Values That Matter

How do you organize for action in an education sector that’s as fractured as glass, ripped by conflicting opinions, and undergoing seismic economic and technical shift?  Over at IDEA they have spent years getting clear on their values, honing them again and again, making mistakes, trying again, and showing up for the work.  This graphic is as clear an expression of the work as I’ve seen, and a good set of values to be alive in.

What do you value?

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Saint Francis and The Sow

Sow and poem copy

For the upcoming work Teaching From The Heart: Poetry That Speaks To the Courage To Teach, edited by Megan Scribner and Sam Intrator, I wrote about this poem by Galway Kinnell.  The poem is central to my work as a teacher and a coach, and to several important turning points in my life.  A portion of this reflection will appear in Teaching From the Heart, due out later this year.

 

At a fortunate point in my life, I was trained by Parker Palmer, a spiritual teacher and moral philosopher of great proportions.  During this particular training, we wrote and shared a “where I’m from” poem, and then read them to each other in pairs. Embarrassingly, I got paired with Parker. My “where I’m from” poem was unlovely, full of ordinary ugliness: about the hollow core doors and wall-to-wall carpeting of the home where I was born; of the children of immigrant farm workers who were outcast, silenced and marginalized in the schools where I grew up; of my longing for escape from a town where strip malls and cheap development housing were eating up beautiful farmland.  Parker sat listening to me–I hardly knew him then–with calm, unanxious attention, with trained spiritual attention, seeing me, taking me in, not judging me but listening with present, quiet kindness, witnessing and allowing a budding self blessing in me–hand on my forehead all the way down to the spiritual curl of my tail.  At the time, the moment seemed insignificant, an exercise quickly passed over.  And yet as I look back on it, it was the birth of a new chapter of my life, a muted beginning of compassion for myself and my own strained and misfitting early life.  I began to discover my own sense of sureness beneath the unsureness, of the power of showing up as myself, however flawed, unglamourous and hollow-core-doored I might be.

As a teacher, I often think my work is fundamentally about reteaching a thing its lovliness.  My students enter my classroom filled with self-doubt, with harsh self-biographies and self-evaluations, filled with stories about unworthiness and not-enoughness for which they often compensate with cockiness and overconfidence.  They have been told, in an enormous number of ways, that they aren’t good enough, aren’t smart enough–or conversely, that winning the game of school is all that matters–and underneath they’ve become cynical and self-doubting.  As teachers we sometimes have glimpses of the greatness that lies beneath this accreted shell, the budding flower that lies below the hard spiny spikiness.  In some teaching moments–when we’re present and quiet and settled in ourselves–we are given the gift of bearing witness to our students as they flower from within, as they self-bless, as they quicken with interest in themselves.  We are given the gift of seeing our students, of observing in them something they don’t see in themselves. It is our work to bear witness to that: to help them catch glimpses of themselves and their own great promise.  So when I sit with a group of students and that magical thing begins to happen, that sometimes seems to me the most central miracle of all: when we become interested in ourselves in new ways, and see our great completeness and simultaneous rooting to the ground–I’m reminded of this poem.  I’m reminded of that moment with Parker.  For me that’s come to be at the center of my work, the sense that we all need someone to bear witness to us, to listen with quiet spiritual presence, or to cheer us on, to help us remember, snout to tail down our thick length, our emergent and eternal lovliness.

Show Up As You

Elijah Hodge, Retention and Intervention Specialist at Phoenix Charter Academy Chelsea, takes Child's Pose.

Elijah Hodge, Retention and Intervention Specialist at Phoenix Charter Academy Chelsea, takes Child’s Pose.

