My sister is a florist, so she is wont to notice any and all blooms when we walk down the street together– way more than I do. I often feel guilty for not noticing. I tend to walk quickly and am so concerned with getting to Point B, that I disregard the larger environment I’m in. I guess this is a type of progress gone haywire, that Tsing discusses– a literal physical progression.
Given this, I was really happy with myself when last week (Thursday specifically), I noticed the countless flowers in full bloom on my walk to my parents’ house. It happened to rain earlier that day, and everything felt so atmospheric: the air smelled and felt like it did when I was in elementary school and the school year was waning. When teachers started to pack up books and I got to wear shorts to school. While it was the ending of one thing, it was the promise of something else: warmer longer days, relaxed dinners out with my parents, time being less of a concern. I happened to have gotten my second vaccine that morning. In that instance, I could feel my normal worried sensations relax and I truly just soaked up the environment I was in. Things seemed as if they could get better and allow for some amount of joy.
This week’s readings and assignments ask you (ask us) to look at higher education at a slant. Maybe mushrooms and spark birds have nothing to do with higher education, or maybe they do—but we’re not asking about mushrooms and birds, we’re asking about noticing.
Two underlying questions connect these pieces in my mind:
What preconditions make a certain reality possible?
How might we find delight in that reality?
Here’s more about my noticing for this week, and what it got me thinking about.
I’ve mentioned my walks in Green-Wood Cemetery as an important location for my own noticings. This week, though, I focused on Prospect Park. In particular, I thought about the original caretakers of the land; the ways the park is used now; the places of stillness and the places of joy and the places with barren earth and piles of garbage.
It is easy to notice the beauty of redbuds and dogwoods (and whatever the beautiful tree in the third picture is):
But what about the less obviously beautiful spots? I normally linger in the quiet, peaceful corners, but this time I paused somewhere different.
Here, I asked myself to pause and notice. It’s a still photo, so you can’t hear the sounds, but there was so much joy and vibrancy in the scene. I thought about the bare patches, the leftover garbage—spots where the landscape is not as well cared for, maybe, but also traces of gatherings and celebrations. In COVID times, these residues of outdoor joy are even sharper than usual, since parks are one of the few places we can safely gather.
I thought, too, about who is able to gather and celebrate freely, and who is more likely to have their parties surveilled and put to an end. I thought about whose joy is celebrated in parks, whose gatherings may be bittersweet.
So how does this connect to higher education? I think that these kinds of acts of noticing are necessary in order to have a clear picture of the landscape—to move beyond assumptions or received wisdom and really see what is working in an institution, what is harmful, what might have unintended consequences (good or bad). In higher ed there is so much that is taken as a given without much of a pause to ask why something is the case, and whether or not it is beneficial to the underlying goals. Like we talked about in an earlier week, there’s often a sharp disconnect between stated values (mission statements etc) and tacit values (the structures that govern how the institution functions)—and pausing to notice helps bring the tacit values into clearer focus so that change becomes possible.
In “Spark Bird,” City College professor Emily Raboteau applies this art of noticing to the murals in her neighborhood. From a starting point of murals on closed shop grates, Raboteau’s prose swirls through much bigger patterns.
The murals of the birds do not make these connections: Raboteau does, in her walking, wandering, photographing, thinking, writing. Noticing.
So, in class tomorrow I’ll ask what happens when you (or we) apply this kind of noticing to higher ed, to CUNY, to our departments? Where are there unexpected pockets of joy and delight? Matsutake only grow in pine forests that spring from areas of deforestation—human disturbance and destruction. They spring up on their own, but have never been successfully cultivated. Without the deforestation, the matsutake would not grow. As we consider our own imperfect ecosystems, where might we find the kinds of “patchy assemblanges” that Tsing describes in the ravaged landscapes that nonetheless foster life?
I’ll end with some terms I hope we talk about (in a word cloud, because a linear list doesn’t feel quite right):
With this week’s theme of reconstructing educational spaces I wanted to presence the ways in which I have made some shifts in educational spaces. About 2 years ago I started a student led podcast at an alternative high school I worked at. Below is a podcast we created. Students were able to receive class credit for this as a “Graded Assignment”. Students picked the topic and questions.
What happens when we organize our beliefs? The more we say them, the more marshmallow they sound.
Do we believe in them any more? Where can I find new words? Center for X Where can I use wild words to say what I mean, to find a new divine? to imagine a difference. And do they have to be in English?
Language is clunky. My favorite words no longer describe. I know them too well.
What happens when the cause that martyred my grandma becomes my research interest? Everything is sliced and packaged, and I have no words Except relevant experience.
truth be told it’s been hard completing assignments this weekIf Goes like I’ve been holding my breath. Just a few minutes ago the verdict was right on the George Floyd case and I can’t help but to feel sad and happy at the same time. Justice has been served, but at the cost of another Black life, another life, another personhood.
“I do not know if decolonization is possible and it feels like the term has become a catchphrase. I see decolonization stickers on people’s computers and there’s an irony in that—a sign that our movement has been branded.” (Wilson and Laing, 136)
It’s hard to think about decolonization within CUNY or academia, Part of me wants this work to stay outside of this realm in order to dismantle the systems and structures because, like many, systems it becomes co-opted. Decolonization will become the “it” term for the year. Some funds will be moved from here to there.
I agree with Wilson’s and Laing’s sentiment that decolonization is impossible. The current iteration of America was intentionally established using colonial principles and practices. The same principles and practices now permeate and reverberate through all aspects of society – including education. The roots that were planted when America was founded have now grown and expanded to be culturally all-encompassing. I cannot envision the colonizing web that was created and that has caught so many domains can be untangled without significant collateral and residual damage to the interconnected infrastructures. Then again, maybe that is the point – to rebuild from the ground up.
Rodríguez’s piece underscores a central theme in neoliberal conversations of colonization. Decolonizing means that we rid ourselves of the notion and responsibility of race. We are no longer different, we’re all one, but in being one we all adhere to the same standards: those set in place by the colonizer before race got eradicated.
In reality, decolonization is a challenge to create new systems in light of historical oppression. It’s an opportunity to live devoid of societal conceptions that have ignored the nuanced reality of oppression, disenfranchisement, and the insidious nature of privilege, i.e. rewarding professors for attending conferences of publishing without establishing mechanisms and providing resources that make publishing and conference attendance a likelihood for all academics and faculty members regardless of background or university-type (i.e. waving fees, providing transport, having a readily-available resource board of journals looking for papers).
This week’s reading reminded me of a tweet I stumbled upon at the height of protests last summer. The tweet suggests an alternate reality where we give up on key components of our modern corporate scheme, i.e.: Linkedin, competition, nepotism. The tweet’s writer doesn’t challenge the system to let up on these things, but to give them up entirely, thus making them obsolete and contextless.