On “Consenting to Learn in Public”
I should first say that it took me five months to finally begin writing this post.
I’ve always approached situations slowly, a consequence (I assume) of being a naturally cautious person. My mother likes to remind me of this inclination, calling back to an anecdote that recounts my first five minutes of elementary school. Years ago, she found a videotape that shows me on the first day of school, standing at the doorframe of the classroom for a full five minutes before I actually enter the space. My face is calm and observant as I survey the class and its inhabitants, my eyes neither wide nor narrow. It is only after what I assume to be a quiet deliberation that I step in, feeling certain, feeling safe. It seems I have always had a tendency toward caution and certainty, and I probably will continue to.
Perhaps this is why I’ve chosen a career path in which the presentations, articles, and books I will one day write will have gone through a lengthy process of conception, reworking, and revision. What I share with my colleagues will have been thought through for months or years, undergoing the critical eyes of writing groups and peer review. I will feel certain in the quality of exhaustive research done, feel safe in the community of scholars I write to and for.
I open with this sentiment because it shows how deeply this proclivity toward caution is embedded within me, both in my personal and professional life. And, I think it also serves as one of the points from which this blog paradoxically emerges.
With this blog, I am “consenting to learn in public.”
I first heard this phrase from Dr. Adrienne Keene, an assistant professor of American Studies and Ethnic Studies at Brown, who uses it to describe the work she does on her own blog, Native Appropriations. Although her academic work focuses on Native students and their relationships with institutions of higher education, Dr. Keene uses the blog as a space to begin discussions on Native (mis)representation in media, fashion, etc. and the stakes of those representations. With her more public-facing work, she invites her readers to come along with her as she works through different cultural phenomena, learns from others in the community, and grows in her opinions about issues of amazing complexity and nuance. Nothing she publishes is absolutely definitive—there is always another book to read, another piece of evidence to take into consideration, another point not yet considered.
More than serving as a site for social justice work, Dr. Keene’s writing on the blog exposes something fundamental to thinking and scholarship that is mostly masked in academic publication: processes of knowing and growth. Hers is a process of knowing and growth that is publicly documented. And it deeply inspires me.
It makes me reflect. Why don’t we do this more often as academics? Why do we—or perhaps this is just me—feel capable to share our (my) thoughts on issues only when I have run the literature ragged, mined it for everything I can possibly get? Because so far, the result has been silence. I have said nothing and written nothing public because I do not know everything. (How can any of us?) When it comes to my expertise, I have not felt certain of it, I have not felt safe to share it. There will always be something I have not yet considered.
It is thus both from the realization about my cautious personality and from Dr. Keene’s work that I frame the purpose of this blog. Writing here, I hope to liberate myself from the idea that those who write publicly must have everything figured out. I hope to liberate myself from the conviction that what I think and the way I think can’t change. I hope to liberate myself from the understanding that I shouldn’t show the messy bits until they are polished translucently clean.
This blog is a brazenly public avenue through which I hope to learn and grow. It is a way to document my ideas and the evolution of those ideas—to engage with a community that will productively contribute to that evolution. (Hopefully, my writing will also improve, as I’m not entirely sure yet how to tie my five-year-old self back into this conclusion.)
I’m still learning.