(Guest Post by Sarah Miller, Chief Academic Officer of Phoenix Academy Network.) This graduation speech was written and delivered by Sarah Miller, CAO of Phoenix Charter Academy Network at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, Massachusetts on June 13, 2013. Phoenix Charter Academy Network is a group of schools in Massachusetts that serves high-school age students who have become disconnected from academic environments, and offers them support, structure and motivation to complete high school and go on to higher education.  Phoenix Charter Academy Network is a group of schools I have worked with for nearly a decade, and my pride at the 27 graduates of this year’s class, many of whom are the first in their families to go on to higher education, is unbounded.  I was moved by Sarah Miller’s call for authenticity in this speech, and her naming the difficulties of being authentic, no matter where we are in our lives or what our developmental phase.  This speech touched the audience watching these beautiful young adults graduate by calling out an essential human challenge: to be ourselves and to show up as ourselves in a world that often does not support authenticity or realness.  A powerful human observation, wrapped in a  graduation victory gift.  

Hello Graduates. I am really honored to be standing here with you, to get to share this stage. Today, I want to talk to you about authenticity: authenticity and honesty.  And to do that, I need to talk to you about my yoga class. I really love my yoga class.  I really, really love it.  And one of the reasons I love it is that it’s totally acceptable to go to yoga and just do this for an hour and a half.  You can go, walk in, and sit on the floor the entire time.  Because this is an actual pose in yoga.  It’s called “child’s pose.”   And many teachers will tell you that child’s pose “is always on offer.” And what this means is that no matter what the rest of the class is doing, you can always just sit….just rest….just be yourself.  No matter what everyone else is doing, you can just sit down and relax.  Child’s pose is always on offer…it’s always there for you.   So the rest of the class might look like this:

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And you might just feel like sitting like this:

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Many of you already know that we get so many messages about what we need to be or need to do or should want to be or should want to do that figuring out who we are as individuals really is quite difficult. Our families, our friends, our society, our TV shows, our movies, our Facebook pages, our iPods, our schools all send us messages about what we should be or do. But just knowing you are getting messages about how to be isn’t enough.  You have to do more, you have to be different, bigger than a person who just “knows.” And this is my challenge to you:

  • Without demerits or detention or a Dean, figure out what’s right to do and do that thing, regardless of what other people around are saying or doing.
  • Without grades or AP scores (clap for our first Advanced Placement students ever) figure out what you want to learn about and learn it deeply all the time. Just learn all the time.
  • Without Instagram or Facebook or Twitter, develop actual friends who are real and who matter and who inspire you to be and to give and love you for who you honestly are.
  • Without the Oscars or the VMA’s or the Billboard awards, pick your favorite music and listen to it relentlessly.

All the stuff I just mentioned doing is pretty typical for a graduation speech and they all bear repeating because doing these things is really, really hard.  Going your own way and being you is really hard, even if you think it’s not–it totally is.  And this is exceptionally true if you’re at all competitive.  Because sometimes in life, you’ll feel like you’re being asked to do this (metaphorically, of course):

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Everyone around you might be able to just like handle it.  All the people next to you on the T or on the bus or at work or at school might just be able to go ahead and do that (metaphorically, of course).

You might just be thinking, “I just wanna do child’s pose.”  I wonder how many of you would? I wonder how many of you would just do what you feel like you want or need to do? I wonder how many of us, the grown people in the audience, your children, yourselves, all of us: I wonder how many of us really have the strength to do what we want and need in life? So, who cares?  What’s the real point?  It’s not yoga, that’s not the real point.  I don’t really want you to sit like this, I want something much more extraordinary for you.

Because I have a grave concern and deep worry. I worry about a world where we don’t think and act independently.  I worry about a world where we just do what we’re told and act in a way that everyone else does and nothing more.  I am gravely concerned about a world where we just do or be without thinking because it seems convenient.  So, I’m challenging you today to think, feel and act in the world with one word in mind: AUTHENTICITY.  As I’ve come to understand it, and I know I’m not old enough to really know but as I’ve come to understand it, being authentic and working through all this life stuff as an honest individual turns out to be one of the greatest challenges you’ll face. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of times in your life where you’ll actually need to conform.  You’ll need to be like others and “go with the flow”.  That’s cool, sometimes you need to just drive in the right direction (this time I mean this both literally and metaphorically). But you have to decide when that’s going to be.  And you have to decide for you. And my hope is that you can figure out how to surround yourself with people who can help you be more and more authentic and honest the older you get, people who help you be more you.  In a world that’s sending you messages to conform and think the same, find the individuals that help you be you. Because sometimes, you’ll need and want to be like this:

