Since Leaving School…

…I have not blogged, letting a couple of months pass, to clear the shatter of thoughts and feelings tied up with leaving formal ed, waiting, too, for the language to wash over me that could explain where I am and where I’m going. I searched for the words during three weeks with family in Europe and continue to look for them as I weed my vegetable and flower gardens, walk the dog, watch the wildlife raise their young in the fields and woods beyond the house. It’s taking a while to shake the frustration of failing on the inside, about not doing more over nineteen years than help a handful of students trust their creative selves and stop waiting for direction and correction from some external authority.
Rome scene

As excited as I am about my new path into informal learning across a community rather than throwing myself at the walls of the limiting structure of academic institutions, I am sad about giving up. About losing faith. About saying goodbye to my students. And I’m angry. About a lot of what goes on (or doesn’t go on) in formal education. And about the self-congratulatory nature of our institutions of higher learning. I find it galling that during my daughter’s graduation, the presidents of both her college and its umbrella university blamed plugged-in-ness for a lack of time for contemplation, introspection or creativity. What about how we overload our students (and ourselves) with assignments (“if this is Tuesday we’re reading Ulysses” kind of attitude) and the umpteen required courses and the whole notion of majors, and insist on building resumes of activity and accomplishment? How do faculty (and university presidents) build time into syllabi for such introspection, contemplation and creativity? Noodling? Open-ended thinking and conversation? Creative connections? Hmmmm…. How easy to blame iPods and cellphones and virtual worlds and video games for our own lack of balance, our own failure to go into the woods, our inability to quiet ourselves down. Schools are all about noise.

Shuttered Window

I’m tired of writing angry. Frustrated. Negative. And so I have stayed off-blog. Thinking. Feeling. Planning. Noodling. Doing. Tweeting. But not sharing writing longer than 140 characters at a stretch. Not until now. This morning when I whined a bit on Twitter about my lack of posting due to having little positive to say about schools, especially those of a private, liberal arts, expensive nature-Bud Hunt came right out and told me to move past the need to write about formal ed (i.e. get over myself) and write about the new thoughts, the new connections. With that one little nudge, I could feel myself start to shuck that snakeskin of academia and the baggage of nineteen years and be ready to start noodling around out loud about what I’m reading, thinking, dreaming and wondering.

Thanks, Bud. ๐Ÿ˜‰


So here I am:

* Banged up but still breathing after nineteen years in a marginal position within an educational system I no longer believe in.

* Thankful to all of the remarkable young men and women who lit up the classroom over those years, teaching me and themselves as they transcended the limitations of college.


* Jazzed about having this summer to explore my creative work, to think think think, and to connect even more deeply to my family and to the daily rhythms of this glorious piece of land I call home.

* Delighted to stop complaining about the failings of formal education (particularly of higher ed) and instead put my efforts to more positive use by setting up the nonprofit I hope will serve as a nerve center for deep creative learning and connecting using technology within our rural community.

Looking up in Rome

And so here I go, out of school and its mindset, into the summer and into the world.


Stay tuned…


14 Responses

  1. I like how all the pictures you chose were of windows, as you start to open yourself up.

  2. You are such an encouragement and you have given me much hope for my life outside academia. Teaching outside formal schooling is something I am considering after I graduate.
    I’m excited to see what you are going to do and what the future holds for you. And if you ever want this students help you know I’d be more than willing to participate in your adventures.
    Keep on rocking bg!

  3. You’re ever-so-welcome. It was a selfish move; I’m eager to read about what you’re going to do next.

  4. Barbara – I don’t know if this helps at all, but you might read David Brooks’ column for today, I suggest this not to embrace his point of view, but to recognize that the education of poor and working class people, and whether they can improve themselves economically by dint of their own efforts or if they need help but with the right help they can and then what does that right help look like, is likely to become the main societal issue in the years to come.

    So it seems quite possible to me from afar that your new work and what you learn from it could contribute to that conversation and that might help you to shift your focus on what is coming next.

  5. Thanks, Jen–I am drawn to taking pictures of windows and through windows. These are shots from my recent trip to Italy–such windows there! I could spend weeks studying them…and yes, you understood my meaning. I am trying to throw open those shutters!

    Shannon, you have taught me so much this past year–our connected learning relationship exemplifies the possibilities of learning beyond and in spite of the classroom in what just might be a totally edupunk move/groove. (Only today have I dipped back into the blogosphere and discovered what I missed this past month-oh my!) I hope you will indeed participate in the center–I will keep you posted.

    Bud, knowing you are out there reading along is a huge incentive to do this next bit right!

    Lanny, once again you surprise me–this time with your ability to see and to entertain all sides without rejecting them out of hand. ( I might well have passed that piece by with my nose in the air if you hadn’t sent it along.) You remind me of my father who insisted we read a wide range of newspapers before we weighed in during the nightly dinnertime debate on Vietnam, racism, feminism, or whatever the topic of the day. Yes, I am deeply concerned about the divides in our society, the gaps between the wildly wealthy and the rest, and the lousy attempts by those in power (and I include educational institutions in that bunch) to solve our pressing problems that are largely a result of rampant greed and consumerism and the cult of the individual. Yes, that’s the conversation that interests me, and I see this open-learning movement on the Web (collective intelligence) coupled with in-the-lived-community-connection as a way we might actually save ourselves and our planet. I gotta get out there and try to do my part. Thanks, as always, for pushing me.

