Uhm. Yes. Talking Heads. That’s what it all comes back to in the end. 1980. Don’t you even go beyond 1980.

Today seminarian work was wonderful and fraught, frustrating and interesting.  I will say what I fear,  as is my theme here, same as it ever was. ~David Byrne

I was impressed and inspired by Randy Bass on Tuesday. I found him grounded, rational, experienced, personable, and just plain engaging.  Kind of like Goldilocks… just right. And I was thus inspired to think about new models and new visions of what Higher Ed “Gen Ed” might be.  I thought to myself, “Could this be? Oh my goodness Do we really have this opportunity to make a difference?” I was energized.

Today was deflating. I feel embarrassed by my post of yesterday, which was aspirational. I was excited by the prospect, however ill-defined in my explication, of making a real difference. Today, I felt constraint. I felt the padded room and the straight-jacket.  I felt the oppression of misunderstanding and lack of shared vision.

I felt we were first being asked to imagine and then being told to forget about the prospect of imagining. I felt we were told that we were a body to voice opinions, but that these were ephemeral words-the stuff of ephemera– not words of action or change, no weight. In a year, another group of “seminarians” will be engaged to come up with more ephemera, more words without weight or meaning.  And, in the meantime, the decisions will be made and implemented under the guise of collaborative debate. I have seen it before. This execution is much nicer, but I have seen this before. This is a little bit about how I know.

To use Gardner’s phrase of several times this week, “this is above my [our] pay grade.”  I sincerely enjoy talking with and working with you …my colleagues, who I don’t see enough and when I do see you, it is not in productive circumstances (aka committee work).  You guys. I get so enthusiastic when I am able to meet my colleagues in intellectual debate with the hope of real institutional change — change where we can break down silos and learn and talk together beyond institutional minutiae.  Wow. That is powerful stuff. I really like being with you all.

But I am sad because whatever innovative ideas we come up with … we’re just spitting in the wind.

Sorry to be depressing. I really have enjoyed our work together.




4 comments on “And you may ask yourself Where does that highway go? And you may ask yourself Am I right?…Am I wrong? And you may tell yourself MY GOD!…WHAT HAVE I DONE?

  • Patty, I understand exactly how you feel. I am afraid the more knowledgeable I have become about the decision-making processes of public institutions, the more cynical I have become….too. They (we?) employ the rhetoric of imagination and worthy causes only to succumb to the pragmatism of economics….sigh

  • Patty,

    Be careful what you wish for. Were it not for misunderstanding and lack of shared vision in groups such as this one, we would end up with prescriptive administrative controls on how we teach. It is sort like the genius of the U.S. founding fathers, who created a government that can hardly ever agree on what to do — which is a good thing.

    I am not at all depressed by this week’s discussions. As a result of it, some of us will try some new things and, if they work, others will join us. That is a good thing.

  • Thank you for your reply, Professor Gowdy. You remind me of something important and that is that incremental change is a good thing. I agree with you. I am sure that many of the 20 or so people in our group (including myself) will make some forward-thinking revisions based on our conversations and learning this week. We will share this with others. It will grow. That is exciting.

    And you are also right that very often contentious group processes help bridge areas of misunderstanding. That’s at least one definition of process, and as an advocate of the value of process (in thinking, learning, meaning-making) I was remiss and superficial not to remember that.

    I remember early in my career an important mentor of mine chided me for expressing great frustration over the apparently futility of department meetings full of dissent. Nothing was accomplished, I said, and it was so stressful for me. Observing combative exchanges could make me physically ill. He told me that I needed to understand and respect group and individual processes and that I was free to check out emotionally if I needed to protect myself. Some people, he said, (the people that made me most upset and nervous) had to vocalize vituperatively and even stomp their feet and sweat about the forehead, veins bulging, in a public forum in order to work through the problems or changes at hand. For themselves. He was right. Just because I don’t share that particular processing method, I must understand and value other peoples’s ways of processing.

    Thank your for reminding me of this tonight. I am not so unhappy now. My processing was not healthy or productive. I made myself ill. Although I very much enjoyed returning to the 1980s video “Once in a Lifetime”.

    With Appreciation, Patty

  • Thanks for this Patty! And Bob, for this important point:
    “Were it not for misunderstanding and lack of shared vision in groups such as this one, we would end up with prescriptive administrative controls on how we teach. “

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