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Sometimes you’ll need to be purple in a sea of gold, or say no when others say yes, or stand up for yourself, or go against the tide, or decide you don’t actually like Beyonce or whatever seems to be the popular opinion.  (For the record I think Beyonce is just fine….). And doing all this real activity takes real strength, real, deep-down, authentic and honest power.

So, in this new stage of life, I hope for you the strength to handle life with this kind of calm clarity, I wish you the strength to hold yourselves up, to be yourselves and trust your authentic self, and to be good with that–with you.  And I want you to know that Child’s Pose is always on offer.  It’s you that has to decide the difference.  When do I stand up?  When do I give into what I want? What do I authentically need/want/demand of myself? And with those questions asked and unanswered, I offer you luck.  I love you all a lot and am wonderfully excited that we are sharing you with the world in a more official way. So go on college, trade school, jobs go on, go out and do whatever that really, honestly means. Congratulations.

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THE MINDFUL SCHOOL LEADER

ssoosay’s Simple iphone Lock Screen Mindfulness Reminders (on Flickr)

(A version of this post is currently running at Education Week, and is written by Kirsten Olson and Valerie Brown.)

The work of skillful, mindful leadership in education has never been more challenging.  Only this morning, a lively, Twitter-connected and forward-thinking superintendent wrote to one of us describing her sense that the pockets of innovation and exemplary teaching in her district,  “aren’t even scalable to our 726 square miles,”  although she has been leading this work for many years.  She is considered highly successful, yet she often feels overwhelmed and burned out.

A recent informal survey of school administrators conducted by Jerry Murphy, former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education (and our colleague in the exploration of self-compassion), showed that among his sample of school leaders attending a professional program on the inner work of leadership,  89% reported feeling overwhelmed, 84% neglected to take care of themselves in the midst of stress, and 80% scolded themselves when they performed less than perfectly–conditions under which few of us are primed to be our best or perform optimally.

Finally, at the most recent Educon meeting, we talked with a group of educators about the political and personal work needed to transform the educational community.  Many described the need to find external community–a group of like-minded colleagues to find courage and support (many educators are finding these communities online)–but also of the need for an internal set of  resources, to provide ballast and calm in the high seas of their chaotic professional environments–to create “permissioning,” as our friend Chad Sansing describes it.

How do we develop both? The capacity to maintain community and conviction for the work one is engaged in–particularly challenging for educators at this moment–and also the internal poise and sense of calm purpose to guide us across the rocky shoals of teaching and leading in our sector?

As mindfulness practitioners with long histories in chaotic, demanding industries, we believe developing simple, daily practices around calming, meta-reflection, pausing, and renewing are central to the work we are trying to accomplish, and vital to tapping the creativity and sense of possibility required to transform our education sector.  As leadership coaches believe our clients are already creative, resourceful, and whole, yet we know in practice, access to creativity and innate wholeness is often illusive for many of our clients.  As Westerners too, we often try to “think” our way into a sense of calm, and underestimate the power of developing daily activities, rituals, and skills that help us focus, get grounded, and center.  We have become convinced that the development of  mindfulness practice is a central piece of courageous, sustainable leadership in education–and greatly undervalued.   And we know that developing mindfulness is not easy.

