Today marks my 20th year of entering college classrooms in the role of instructor, sage, guide on the side, teacher, professor, provocateur. Our mission, as I understand and accept it, is to subvert with the appearance of conformity. Lucille Clifton, Paulo Freire and James Baldwin are my models. My role is that of witness. I am not given to shrinking from harsh realities or tender truths. I try, as Parker Palmer instructs, to hold the tensions between the two with the grace of a fractured soul. Self-knowledge is shared power.
“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
–Paulo Freire, Banned author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Fifteen of 18 registered students were present and accounted for. I did not let the room change, non-cooperative computer, non-responsive HELP Desk or growling tummy get in the way of having a blast and drafting everyone to my 8-week party celebrating 20 years on the front lines of education. I even left, outside of consciousness, the images of the student whose smoke I was forced to share to get out of my building, and the frown of the VP who did not acknowledge my greeting and gratitude for accepting grill duty on the first day of the semester.
I was consoled by a colleague’s thanks after class for a workshop I co-facilitated on resilience and motivation last week, and another colleague’s bringing a student by to meet me because the student and I have things spiritual in common. On balance, after so many years of braving the campus and classroom, my good days outweigh my bad days. I won’t complain.