When we consider ethics in the discipline, one conversational topic that sometimes comes up is a question of accountability: when people are not being ethical, who is able to step-in and holds folks accountable?
When it comes to the sciences the answer, at least some of the time, is The Office for Research Integrity (ORI). ORI is the entity that is tasked with investigating allegations of research misconduct among many other things. For this post I’m going to focus on one of the cases that ORI investigated last year.
Before you continue to read this post, and for once it’ll be rather short (comparatively, but not by much), take a few moments to answer the above question. While I will be, quickly, linking what I am saying to Freire’s work and thoughts, although I will be assuming relative familiarity with Freire’s problem-posing model and not explaining it, my set-up is going to be non-traditional. In fact, I am going to be pulling from Philip Hallie’s “From Cruelty to Goodness“. Hallie is a scholar who investigated the cruelties of the Holocaust and worked to answer the question I posed to all of us earlier. Given the recent events here at Tech against our Jewish community, it is an answer that I think salient for the critical pedagogy we are investigating this week.
In October of 2015, a cohort of 40 or so people gathered in Squires for VT InterCom training. During the training, one scenario required a person to use a slur word of some kind during the circle to give the facilitators the opportunity to navigate ways of responding to unexpected events in the process of a facilitation.
But, there was a small hiccup. One of the participants, let’s call him J, who wasn’t a facilitator was out of the room when we disclosed who was going to be using a slur word and why. As such, he, a tall black man (these are important demographics to note), didn’t know going into the circle that another person, a white man, had been asked by the trainers to use the n-word during the circle.
The facilitators were brought back in, given their topic, and things started smoothly enough. Then, in the midst of the conversation, the white man used the n-word and a discussion quickly emerged about that word, its use, and possible reclamation by African American and Black folks. J reacted strongly to the use of the term and at one point said “Look, if you use that term again I’m going to have to do something”.
How would you interpret this phrase? How do you think people in the room interpreted J’s response?
When teaching philosophy, especially a course on ethics, it is not uncommon for instructors to challenge their students to do what we call “argument reconstructions”. They are, as they sound, a task that asks students to figure out what the main argument of an article is, how the author supports their argument, and reconstruct it in a manner whereby a relatively intelligent 6th grader (or their roommate…) could understand what is going on.
The game, called The End, is structured such that it asks a number of questions that philosophy classes might include in their curricula. For example, this game allows you to work through views on what exactly you are (a mind? A body? Both?), beliefs about death, fate, whether it important to have children, alterity, etc.
“We will not know our own injustice if we cannot imagine justice. We will not be free if we do not imagine freedom. We cannot demand that anyone try to attain justice and freedom who has not had a chance to imagine them as attainable.” — The Wave in the Mind by Ursula Le Guin (2004, p. 220)
What would a world without oppression look like? What would a world with out gender look like? How about a world without governments, anarchism? How about a world in which women hold positions of power and political rule?
These questions, and more, have been addressed historically, and sometimes only, within the realm of science fiction. Repeatedly, we see questions of dominance, subordination, and alternative possibilities created, destroyed, worked, and rewritten in a genre that isn’t just fiction, but a fiction far removed from the realities and constraints of this world and universe. A fiction in which time travel is possible, dragons fly in space, and tribbles spell trouble.
“He was appalled by the examination system, when it was explained to him; he could not imagine a greater deterrent to the natural wish to learn than this pattern of cramming in information and disgorging it at demand.” The Dispossesed by Ursula Le Guin (1978, p. 127)
Let us start with a story:
The new Jewish bride is making her first big dinner for her husband and tries her hand at her mother’s brisket recipe, cutting off the ends of the roast the way her mother always did. Hubby thinks the meat is delicious, but says, “Why do you cut off the ends — that’s the best part!” She answers, “That’s the way my mother always made it.”
The next week, they go to the old bubbie’s house, and she prepares the famous brisket recipe, again cutting off the ends. The young bride is sure she must be missing some vital information, so she askes her grandma why she cut off the ends. Grandma says, “Dahlink, that’s the only way it will fit in the pan!” 
While this tale, noted by some as a “Tale of the Bungling Bride” trope  and stereotype, has religious connotations (the bride, and it’s always a bride or a woman, is usually said to be Jewish) I want to use it in a way that, perhaps, it wasn’t intended to be used. Rather than use it to have a conversation about how to make roasts or the plausible implications of the parable on religious traditions and practices, I want to use it as a frame for a discussion on education.
When considering values, visions, and missions, universities and colleges are similar to people in that regard. Like people, they can establish their institution as interested or invested in a certain set of interests in the hopes of attracting students (and faculty) who share similar interests, values, etc. and who will help the institution achieve its overall goals and missions. Institution to institution, however, there can be both interesting similarities and differences with respect to the framing of the individual institution’s mission.
Imagine the following: the Twitter accounts for the National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and other government entities belonging to the Interior Department suddenly stop tweeting and go silent. While, in this alternative present, we still know about some of their historical tweets, tweet battles (should they have had any), and other things that had been documented outside of Twitter itself, their Twitter accounts no longer tweet things about bobcats or bears. There is just the memory of what, historically, they had said.
While this is not, currently, the actual state of affairs*, I think we can engage in retrofuturist [retropresentist?] thought and critically ask questions about what such closures would mean. We can also take it a step further and ask the following:
If these Twitter accounts had been for community organizers, anarchists, or folks engaged in anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-____ist work, what would their closure have meant? What would it have meant for pedagogy intended to raise awareness about anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-_____ist work?