FINDING MINDFULNESS

One of us (Valerie) first tried a mindfulness meditation class 18 years ago as a way to get relief from a relentless schedule as a lawyer-lobbyist.   In the meditation class the instruction was simple:  Let go of thoughts as they arise. See them like clouds floating in the sky.  “I wrestled with myself.  I tormented myself.  I tied myself up in mental knots.  This seemed so simple and yet, my mind was racing from thought to thought:  I’m sleepy. My back hurts. When is this going to be over?  On and on it went like that for two hours until the final bell rung and the meditation came to an end.  I thought to myself, What a disaster! Oh, well.  I’ll come back next week, and this time, I’ll get it right.  I have been coming back to Monday night meditation, now for almost two decades.  Over time, I have learned skillful means of extending mindfulness into my daily life.”

MINDFULNESS– -SKILLFUL MEANS FOR SCHOOL LEADERS

Mindfulness meditation, the practice of nonjudgmental awareness of what is happening inside and around us in the present moment, is innate to every person.  Mindfulness is a central element of Buddhism and is more than 2500 years old.  It was developed to enhance awareness and wisdom to help people live each day with greater ease.  Today, decades of clinical research supports the use of mindfulness practices, which have been widely adapted across disciplines.

Mindfulness goes deeper than simply generating feelings of relaxation and calm, or developing a toolbox of techniques. It is an embodied practice that creates an inner balance that allows for greater emotional stability, with clarity to act and respond with greater understanding.    Unlike apathy or indifference, mindfulness trains us to accept the moment, without judging it, without the constant running commentary, conceptual elaboration and emotional reactivity about our current condition or our current state of mind.   Awareness and acceptance are the important steps toward transformation.   Mindfulness is not about removing all thoughts (which is not possible anyway), or striving for a particular feeling of bliss.  It isn’t about mastery of the mind over body, or ‘being in a zone’, or getting rid of aspects of ourselves that we don’t like.  Instead, we train ourselves in observing and accepting without judgment sensations and emotions, even painful ones, which with practice, builds tolerance and resilience under stress.

Try this practice:  Every day, every few hours, stop and take three deep breaths through the nose, feeling the belly rise and fall.  Notice how you feel.  This builds awareness of the body and breath, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, calming the body and mind, reducing stress.

Try this practice:  Next time you walk around the school building notice how you are walking.  Feel your shoes on the floor.  Feel your spine tall and strong, and your shoulders wide and relaxed. Allow yourself to become keenly aware of your surroundings.  This strengthens focus on the present, sharpening awareness and mental clarity.

Try this practice:  Next time you eat lunch, try just eating not reading, texting, or attending to anything else.  Notice the food.  Savor flavors. This enhances self-care and self-nurturance, and elements of self-compassion.

Try this practice:  Next conversation, practice listening.  Set aside the desire to fix, solve, correct or judge the other person.  Listen not just with your ears (to hear), but with your eyes (to see), your mind (to think), heart (to feel), and your attention (to focus).  What do you notice about yourself?  How does it feel to listen deeply?  Listening practice builds empathy and compassion, essential tools of emotionally intelligent school leaders, and promotes connectedness with others, a fundamental element of community.

As leadership coaches, we work with individuals on listening to their inner stories, learning to breathe through disequilibrium, to caretake and pause in the intense volatility and complexity of administrator’s and teacher’s jobs.  We find that by learning how to be more present, through pausing and centering, and by explicitly developing greater self-compassion, individuals are better able to deal with work that is uncertain, ambiguous and challenging.  With these practices our clients find that life offers refuge and even inspiration, and that refuge is always there for them, right inside of them.

Our mentor Parker Palmer, speaks poignantly about the need for coherence between our inner and outer worlds, between the “person we are inside,” and the external world of our work, of the desire for alignment between “soul and role.”  Mindfulness practices in education is a rapidly emerging area, with possibilities for depth of awareness, focus, clarity, concentration and understanding that can profoundly enhance teaching, learning, and leading.  School leaders who practice mindfulness serve as inspirational role models for emotional and social intelligence, uniting schools, teachers, boards, students, and parents.  Leaders with these skills bring a richness and depth to their roles.  Mindful school leaders mean more coherent and effective schools, teachers who are more focused and better supported, and students who have the skills and appetite to interact with the complex world outside the school door.  Mindfulness is for everyone.  We’re taking a deep breath right now.

