Resistance and speaking out

From: Jay Lemke (
Date: Fri Jan 28 2005 - 21:12:42 PST

Thanks for the online and offline responses to my posting about anti-gay
and anti-educational policy by the US Secretary of Education.

In thinking about how to respond, not just to this latest act of evil, but
to the corruption of so much of institutional and political life in our
times, and in the nation where I am, still, a citizen, I have been
considering many alternative courses of action. Some may come sooner,
others later; many are compatible. I think that many of us worry about what
we ought to do, what we can do, and when and where and how.

We are, most of us, not only citizens but educators, researchers, social
scientists, members of university and professional communities, local
communities, ...

We are supposed to be intellectuals, at least in the primary meaning of
people who take ideas seriously and critically reflect on how to think more
profoundly about our lives and our values. So it ought not be beyond our
capacity, or irrelevant to the rest of our professional and intellectual
work, to address issues of resistance, and indeed of aggressive opposition
to policies we detest, the people who impose those policies, the
institutions that embody and enforce those policies. We can also advocate
for and enact our own values and policies, not just in opposition, but
positively and creatively.

Certainly Ken Goodman has been doing this in his area of passion, reading
and educational policy, in opposing not just the simple-mindedness of the
NCLB law in the US, but generally educational policies and programs, and
principles supported by political advocates more interested in their own
power and influence than in the learning or welfare of most US children.

More than one regular here on xmca wrote me to say that in their part of
the world it's perfectly normal to live in opposition, risky opposition and
hidden opposition, to the policies of oppressive governments and to those
governments themselves.

Being fortunate that the US is not yet, I believe, such a dangerous place
for speaking out, it actually seems strange to me that I don't, and think
perhaps most of my colleagues, and perhaps many of you, do not in fact
publicly speak out and say what we REALLY believe.

It strikes me that we are the victims of some hidden cultural norms that
stabilize the status quo, silencing us by our own choice. When what we
really believe seems to us to fall too far outside the mainstream of
opinion in our communities, we are reluctant to speak out. Why? For fear of
being thought extremist and radical? for fear of being marginalized in the
community? for fear of being thought impolite and uncivil? And perhaps for
fear that others may actually AGREE with us, and that we may then have to
collectively face the consequences of our beliefs?

I very rarely if ever, and only among my closest friends, say what I
actually think about matters where my opinions would seem extreme, and
particularly where they are negative and pessimistic. And yet I am as
certain of these opinions and their importance as I am of anything I
publish or say here, as anything for which I know that many people have
high regard for my judgment.

In the field of education in particular, I have realized that there is a
cultural norm of optimism. People in the field of education tend to be
altruistic in intention and optimistic about the possibilities of
improvement and reform regardless of the facts or what we would conclude
from the kind of reasoning we use in our research. I recognize that
sometimes we have to hold on to hope in the face of everything; it is a
human survival trait. And our reason can never be truly certain of the
impossibility of success. But I believe we have become too willing to act
against our own best judgment, or to refuse to make such judgment, because
we do not want to face the consequences. That is not a survival trait.

It may be time to start saying publicly what we really believe about many
of our current social institutions, especially where what we believe is
negative and has important consequences. While we still can.


Jay Lemke
University of Michigan
School of Education
610 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Tel. 734-763-9276

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Tue Feb 01 2005 - 01:00:05 PST