This past Friday I sent out a few emails, mostly to colleagues and former students, inviting them to consider contributing a piece for this blog. In considering whom to approach, and in responding to the inevitable “well, what should I talk about?” questions I’ve already gotten from folks getting back to me, I’ve thought a bit about the old blog and what I want this new blog to be: what was it and what wasn’t it? What did it talk about and not talk about, and why? What tone did it take? Who was I writing for? And do those people care? Once I answer one or more of these questions, how will those answers help me move forward with the blog’s reboot? And what can I tell my friends to help them prep their own pieces?
Change of Basis focused on higher ed and the academy, but it was not often purely academic, at least not in the stereotypical scholarly sense. While many of the ideas it examined (e.g., problem-based learning, stereotype threat, diversity education) are easily rarefied and made the objects of hifalutin inquiry, I tended to consider them as they arose in practice. Hardly a scholar of most of these subjects, instead I made myself a scholarly teacher, reflecting on the subjects as they manifested in my daily life in the classroom and elsewhere as a college instructor.
The result was a series of reflections of an error-prone experimenter, someone unhesitant to try new things and think about them out loud. “Well, hell,” I’d say, “that dog won’t hunt.” Less like a journal article than a lab notebook, Change of Basis was an honest and (in its better days) soulful account of my daily life as a teacher. Though it was well informed, it was usually informal, laced with occasional profanity and not-so-occasional poetry. Inconstant but, I hope, interesting.
Meanwhile, my audience was something I little considered. While I had originally hoped that my ramblings might prove useful to this colleague or that, ultimately I don’t think my ideas are original enough or controversial enough to warrant regular readership or extensive commentary or response. Also, I’d hoped to make the blog a place to offer my students a healthy dose of transparency, giving them a peek at the whirling gears and ratchet arms that make up the clockworks of their courses. Realistically, though, many of my students have little time to do all the work my class and others demand of them, let alone ponder with me the whats, hows, and whys of course design. Who remained, then, to write for? Vox clamantis in deserto? So be it. If nothing else, writing the blog has always helped me to think through my own thoughts. “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say,” said Flannery O’Connor.
So be it. Moving forward, I don’t intend to change much in terms of content, purpose, audience, tone. To change it up now would be dishonest and untrue. Right now I write from where I sit today, and tomorrow I’ll write from wherever I find myself then.
And I’ll urge all of my guest contributors to do the same: as long as you write about something even tangentially related to higher education or its aftereffects, be yourselves. Speculate, hypothesize, and learn through your own writing. Don’t worry about getting it right. Bring passion, bring fire, and bring in your own experiences. Bring in outside sources but don’t worry about whether you’ve understood them fully or applied them well. Swear a little, if you’d like. Write in verse, in Spanish, in code. Use big words. Use little words. WRITE IN ALL CAPS. Exhort, inveigle, flail your arms around like Bernie Sanders on a meth bender.
That’s all for now. Tomorrow, Tuesday, someday soon, I’ll check in again to share a new piece of my mind, maybe about the voting theory course I’m planning for the fall, maybe about new ideas for extending the Honors Program’s reach into more diverse communities on campus. Who knows?