Kirsten Olson, Ed.D. is Chief Listening Officer at Old Sow Coaching and Consulting, which specializes in transformational leadership services for educational organizations. She is the author of Wounded By School and founding board member of IDEA, the Institute for Democratic Education In America. Valerie Brown, J.D. is a former attorney and lobbyist, and is now president of Mindful Solutions, promoting transformation leadership services through awareness and renewal.  They are in private practice together offering leadership coaching and professional development solutions.

Listen Like A Cow

Sending listening quotes to a client this morning, I found this one from my files.  I remember how much I love it, and how it expresses that important sense of listening with all of you, with patience and love and the wisdom of the world.  Listening like a cow.

LISTEN LIKE A COW

Listen.

“Pay attention…Just be there.  Don’t be thinking about a solution, or how you should fix it.  Just listen hard and try to be present.  It’s very bad business to invite heartfelt speech and then not listen…What I’m trying to construct here is a theory of attention that depends little on therapeutic skills and formal training: listening like a cow.  Those of you who grew up in the country know that cows are good listeners…We don’t need fixing, most of us, as much as we need a warm space and a good cow.  Cows cock their big brown eyes at you and twitch their ears when you talk.  This is a great antidote to the critical listening that goes on in academia, where we listen for the mistake, the flaw in the argument.  Cows, by contrast, manage at least the appearance of deep, openhearted attention.”

-Mary Rose O’Reilley, Radical Presence: Teaching As Contemplative Practice (1998)

 

Radical Acceptance

For the past several months my life has been consumed by the Georgetown Leadership Coaching Program, in Washington, DC.  The program, which leads to certification as a leadership coach through the International Coaching Federation (ICF) is rigorous and intensive, requiring a real in-person commitment to showing up every month to whom you are as a leader, coach, and person in the world.  It also asks you to to think about how you can become more purposeful, skillful and centered in your own life. “Success” in the program means asking what you have to learn personally from the process of coaching.  In essence, the program is one long coaching session with oneself, as folks in my cohort and I have done lots of intensive introspection on the nature of our personal stories, the intensity of our personal realities, and the paradox of their self-creation–you can’t change what you don’t notice is an essential precept here–all as we are practicing live coaching.  I wonder about this as a parallel for the transformation of our teaching sector: what are the stories we tell ourselves about our work, and how can we change those stories?

As coaches, we offer our cohort a set of resources, explicitly joining our offerings to the many other coaches who have graduated from the program.  These resources join a huge pool of other leadership and human development sources.

The two resources I call out here point to critical pieces of my own coaching practice, involving helping folks work with self-acceptance and self-compassion, and also my belief in the power of communities of caring.   I offer them here as a beginning, a pool of resources to changing our stories in education.

Tara Brach, author and meditation teacher

Name of Resource:  Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha, by Tara Brach (2003)

Type: Book and accompanying Audio CDs

This book, and the accompanying CDs on meditations for emotional healing, are useful for individuals who struggle the “trance of deficiency,” lack of self-acceptance, judgment and shame.  Brach, founder and senior teacher of the Insight Meditation Community in Washington, DC, wrote this book (then her first) from the standpoint of a single mother working through her own difficult journey of self-compassion and self-acceptance.  The book is down to earth, offering an initial bridge to awareness of a negative internal dialog, for individuals who have had little practice noticing their self-talk.  In each chapter Brach offers several guided meditation practices on softening to pain, learning to unclench and open to experience, pausing, and awakening the heart to compassion.

This book, and Brach’s accompanying CDs, are especially useful in understanding how to work with trauma, finding forgiveness, experiencing greater compassion, and in cultivating self-acceptance.  The practices it offers are simple and straightforward; Brach’s voice is also healing and reassuring if readers are inclined to listen to the accompanying CDs.