  6. Welcome back, Barbara. Looking forward to seeing how you see the world now. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Enjoy the fresh air blowing in the windows.

    You grossly underestimate the impact you’ve had on colleagues around the world via your blogging, photography, presenting, being. And for those “handful” of students? They don’t even realize yet what an impact you have made.

    Let the glass be half full, three quarters full, flowing over on the nice wood table. Leave the rest in the rear view mirror and drive on.


  8. It’s great to read you again, Barbara.

    It was very, very hard to leave teaching.

  9. To build on what Alan said, economists believe that what happens at the margins (your handful of students) has a more than proportional impact on the world. I think Gardner blogged or at least talked about a similar topic, how the measure of his success as a teacher may not be the effect he had on the average students, but on the exceptional ones. This is not to bring up the old argument that instructors only like to teach to their best students. You never know the impact your teaching had on the students other than your handful. It may be that they were only the ones that ‘got it’ at the time.

  10. โ€œFailureโ€ what a powerful word.
    Here at the ISTE conference in San Antonio today there are over 10,000 educators and business people working to shift the paradigm for learning. They are advocates and practitioners of collective intelligence, collaboration, authentic, real-life learning opportunities. They embrace the amazing technology that is available

    And so I think the path you have so passionately pursued has not been a failure but just a beginning. Fling open those windows and air out those rooms. There is a whole wide world that needs you.

  11. Thanks, Laura, Alan, Bryan, Steve and Patti, for your responses, your kind words of encouragement.

    I think I need to clarify what I mean here by “failure” and “only touching a handful of students” over the years. Patti, you’re right. Failure IS a powerful word, and one not to be used lightly. My failure is on a local level, a small-elite-liberal-arts-college level, a place that really isn’t yet feeling the winds of systemic educational change in any significant way or wanting to feel them. When I say that I only reached a handful of students, Alan and Steve, I’m speaking once again strictly on the local level. I mean that in the context of a private school, by definition, only the most privileged (with a few notable exceptions) get access to its offerings in the first place. I am appalled by the role of grades, test scores, and resumes in the admissions process. I could go on and on in a fine rant. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    All of my students touched me; all of them touched one another. They were hungry, no, starved, for other ways of engaging with their learning than the semesterized, departmentalized, class-periodized model. They wanted to explore, to noodle, to contemplate, to be playful, to stretch themselves creatively. THAT doesn’t happen in many places in such institutions. Nor does exposure to a range of kinds of people or life situations–more on that in an upcoming post.

    It is precisely because this moment seems so ripe, so filled with potential for people to question school and education-as-industry while embracing open learning, that I leave the safe and known to try something different, to see if I can do my small part to offer alternatives to school-as-we-know-it. I’m delighted to hear that at the ISTE conference, Patti, there’s a palpable sense of embracing a new paradigm for learning. I’m ready to work where real change can happen and make a difference. Windows are open and the glass is more than half full–I haven’t felt this jazzed in a long time.

  12. “Itโ€™s taking a while to shake the frustration of failing on the inside, about not doing more over nineteen years than help a handful of students trust their creative selves and stop waiting for direction and correction from some external authority.”

    As one of those students, I don’t think a teacher, or a person for that matter, could possibly contribute more meaning to this world. Maybe there is some solace in the fact that I, and a few other students whom you deeply touched, are taking an alternative path and keeping in mind, each day, the possibility in this change.

    Remy and I have been interviewing applicants for our fellowship (a project that is dedicated to you) and I’ll tell you, our generation is a different breed than those Phd’s at an NYU graduation ceremony (by the way, you have to see a film, The Visitor to really get you going). I know that in shaping my future and goals, I will not settle for the commonly held belief that it is impossible to combine the number of passions and interests that you have awoken in me; instead I will and have been finding a way to incorporate them all and stay grounded in the real world.

    Of course, I realize that this is easy to say as I’m just starting out, but I do believe that I, and we, can make it happen despite the challenges that we’ll face in this dauntingly new sphere.

    Please don’t lose faith, Barbara. You are an extraordinary person and those 19 years you spend were not in vain. Know that.


  13. I just read the comment you left before mine. This is a tougher battle, but again, I think there is solace in the fact that you forced me, and so many others to not take this education for granted and to spread what we were so privileged to learn to those who were not.

    It’s a chain effect, and like some others said above, you’ll never know the extent of that chain.

    By the way, despite my “techniness” yours is the only blog I read, well besides The Modern Story, so I’m glad to have you back ๐Ÿ™‚


  14. Piya,

    I’m so pleased to see you back here on bgblogging. You are indeed one of the students who inspired me to get even more creative in my thinking and see if centers for community digital learning could in some small way contribute to a positive shift in education. I know that you and Remy have already, in your young lives, made significant contributions with your bold departures from the standard course of study in college–I still quote your blogs when I give talks– digital storytelling fellowship, your teaching lives, your example of living deeply creative and activist lives.

    I have learned a great deal from you two–the classroom time was always magical–and I look forward to hearing all about your teaching adventures. My path is out of the classroom now, but that doesn’t mean that I think everyone should do what I’m doing–at least not yet. We need teachers like you opening up every window of every classroom, asking your students and yourself the tough questions about how they want to be, want to act in this world, and how what they are learning in your courses helps them to answer those questions.

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