Whatever the Shutdown: “What Are You Going to Do About That?”

10 Oct

The Call 

I can’t help but be drawn to the contemporary (and to my mind contemptible) practices of sequester, stalemate, shutdowns, and certainly-not-science (as in the photoquote above) that spin out daily.

In this contemporary swirl of shutting down – legislatures, minds, and possibilities, I am reminded of the question Hannah Stafford Alexander – my pragmatic, working class, southwestern Minnesota grandmother – put to me whenever I kvetched or opined about matters personal or political:

What are you going to do about that?

And I have opined about the legislators and voters who seem not to understand sociology or statistics or stories or science when they cast votes.  Mostly then I kvetch about us – their teachers – or more accurately, I kvetch about how I presume they had been taught as I had those teachers sometimes, too. The teachers whose “just the facts” presentations of foundational factors, formulas and formulations keep students at a distance from the heart of the matter: the learning-life connections that are complex, compelling and consequential.

I also experienced learning with those teachers who held that disciplinary stewardship involved educating future voters equally alongside fostering next generation of scholars.  The swirl of comments in the current swirl of shutdowns reminds me we need more of that sort of academic stewardship: teaching and learning practices that foster citizenship as well as scholarship. 

Today’s version of the question, then, is more like this:

What am I going to do about that as a faculty developer?

I’m going to point to Parker Palmer’s recent blog post, reminding me of five “habits of the heart “ that can be applied to teaching and learning. For example, in general education courses Parker’s five habits – encompassing fairness, diversity, contraries, agency and community – remind me to think about linking high-level learning as especially important when majors and non-majors interact together on authentic assignments for life-linked learning.

In the face of stalemates, shutdowns, and sequester I will be saying that we need to seed the thinking of non-majors who will become policy-making, ballot-casting, school-funding voters acting on what and how they learn in our disciplinary courses.  No more thinking about weeding non-majors from future course rosters.

Interestingly, Palmer’s five habits align cohesively with the University of Minnesota statement on Student Development Outcomes to be integrated into courses and across curricula.  These affective components of learning are vital to learning for 21st century decision-making.

What would Parker Palmer suggest we begin doing about that?

The Response

Palmer locates the first home of democracy in the human heart. And he names classrooms as places in which the heart gets formed – or deformed.  The heart – the cor (Latin) from which we derive courage, a central component of leadership in classrooms, congregations, cultural and community groups.

In the excerpts below, I’ve noted each habit, quoted a brief passage, and linked these habits of mind and behavior and heart to Student Development Outcomes (SDO).  The Resources section includes links to both primary resources.

1.  An understanding that we are all in this together.
     SDO:  Independence & Interdependence

Despite our illusions of individualism and national superiority, we humans are a profoundly interconnected species – entwined with one another and with all forms of life…. We must embrace the simple fact that we are dependent upon and accountable to one another, and that includes the stranger….

2.  An appreciation of the value of “otherness.”
     SDO:  Appreciation of Difference

The good news is that “us and them” does not have to mean “us versus them.” Instead, it can remind us of the ancient tradition of hospitality to the stranger and give us a chance to translate it into twenty-first century terms. Hospitality rightly understood is premised on the notion that the stranger has much to teach us. It actively invites “otherness” into our lives… to embrace the creative possibilities inherent in our differences.

3.  An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways.
     SDO: Tolerance of Ambiguity

Our lives are filled with contradictions…. If we fail to hold them creatively, these contradictions will shut us down and take us out of the action…. The genius of the human heart lies in its capacity to use these tensions to generate insight, energy, and new life.

4.  A sense of personal voice and agency.
     SDO: Self Awareness
     SDO: Responsibility & Accountability

[M]any of us lack confidence in our own voices and in our power to make a difference. We grow up in educational and religious institutions that treat us as members of an audience instead of actors in a drama, and as a result we become adults who treat politics as a spectator sport. And yet it remains possible for us…to learn how to speak them, and know the satisfaction that comes from contributing to positive change – if we have the support of a community.

5.  A capacity to create community.
     SDO: Goal Orientation
     SDO: Resilience 

Without a community, it is nearly impossible to exercise the “power of one” in a way that allows power to multiply…. But creating community in the places where we live and work does not mean abandoning other parts of our lives to become full-time organizers. The steady companionship of two or three kindred spirits can help us find the courage we need to speak and act as citizens. There are many ways to plant and cultivate the seeds of community in our personal and local lives.



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