I personally have also experienced Brach as a meditation teacher, and she is one of the most ego-less, straightforward presences I have ever encountered.  It was instructive simply to be in her presence; her lack of it “being about me” has a powerful lesson in itself.

Each chapter in the book describes several meditation practices step by step; the CDs take the listener on meditative journeys of about 20 minutes each. This book speaks directly to the difficulty we often have dealing with strong emotions, and straightforwardly offers a pathway to working with them. Available at Amazon: Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha, by Tara Brach (2003) 

Kripalu Center, Lenox, Massachusetts

Here’s another resource for renewal I can’t recommend highly enough.  I’m going to Kripalu this weekend.

Name of Resource:  Kripalu R&R Retreats at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Lenox, Massachusetts

At one of the foremost retreat centers on the East Coast, R&R Retreat-goers can plan a day-long, weekend, or four-or-five day retreat of relaxation, gentle yoga, hiking, and all-natural and delicious, healthful meals.

R&R packages are extremely flexible and relatively inexpensive: you go and pay the R&R rate and can partake in a great array of body, mind and spiritual one or two-hour programs throughout the day, or do nothing at all except enjoy the beauty of the retreat center and experience an environment where everyone is committed to self-care, relaxation and renewal.

Kripalu is non-denominational and spiritual in the broadest sense; welcoming and accepting, low-key, non-spa-like, humble and easy going.  No one dresses up, and many folks just wear yoga clothes all day long.  Physically, the retreat is a former Catholic monastery set in the Berkshire mountains, with extraordinarily beautiful mountain views, a lovely lake for swimming, and walking trails on the property.   Accommodations are modest, although a newer wing has been added that has a more hotel-like atmosphere (more expensive, obviously).

The town of Lenox, Massachusetts is also where the Tanglewood Music Festival is held every summer, and Lenox and Stockbridge are tourist-attraction towns for people who need a reason to visit this part of the world.

Kripalu R&R packages are useful for individuals who are experiencing difficulty pausing and stopping in their lives.  The flexibility and low-barrier-to-entry packages allow for great choice of how time off is spent, and simply being at Kripalu allows individuals to experience what it feels like to spend a whole day, or a whole weekend, taking care of oneself, eating well, exercising mindfully, and enjoying natural beauty in the community of others similarly inclined.  If this is not sufficiently stimulating, the Center also offers dozens of programs a month for more specific types of spiritual, physical, or mindfulness experiences.

Thousands of people visit Kripalu from all over the world every year, and yet it still maintains a sense of uncrowded responsiveness and reflection.  I, and many of my clients, have found Kripalu an important spiritual stopping place and an opportunity to reflect on important values and to reset life goals.

Online resources that explain the R&R packages are extensive.  Making arrangements via the website are exceptionally easy, and you can also talk to them on the phone at 866.200.5203.

At Kripalu, I appreciate the range of retreat options available in one place, without a sense of hurry, pressure, or commercial scale-up.  Kripalu faculty are engaged in the work of mindfulness, reflection, and more healthy living as a matter of principle, and the spirit of the place reflects this.  This is not true of all retreat centers.  This is NOT a spa.

You do not have to be a yoga master to feel comfortable here.

What are you doing to take care of yourself, educational transformer?  If you are not involved in self-care, how is this affecting your work?

Wondering…

The Future of the Dissertation: Hack the Diss

A couple of days ago a fine Harvard Graduate School of Education colleague, Zac Chase, and co-conspirators Tom Neville and Paul Tritter, put on a Hack the Diss (HtD) event in Cambridge, MA.  “Tonight is intended to provoke discussion of scholarly work’s future forms and purposes.”  

The evening juxtaposed John Dewey and Woody Guthrie in a knowledge-creation event around the first chapter of Kelly Spurgeon’s dissertation. Guitars, interpretive diss dancing, beer drinking, and the nature of the educative experience were highlights. (What is a meaningful life?” is at the heart of it, one participant concluded.) The evening proposed: a dissertation should be useful, a dissertation should reach beyond the academy–and asked the question: what is the performative nature of knowledge?

