I am slouched in quiet triumph on the Jadud family's squishy green couch: I've finally finished Patti Lather's 1991 book, Getting Smart -- 205 pages of postmodern feminist critical theory on pedagogy. (Lord, is that a mouthful!) And it only took me a month and a half!

You can't speed-read this stuff; there's no objective-fact-picture it's trying to put inside your head. Quite the opposite. It's like trying to summarize poetry; I cannot capture it.

I do not really wish to conclude and sum up, rounding off the argument so as to dump it in a nutshell on the reader. A lot more could be said about any of the topics I have touched upon... I have meant to ask the questions, to break out of the frame... The point is not a set of answers, but making possible a different practice... -- Kappeler, Susanne. 1986. The pornography of representation. Cambridge: Polity Press. p. 212

However, I can (magpie-like) show you a few shiny bits that caught my brain's attention. For instance -- why teachers, classes, schools? What do flipped classrooms and MOOCs and many attempts to "scale" education (in order to "radically change" it) miss about how people actually transform -- why do we need environments, communities?

Coming to a radical new self-conception is hardly ever a process that occurs simply by reading some theoretical work; rather, it requires an environment of trust, openness, and support in which one's own perceptions and feelings can be made properly conscious to oneself, in which one can think through one's experiences in terms of a radically new vocabulary which expresses a fundamentally different conceptualization of the world, in which one can see the particular and concrete ways that one unwittingly collaborates in producing one's own misery, and in which one can gain the emotional strength to accept and act on one's new insights. --Fay, Brian. 1977. How people change themselves: The relationship between critical theory and its audience. In Political theory and praxis, ed. Terence Ball, 200-233. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. 232

There's a steady theme critiquing researchers who seem themselves as liberators, white knights riding in to save others according to their definition of "saved," whether those people want to be "saved" that way or not. Sometimes researchers will assume an intellectual hegemony over theory, doing theory "for" others in an attempt to be The Hero(ine) of The Story -- and to maintain their role as the central character, they position themselves as the bottleneck controlling what can be known and done, what will be written and published and get them tenure. Think "colonialist mentality" -- the Spanish riding in to baptize all the Heathen Indians to Save their Souls -- and by the way, we'll take that gold while we're here. Lather's message is clear: don't do that. You'll become the system you're fighting -- it's just a different binary, a different name, a different distribution of oppression.

(This post meanders from thought to thought; I won't try to get it to do anything else. I'll play with this way of writing/thinking; someday, in my actual prelim document, it'll tighten up, be put into clear order to support distinct points. But not now.)

The world is multivocal, contradictory, impossible to capture -- Lather embraces that, continuously interrupting herself to expose her inner wrestling with everything she can't say, everything she's leaving out, everything she can't understand. The text is fragmentary, incomplete -- all texts are; I will tell you I'm deliberately not wrapping ideas into neat packages because I want you to become an active reader, crawl around, form your own conclusions. At the same time, she wrote a book, frozen in time and print; it has chapters in linear order. We all make compromises. She throws in a poem by Adrienne Rich (I've ruined the precise formatting/typography below):

How can I fail to love
your clarity and fury
how can I give you
all your due
take courage from your courage
honor your exact
legacy as it is
as well
that it is not enough?

It's not enough, but it is enough, because it's all we have and we've got to move forward anyway -- can't be paralyzed by overanalysis, gotta get out and be Productively Lost. When we rip out the notion of complete forensic truth as The Ideal of Knowledge, when we leave the safe harbor of postpositivism for the deliberate unsettleness of postmodernism/poststructuralism, the world gets scary -- but we can be honest about that fear. I can't not feel the fear, and I don't want to hide the messiness -- and that's why I'm here, driving 8 hours every week to learn about postructuralism: it "helps us ask questions about what we have not thought to think, about what is most densely invested in our discourse/practices, about what has been muted, repressed, unheard in our liberatory efforts." (p. 157)

As a side note, the lack of this in so much Free Culture writing (esr is particularly egregrious) has bothered me for ages. Sometimes those writings claim to speak in the All Knowing Thus-It-Shall-Be Voice of the High Priest, and if you didn't know any better, you'd think everyone in the open source / Free Culture movement Thought That Way. Anyone who's been in those communities know they're incredibly multivocal, a large, squabbling, fumbling, loving, mixed-up mess -- but our "core" historical/cultural documents don't sound anything like that! I am grateful for authors like Karl Fogel who try really, really hard to expose their own processes and limitations, and would in general like to write more about this someday.

It's interesting to listen to my own comments in Dr. Lather's qualitative methods class. Most of my classmates are just starting to think about what's not in their data -- the silences, the negatives, how their interviewees "performed" in front of them and how they'd tell a different truth in another time or to another person -- because of course they hear everything and it fits into a coherent narrative! I, on the other hand, worry so much about what I haven't heard, am painfully conscious of performativity, wince at the awkward fragmentation that my texts take on when I'm honest in my analysis. ("Yes, good point. But stop worrying about that, Mel!" is probably Dr. Lather's most frequent response to my questions.)

If there's one lesson I've learned from my OSU classes this semester, it's that the hello-I-grew-up-deaf voice in my head that keeps going "YOU'RE MISSING SOMETHING! YOU'RE MISSING SOMETHING!" is... absolutely correct -- and so what? Everybody else is too. You've all been loved into being anyway. Be conscious of the incompleteness and the imperfection that's in everything, but at some point -- relax! So what? Go do stuff. It'll be okay. Be happy.

So I scribbled what I could on Getting Smart and put it down and picked up Getting Lost (maybe I'll read that one faster) and played board games with Matthew and held Simon and marvelled at his tiny fingers and amusing baby gurgling sounds and ate a brownie and poked a little at my prelim and the notion of teaching professors basic qualitative research methods as a self-reflective technique in faculty development workshops and talked with Carrie and had blueberry beer and potatoes with cinnamon butter and was happy.