of other colleagues. I had faith in my ability to write and communicate well. I trusted myself to do my best for the students’ sake. I had the courage to try this because I’ve been in front of audiences before when I sang or when I competed at horse shows. The failure had already happened and I was still alive. The successes had been experienced so I knew to look forward to the peaceful feeling of release of effort. But what keeps you going? Inspiration. Even the most satisfying job or hobby becomes stale if you don’t keep reaching to learn more, to discover new layers of ability. Don’t hit a wall and stagnate while others pass you by and continue to be filled with wonder and curiosity.

Inspiration cannot be forced, it can only be found. All you can do is live every day mindfully. Let yourself engage in every experience, good or bad, and find the  lesson in each. Take every chance to explore new places and ideas because you never know what will ignite that fire and send you on your way.

We now come to devotion. If you don’t have a true connection to your practice or profession, no amount of inspiration can become more than momentary. How many people have told you about their great ideas that were actually really great but that stopped at being thoughts only? I’m guilty of this myself. It’s especially frustrating when someone else has has a similar idea and not only believed in it as a reality, but made it one. Some of us are idea people. We are better at the formulation of an idea and knowing the market for the product. Then, when it comes to following through and going through the tedious or slow process of building on the inspiration and actually recruiting like minds, finding funding, promoting the project or product, your sails slacken. We can all sit over a glass of wine and change the world. Early morning hours of stillness are when I am certain I’ve got the solution to a particular problem or think of something I feel must be written about. The next morning of business, phone calls, house keeping, etc. takes a whole new kind of attention from me and sometimes pushes that dawn-inspired elation to the sidelines. It’s up to me to hold onto my intentions and stick to my intentions, my practice, my effort.

So, as you go into the new year, keep in mind what you have just read, and, hopefully, your 7th chakra will feel like a solid floor to step out onto.