The night concluded with a panel on the future of the diss.  (Among the panelists were John Bohannon, Ph.D., David Damrosch, Ph.D., and Jeffrey Schnapp, Ph.D., who are invited to post their remarks here.  I was a panelist.)

My reflections on writing a diss, and the diss’ future, from the panel:

“The dissertation represents two extreme forms of human behavior: a hazing/belongness ritual for becoming an academic–a position I believe is increasingly thankless and ossified; and an Iron Man in the world of knowing: KNOWING as a way of being and seeking meaning in the world which–while powerful and occasionally pleasurable–has extreme limitations.

In my own personal practice at age 52, I am here to testify that knowing, in a classical Western sense, will get you only so far.

 And yet I enjoyed writing my diss, which became the basis for much of my work as an activist and a lot of the broader, more popular writing I’m engaged with, and formed the underpinnings of many of my larger projects.  My work with my diss took me out in the world in ways I never expected, and as something you’ve got to do for a fair number of years, I was passionately interested in the questions I was investigating.  I thought they were, and are, critically important.

I had fun, and I was playing, while I was doing the work, which is a high goal for me.

After completing diss, and kinda sorta beginning a somewhat conventional academic career–I found myself chafing and sweating as an academic, like a horse that pulls badly in harness.  I was a pony that could not be broken to saddle.  It became clear to me that did not want to give my life force to the support of the institution, an institution I regard as fundamentally colonizing, and at best morally neutral.  I left.

The future of the diss depends on the future of the institution of higher education.  Institutions of higher education are increasingly imperiled as knowledge certifiers and credentializers, as knowledge becomes more freely available and notions of validity are increasingly democratized and situationally-determined, as an evening like this one vividly demonstrates.  

 So my first question is: Do you really want to be an academic?

Over at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, moving in exactly the wrong direction, instead of embracing its marginality and low status in the academic pecking order, which would allow it to be inventive, playful, and counter-poised, its doctoral research products have become ever more conservative, stylized in a conventional social science direction, and unfortunately, less challenged by doctoral students desperate for jobs. 

The role of doctoral student is infantilizing and diminishing.  One leaves the pantheon of larger life–whatever that was–to enter the feudal guild of the department, where learning the conventions of the pecking order and adhering to thought-regimes of the professors upon whom one depends becomes essential, urgent, necessary. But it is a hair cut of almost supernatural force. 

Consequently, few students challenge the “real science” form of doctoral research at all.   The kinds of doctoral research projects approved now, even in the time since I have graduated from the school, have suffered from a terrible methodological narrowing:  What kind of inference can you draw from this particular research design, formulaic to the degree that it hardly matters whether you are doing qualitative or quantitative research.   

Low-status disciplines like education suffer from this narrowing and professional status insecurity most acutely. This is all ironic, of course, because where the real action is in the opening out of the form, the breaking up of the convention, the jumping over the walls of the institution and speaking out into a larger world of discontinuity, challenge, and paradigm shift.

The future of the diss, what kind of diss matters, and whether the diss itself matters, depends on your answers to some deeply personal questions. 

Does your dissertation concern questions that deeply matter to you?  That drive you, and involve the future of the work?

Or are you doing the diss to enter the academic guild, to get a job, to become a junior faculty member, to eventually get tenure so that then…in some imagined time…you will begin to express yourself?  If so, can you afford to wait?

If you love the production of ideas, and you are not tied to a lab, why do you need to be tied to the university? What kinds of social networks and platforms do you need to stimulate your ideas? With whom can you form alliances so that you might be able to do the kind of research teaching, and writing you wish to do?

 Most important, with whom do you want to communicate? And how?

Play is what most strikes me about the projects in John Bohannon’s DANCE YOUR DISSERTATION, or what I’ve seen here tonight.  Play is how we are going to shift the form. And the enormous power of play is in its triviality.

Is your future too serious?” 

What are you hacking, right now?